Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Happy New Year and a Girly Cocktail!

After purchasing a new bottle of Frangelico to make Giandua Souffles, I searched my trusty cocktail books and found this recipe for a "Russian Quaalude." This wonderful cocktail tastes like dessert and goes down quite easily (which I payed for the next morning), so be careful! It's a perfect choice for those who don't like the taste of alcohol, like me. In addition, you can make these in festive shot-form by first pouring 1 ounce of Frangelico into a 3-4 ounce glass, slowly pour 1 ounce Irish cream over the back of a spoon (aka., "float") to layer it on top of the Frangelico. Next, float 1 ounce vodka over the Irish cream. Voila! Now you're ready for a party! Happy New Year!


Russian Quaalude

Makes 1 delicious cocktail.

Ingredients:
4 parts vodka (2 oz.)
2 parts Frangelico (1 oz.)
2 parts Irish cream liqueur (1 oz.)

Directions:
Combine ingredients with cracked ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake well and pour into chilled glass.

Recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide, by Sally Ann Berk.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Bacchus, Dionysus, and why Semele was Stupid

The holiday season is in full swing at my house and the wine is flowing! I guess we should thank Bacchus, the Roman God of the Vine! Bacchus is also known as Dionysus, the Greek god of the grape harvest, winemaking/wine, fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, and theatre. He was also the youngest and last god (or demi-god) to be accepted into Mt. Olympus.

Dionysus' mortal mother, Semele, was the daughter of King Cadmus of Thebes. She had an affair with Zeus, the king of all the gods, and became pregnant. When Hera (Zeus' wife) got wind of it, she pretended not to believe Semele. Semele freaked out and demanded that Zeus reveal himself to save her honor. What she didn't know was that mortals could not look upon undisguised gods without dying. (Dumbass!) Upon her death, Zeus rescued the unborn baby and sewed him into his thigh until he was fully grown. (Gross!) No wonder Dionysus needed a drink!

So, in honor of Dionysus and the holiday season, I want to share this delicious and unusual recipe for "Fontina and Prosciutto Stuffed Pork Chops with Fried Polenta Squares and Roasted California Grapes." Although I am still on the fence about the effectiveness of brining, I do recommend it in this recipe because it is the only seasoning of the pork chops. The polenta should be made ahead, even days ahead, making it very convenient for company. Roasting the grapes concentrates their natural sweetness and look like pretty little ornaments on each plate! All in all, this is a wonderful combination of flavors and makes a beautiful and festive presentation!


Fontina and Prosciutto Stuffed Pork Chops with Fried Polenta Squares and Roasted California Grapes

Serves 4

Ingredients:
For the Polenta
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup polenta/yellow cornmeal (I recommend Quaker yellow cornmeal because it cooks in 5 minutes!)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
All-purpose flour, for dusting the squares before frying
Extra-virgin olive oil
8-inch by 8-inch baking dish or pan

For the Brining
4 bone-in pork loin chops, 1 1/2-inch thick
1 quart water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
2 fresh thyme sprigs
5 whole cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

For the Stuffing
4 sliced prosciutto
4 slices fontina (about 3 ounces)

Finishing the Dish
1/2 cup chicken stock
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
1 pound California red grapes, on the vine and cut into 4 smaller clusters/bunches (I don't use the entire pound of grapes, rather a handful-size cluster for each plate.)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 parsley sprigs, for garnish

Directions:
For the Polenta Squares
Bring the water and salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal in a slow steady stream. Lower the heat and continue to whisk until the polenta is thick and smooth, about 20 minutes. (If you use Quaker yellow cornmeal, it will only take about 5 minutes.) Remove from the heat and stir in the cream and butter until fully incorporated. Fold in the Parmesan and season well with black pepper. Pour the polenta into a buttered 8 by 8-inch baking dish or pan. Cover and chill a few hours.

When you're about to cook the pork chops, cut the polenta into 6 squares. (You will have 2 leftover.) Dust each square with flour, shaking off any excess. Once the pork chops are browned and placed in the oven, heat a skillet with a generous coating of olive oil. When the oil looks shimmery, fry each polenta square on each side until just beginning to brown. Set aside on a paper towel-lined plate until ready to serve.

For the Brining
Make the brine by combining the water, sugar, salt, thyme sprigs, cloves, and allspice in a re-sealable bag. Add the pork chops, seal up the bag and put in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.

For the Stuffing
Drain the pork chops and pat dry. Using a paring knife, make a horizontal cut into the center of each chop to make a pocket. Wrap each piece of fontina with one slice of prosciutto.


Stuff a wrapped slice into each pocket and secure with a toothpick. (I've made this again and skipped the toothpicks and it was just fine.)

Finishing the Dish
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Set 2 large cast iron skillets (if you don't have cast iron, use what you have) over medium-high heat and add a 2-count of extra-virgin olive oil into each skillet. Add 2 chops to each of the skillets and cook for 4-5 minutes until golden. Turn the chops, push to 1 side and set grape clusters in each pan. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season the grapes with salt and pepper before putting the pans in the oven.


Roast chops for 5-7 minutes until cooked through and cheese has melted. Remove from the oven when done and set chops and grape clusters aside on a plate. Tent with foil to keep warm.

Consolidate juices into 1 pan and set over medium heat. Add the chicken stock to the pan, scraping the bottom to extract all the flavors. Whisk in the butter to thicken sauce. Season with salt and pepper. To serve, set 1 fried polenta square on each plate and top with 1 chop on each plate. Garnish each plate with a grape cluster and drizzle with the pan sauce. Garnish each plate with a sprig of parsley and serve. Enjoy!

Recipe highly adapted from Tyler Florence.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Licky Toffee Pudding

Well, since today is my birthday, I hope I can get away with telling this funny story! Last Saturday night, my poor husband had to work on a big project and didn't get home until well after 10pm. He ate dinner and quickly fell asleep watching TV. I didn't have the heart to wake him, but left a nice plate of "Sticky Toffee Pudding," all decked out with toffee sauce and a dollop of creme fraiche. The next day, I asked if he enjoyed his bedtime snack, in which he said he did. I then mentioned how good it was with the creme fraiche, when he replied, "There wasn't any creme fraiche?" It took us a few perplexed seconds, before we began laughing! My kitty must have gotten there first! I hadn't thought of that...oops!

This is a fantastic dessert, originating in Australia via Britain. It takes a little time, though; so, pick a lazy afternoon to make it. It's definitely worth the time, and is excellent during the holidays!


Sticky Toffee Pudding

Serves 12 to 14, it's really rich!

Ingredients:

For the toffee sauce
1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream

For the pudding
6 oz pitted dates, cut into thirds (make sure there aren't any pits!)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup boiling water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
7 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (chocolate chips work well, too)
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (optional, but I like it)
Creme fraiche for serving (optional, Trader Joes carries it, if you have one)

Directions:

Butter a 9" round cake pan with 2" sides and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Do NOT use a springform pan, as the toffee will leak out during cooking, or else wrap the outside of the pan tightly with aluminum foil.

For the toffee sauce:
Combine the brown sugar, butter, and cream in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved and the sauce is bubbling. Pour half the sauce (about 1 cup) into the prepared cake pan and set aside the rest to serve with the pudding.

For the pudding:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put the dates and baking soda in a small bowl and add the boiling water. Set aside.

Cream the butter, salt, brown sugar, and vanilla together in a large bowl (or stand mixer) until white and fluffy. Beat in the eggs a little at a time, sprinkling in 1 tablespoon of the flour when you have added about half the beaten eggs. (This helps stop the batter from curdling; however, if it does, it's okay, it will come together again when the rest of the flour is added.) Mix in the dates and their soaking water. Sift the remaining flour and baking powder over the mixture, then fold in gently but thoroughly. Stir in the chopped chocolate and the expresso powder. Pour the batter into the pan.


Bake until the top is golden and firm and the sides have shrunk away slightly from the pan, 50 to 60 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pudding and turn it out onto a serving plate.

Reheat the remaining sauce until bubbling. Cut the warm pudding into wedges, spoon the sauce over the pudding, and serve with a dollop of creme fraiche. This can be made a day before serving, just rewarm the cake and sauce.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Bien Dans Sa Peau

Bien dans sa peau, or, feeling comfortable in his or her skin is a concept I've embraced from one of my favorite books, French Women Don't Get Fat, by Mireille Guiliano. This delightful book discusses how to eat for life and not get fat, by balancing eating, staying active, and happiness! No dieting? (except for this soup...) I'm sold! The idea is you feeling comfortable in your own skin, e.g., waist band a little tight (not comfortable), zipper not zipping (not comfortable), etc. In addition, it's not about what the scale says, it's about how you feel in your clothes. For those "non-zipping" times, like after the holidays, I suggest Mireille's recipe for "Magical Leek Soup." It just takes a weekend and you will feel renewed and ready to get back on track!

(I love leeks, and they are a natural diuretic!)

Magical Leek Soup (Broth)

Serves 1 for the weekend

Ingredients:

2 pounds leeks

Directions:

Clean the leeks and rinse well to get rid of sand and soil. Cut off the ends of the dark green parts, leaving all the white parts plus a suggestion of pale green. (Reserve the extra greens for soup stock.)

Put the leeks in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes. Pour off the liquid and reserve. Place the leeks in a bowl.

Eating Instructions:

The juice is to be drunk (reheated or at room temperature to taste) every 2 to 3 hours, 1 cup at a time.

For meals, or whenever hungry, have some of the leeks themselves, 1/2 cup at a time. Drizzle with a few drops of extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Season sparingly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with chopped parsley, if you wish.

This will be your nourishment for both days, until Sunday dinner, when you can have a small piece of meat or fish (4 to 6 ounces), (need information regarding a kitchen scale? Click here!), with 2 vegetables, steamed with a bit of butter or olive oil, and a piece of fruit.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Meatless to say, it's Delicious!

The unthinkable has happened. In my meat-centric household, my oldest kid has decided that meat is no longer an option. Gasp! My first question was to ask if The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair (a novel that exposed unsanitary conditions in the meatpacking industry in the early 20th century) was to blame? Nope. I still don't know what the catalyst was; but, it has created a challenge for me to satisfy both my newly vegetarian kid and my meat-and-potato husband. After a few laborious days of making two separate meals, I realized I needed to give meat the heave-ho on occasion for my sanity. I began searching vegetable-based cuisines and determined that Mexico could be the bridge that brings us all to the table, meatless yet satisfied!

For centuries, Mexico's cuisine was based on vegetables, grains, and legumes. In fact, contrary to popular belief, meat plays a minimal role in the day-to-day lives rather enjoyed on special occasions and Sundays. I've been relying heavily on my Rick Bayless cookbooks, enjoying some recipes and some not-so-much. I found one recipe in particular that was surprisingly delicious: "Garlicky Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Smoky Tomato-Chile Salsa!" Portobello mushrooms are first marinated in a flavorful onion/garlic/lime/cumin mixture then grilled alongside onions, tomatoes, and poblanos that become a wonderfully smoky salsa and compliment the mushrooms perfectly! A few corn tortillas, cilantro, and a dash of hot sauce is all that's required to create one of the best tacos you'll ever have. Drunken Pintos provide protein and round out the meal nicely. It's so good, no one will miss the meat!


Garlicky Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Smoky Tomato-Chile Salsa

Makes 12 tacos, serving 4 as a light meal

Ingredients:
1 medium white onion, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds (keep the rounds intact for easy grilling)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon cumin, preferably freshly ground
Salt
6, 4 to 5-inch (about 1 3/4 pounds total) portobello mushrooms, stems removed and caps wiped clean (you can use a spoon to scrape out the dark gills on the underside of the caps, though it's not really necessary) (I scrape them out.)
A little vegetable or olive oil for the onion
12 ounces (2 medium-small round or 4 to 6 plum) ripe tomatoes
3 medium (about 9 ounces total) fresh poblano chiles
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
12 warm, fresh corn tortillas (I throw them on the grill a few seconds to heat them up.)

Directions:
Marinating the Mushrooms
In a food processor or blender, combine 1/3 of the onion, the garlic, 3 tablespoons of the lime juice, the cumin and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Process to a smooth puree. Lay out the mushroom caps in a nonaluminum baking dish. Using a spoon, smear the marinade over both sides of each mushroom cap. Cover and let stand for 1 hour, or store covered in the refrigerator up to 24 hours.


Preparing the Salsa
Heat a gas grill to medium-high or light a charcoal fire and let it burn until the coals are covered with gray ash and very hot. Either turn the burner(s) in the center of the grill to medium-low or bank the coals to the sides of the grill for indirect cooking. Set the cooking grate in place, cover the grill and let the grate heat up, 5 minutes or so.


Brush or spray the remaining onion slices with oil and lay in a single layer in the center (the least hot part) of the grill, along with the tomatoes. Set the chiles over the hottest part. Roast, turning everything occasionally, until the chiles' skin (but not the flesh) is blistered and uniformly blackened all over, about 5 minutes, and the onion and tomatoes are softened and browned in spots, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on their size and the heat. When the chiles are done, remove them and cover with a kitchen towel. (I put them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.) Set the tomatoes aside on a plate. Finely chop the onion and scoop it into a bowl.

When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, pull off their skins. Use a mortar to crush them, or place them in a food processor or blender and pulse until coarsely pureed. Add to the chopped onion.

Rub the blackened skin off the chiles, then pull out the stems and seed pods. Chop into small bits and stir half into the tomato-onion mixture along with the remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice and cilantro. Taste, season with salt, usually about 3/4 teaspoon, and then scoop into a serving bowl.


Grilling the Mushrooms
Remove the mushrooms from the marinade, spray or brush them with oil and lay grill side up over the hot part of the grill. Cook until browned in spots, about 5 minutes, then flip and move to the center of the grill-the cooler part-and continue grilling until they feel a little limp but still have some body, about 10 minutes more.


Serving the Tacos
Cut the mushrooms into 1/4-inch strips. Scoop into a warm serving dish and mix with the remaining chopped poblanos. Season with salt, usually about 1/4 teaspoon. 


Set the mushrooms on the table along with the salsa and hot tortillas-everything you need for making wonderful soft tacos.

Recipe from Mexico: One Plate at a Time, by Rick Bayless.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Truffle Butter - Your New Best Friend

Truffles are extremely expensive, and many people (including myself) just can't afford them. So, for us "peasants," truffle oil is the way to go. I know this is extremely controversial among chefs; although, I know plenty that use it. The controversy is spawned by the fact that most truffle oils don't contain any truffle, rather a synthetic product (2,4-dithiapentane) that mimics the flavor and aroma. Many chefs and people in the know turn their nose up saying it tastes unauthentic, metallic, and rancid. Whatever.

Don't fret, because I've got good news for you! There are some affordable truffle oils that do contain truffles! My favorite is Truffieres de Rabasse Black Truffle Olive Oil and is a bargain at $12.00 for 1.86 ounces! Taking into account that a little goes a very, very long way, it is a steal! Remember to store your truffle oil in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator. FYI: If stored in the refrigerator (which is what I do), it may take on a cloudy appearance which in no way affects the quality. 

Whatever kind of truffle oil you purchase, my recipe for truffle butter will change your life! I like a slice on a perfectly grilled steak! Absolute perfection! It will keep for months in the freezer, so try some in your mashed potatoes, tossed with pasta and asparagus, add some to risotto, etc. Having this truffle butter in your freezer is one of the best investments you could make! Enjoy!


Truffle Butter
Makes 1 log

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1/4 cup shallots, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1 pound unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons truffle oil

Directions:
Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and shallots and gently sweat until translucent, but not browned. Deglaze the pan with the wine, raise the heat to medium, and reduce until almost dry. Remove the pan from the heat. Place the garlic/shallot/white wine mixture in a small bowl and chill in the refrigerator until completely cold. In a stand mixer (or by hand), whip together the garlic/shallot/white wine mixture with the butter, parsley, and truffle oil. 


Once whipped and completely incorporated, place the mixture in a log shape onto an approximately 12"x9" piece of parchment paper. Fold the parchment over the butter, and using a ruler or bench scraper, drag towards you to create a uniform log shape. 


Roll up the log and twist the ends. Store in the freezer until ready to use.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Col du Tourmalet!



With the Tour de France 2015 entering week two in the beautiful Pyrenees mountains, I am giddy with excitement! Today's stage 11 will no doubt be as enchanting as it is perilous. While my favorite riders are Sagan, Van Garderen, and Quintana, it appears that spindly Chris Froome may very likely take the yellow jersey in Paris...again...sigh. Anyway, to celebrate the beauty of the Pyrenees, I want to share this wonderful recipe from Jamie Oliver that utilizes the region's most famous cheese, "Roquefort Salad with Warm Croutons and Lardons." This fantastic, main course salad is a real showstopper, and one of my absolute favorites! Roquefort, homemade croutons, bacon, walnuts, and a mustardy vinaigrette - what's not to love? A lovely bottle of wine, such as Savagnin from Jura, makes this an excellent summer meal! 


Roquefort Salad with Warm Croutons and Lardons

Serves 4 as a main

Ingredients:
For the Salad:
Olive oil
8 ounce piece of smoked streaky bacon, the best quality you can afford, rind removed
2 thick slices of sourdough bread, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 large handfuls of lamb's lettuce, watercress or rocket, washed and spun dry
2 large handfuls of radicchio, washed and spun dry
A large handful of shelled walnut haves, sliced
A bunch of chives, finely chopped
3.5 ounces Roquefort cheese

For the Dressing:
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
Put a large frying pan on a high heat, and once hot, add a good couple of lugs of olive oil. Cut your bacon into half-inch lardons, and add to the pan. Fry, stirring occasionally, for around 3 minutes, or until you've got a good bit of color on the bacon and a lot of the fat has rendered out. Turn the heat down a little and add your bread to the pan, making sure you spread the croutons out so they take on some color. Fry for another 3 minutes, or until they've sucked up all the wonderful flavor and are lovely, crisp and golden.

Put the extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard and a good pinch of salt and pepper into a clean jam jar. Put the lid on and give it a shake, then have a taste and make sure you've got the balance right. You want it to be slightly too acidic at this stage, as you'll get quite a bit of saltiness from the bacon and French dressings tend to be quite sharp.

Once your dressing is made, get everyone around the table so they're ready to tuck in as soon as the salad is ready. Put your salad leaves on a big platter, tear in the radicchio, then pour over the wonderful, thick dressing. Scatter over most of your walnuts and chives and all the croutons and lardons. Quickly mix it all up with your clean hands so that every single leaf is coated.

Use the tip of a knife to crumble off little nuggets of Roquefort and let them fall straight on to your salad. Finish by scattering over the rest of the walnuts and chives from a height, and tuck in!

Recipe from Jamie Oliver's Food Escapes.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Pizza on the Grill

It's no secret that I love to grill and barbecue, especially in the summer. Not only does it keep my kitchen cleanup to a minimum, it also keeps my house cooler in the sweltering heat of summer. Until recently, I avoided recipes for pizza on the grill. I honestly thought it sounded like a disaster waiting to happen. Well, I gave it a go, hoping I wouldn't have to make an emergency call for take-out. Turns out, it's a brilliant way to cook pizza! Not only did my pizzas turn out with a delicious smokey flavor, it was actually quite fun! 

I made a simple tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil pizza for my kids, and a "Chicken Fajita Pizza" for me and my husband. Both were delicious! If you are planning to fire up the grill on this fourth of July, skip the boring hot dogs and burgers, and give this a try! Your guests will have a blast designing their own pizzas! All you'll need is a nice green salad, some ice-cold beer, and peach cobbler/vanilla ice cream, to ensure a fourth of July that is as memorable as it is fun!


Grilled Chicken Fajita Pizza

Makes 2 large oval pizzas

For the Pizza Dough for the Grill:
1 cup warm water (100-110 degrees) (My hot tap water is hot enough.)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

For the Chicken Fajita topping (Amounts are for 1 pizza, double for 2):
1 leftover, cooked chicken breast from my chicken fajita recipe, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 cup leftover, cooked onions and bell peppers from my chicken fajita recipe, chopped into bite-size pieces
Enough of your favorite salsa to spread over the dough (I like Roasted Tomato-Jalapeno Salsa)
Freshly grated Monterrey Jack and sharp cheddar cheese, to top the salsa
1 avocado, diced
Sprinkle of chopped, fresh cilantro

Directions:
For the Pizza Dough for the Grill
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the yeast, sugar, and warm water and stir to dissolve. Let the mixture stand until the yeast mixture begins to foam, 5-10 minutes.

Turn the mixer on low and add the salt and olive oil. Add the flour, a little at a time, mixing on the lowest speed until the flour has been completely incorporated. When the dough starts to come together, increase the speed to medium and let it go until the dough gathers into a ball, about 5 minutes. If the dough seems too wet, add a little more flour. If the dough seems too dry, add a little more water, etc. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.

Turn the dough into a large bowl that has been lightly coated with olive oil, to prevent sticking. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about an hour.

To Grill the Pizza
Have all your toppings ready and available! (It's good to be organized, as the pizzas cook quickly!) Divide the dough into two balls on a lightly floured surface.

Prepare a charcoal (or gas) grill to high heat on one side of the grill. (E.g., if using charcoal, pile the charcoal on one side of the grill.)

When your grill is ready, roll out one dough ball to a 1/4" thickness in an oval/rectangular shape. (The oval shape allows the pizza dough to cook on the hot side of the grill, and heat and melt the cheese on the other cooler side of the grill without burning the dough.) Brush the dough on one side with olive oil. Place the oiled side of the dough directly over the hottest part of the grill. Brush the top side of the dough with olive oil. Continue to cook the dough on each side until slightly charred and puffed, only a couple minutes per side. Remove the dough to a cutting board.

Spread the salsa (or tomato sauce,...whatever you wish) over the dough. Top with the cheese, chicken, onions and bell peppers. Return the pizza to the cooler side of the grill. Cover to allow the cheese to melt and toppings to heat, approximately 5-7 minutes. Remove from the heat and top with the avocado and cilantro.


Repeat the process with the second pizza and desired toppings.

Happy 4th!
Love you, Tom!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Chicken Girdles!

Being a fourth-generation native Texan, I LOVE fajitas! According to The Tex-Mex Cookbook, by Robb Walsh, it was Mama Ninfa Laurenzo of Houston, Texas, who originated the first commercial fajita in the United States in 1973. Mama Ninfa was born Maria Ninfa Rodriguez in 1924. She lived on a farm in the Rio Grande Valley, not far from where I am from. No doubt Mama Ninfa was familiar with Hispanic ranch hands marinating and grilling less desirable cuts of beef, such as the skirt steak. Butchers in the Rio Grande Valley called the skirt steak "fajita" from the Spanish word "faia," which means belt or girdle in Spanish. Over time as fajitas became all the craze, the term fajita began to mean any grilled meat served with flour tortillas, giving birth to "chicken fajitas."

I have tried a plethora of recipes for chicken fajitas over the years, even Mama Ninfa's. But the recipe that I always return to is Robb Walsh's from The Tex-Mex Cookbook. I like the simplicity and flavor better than more complicated recipes I've tried. I like my chicken fajitas with grilled red onion, red and yellow bell pepper strips, topped with pico de gallo, a generous dribble of Cholula hot sauce, and a dollop of sour cream. Delicious, or as my dad would say, "Hot Damn!" Robin's Tex-Mex Rice and Drunken Pintos make perfect accompaniments!


"Chicken Fajitas"

Serves 4, generously!

**Don't worry if you have leftovers. Make a "Grilled Chicken Fajita Pizza"!

Ingredients:
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
4, 7-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt, to taste
1 red onion, sliced into 1/4" strips, drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper
1 red bell pepper, sliced into 1/4" strips, drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced into 1/4" strips, drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper
8 warm flour tortillas (I always grill a few extra, just in case!)
Condiments of choice (e.g., pico de gallo, hot sauce, sour cream, avocado slices, guacamole, etc.)

Directions:
Combine the onion, oregano, lemon juice, and olive oil in a blender. Puree until smooth. Transfer the puree to a bowl (or plastic freezer bag) and turn the chicken breasts in the mixture until well coated. Cover and marinate for about 4 hours in the refrigerator.


Heat a gas or charcoal grill. Remove the chicken from the marinade and grill over a hot fire, turning once, for 2 minutes each side. Move the chicken to a cooler part of the grill and cook, turning as needed, for 6 to 8 minutes or until cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and loosely cover with foil. 

At this point, grill the onion and peppers until charred and just beginning to soften. (I find using a grilling skillet or basket works very well, see Gadgets.) When done, remove to a platter or bowl. 

Smells amazing!

Next grill each tortilla until slightly charred on each side, and just beginning to puff up. (Up to 30 seconds each side, depending on how hot your grill is.) Wrap in foil or place in a tortilla basket to keep warm.

When they puff up they're done!

Once the onions, peppers, and tortillas are done, slice the chicken into long strips against the grain. Salt to taste. Serve with desired condiments and let everyone help themselves! 

Recipe adapted from Robb Walsh and combined with my techniques.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Taco Wednesday!

If you're like me, you're muddling through the mad dash leading up to the last day of school. With all the last minute programs, art shows, ceremonies, etc., it can be hard to plan for dinner. At times like these, I crave my favorite comfort food - tacos! I got this recipe, which I've slightly adapted, for "Grilled Cumin-Lime Pork Tenderloin Tacos" from hellonatural.co. These tacos are super simple, cheap, and pretty darn delicious! They consist of tender grilled pork, smokey poblanos and onions, all dressed with seductive chipotle cream. Yum!

Pork tenderloin is one of my favorite cuts to cook. It cooks quickly and with the exception of removing any silver skin, requires little attention. At a minimum, it only needs to marinate for 30 minutes, although if you do it the night before, it really is a snap to put together. In addition, why not mix together the chipotle cream the night before as well. It will save you time the next day and allow you to catch your breath while enjoying a meal with a little south-of-the-border flair. Oh, and a margarita wouldn't hurt either!


Grilled Cumin-Lime Pork Tenderloin Tacos

Serves 8 (I halve the recipe for my family of four.)

Ingredients:
For the Marinade
Juice of 1-2 fresh limes
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

For the Tacos
2, 1-pound pork tenderloins, silver skin removed
3 poblano peppers
1 large onion, thickly sliced (1/4-inch slices)
12-16 corn tortillas

For the Chipotle Cream (Even if I halve the recipe, I still make the full recipe of the chipotle cream because it's delicious!)
1/2 cup sour cream (I use Mexican crema.)
1-2 tablespoons milk (If you use crema, you don't need to add any milk.)
1-2 tablespoons chipotle puree, according to taste (I use 1-2 chipotle chiles in adobo, seeds and all.)

Directions:
Marinating the Pork
Place the pork tenderloin(s) in an appropriately sized freezer bag or nonreactive dish. Mix together the marinade ingredients and pour over the pork tenderloin(s). Marinate on the counter for at least 30 minutes, or place in the refrigerator if marinating longer or overnight. Let tenderloin come to room temperature before grilling.

Make the Chipotle Cream
While the pork marinates, mix together the chipotle cream. (I use my immersion blender.) Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Grilling the Tacos
Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Place the poblanos over the hottest part of the grill, turning every few minutes, allowing the skin to blister. They may pop and sputter a bit. When blistered and blackened, remove to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside.

Place the tenderloin(s) over the hottest part of the grill, and sear on all sides. Move to a cooler side of the grill and continue to cook until an instant-read thermometer reaches 140 degrees in the center, approximately 20 minutes. Remove from the grill to a cutting board, tent loosely with foil, let stand at least 10 minutes before slicing.


While the tenderloin is cooking, brush the onions with some oil and sprinkle with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place the onions on the grill, turning occasionally until tender but not mushy, approximately 5 minutes on each side. Remove to a cutting board.


Heat the Tortillas
Clean the grill briefly. Place tortillas on the grill, turning after 30-60 seconds, being careful not the let them fall between the grates. Wrap the stacked tortillas in foil to keep them warm. 

To serve
Uncover the poblanos and remove the outer skins, seeds, and cut into thin strips. Roughly chop the onions. Cut the pork tenderloin(s) into thin slices on the diagonal, against the grain. (I actually slice as needed to help keep it warm.) Place a few slices each of the tenderloin, poblanos, and onions onto the tortillas and drizzle with some chipotle cream. 

*To make this a fiesta, serve with Robin's Tex-Mex Rice, Drunken Pintos and/or Mexican Crazy Corn or Texas Sunshine Salad

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tex-Mex Rice Made Easy

While some people, like my sister-in-law, are planning all things Kentucky Derby, I've got Cinco de Mayo on my mind. Which brings about my failure to post my favorite recipe for Tex-Mex rice. I have no idea where I found this recipe, but I love it and have had many requests to post it on my site. This is not a recipe for Mexican rice (Mexican Achiote Rice, Mexican Red Rice, Mexican White Rice), rather a more convenient Texas version that pairs well with barbecue, Mexican, Tex-Mex, and Southwestern cuisine. 

The beauty of this recipe is it's simplicity. No rinsing of the rice, no dicing carrots perfectly, no bashing of achiote paste in a mortar, just straightforward pantry staples of long-grain rice, half of a chopped onion, one tomato diced, chicken stock, and typical dried spices (or typical in my pantry). Once you've thrown your ingredients together, it takes no more than 30 minutes to hit the table! That's convenient enough to make everyday, and I often do! Don't forget to check back for a new recipe that will be perfect for your Cinco de Mayo!


Robin's Tex-Mex Rice

Serves 4, with NO leftovers!

Ingredients:

1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 small white onion, diced (small, large, irregular, it doesn't matter!)
2/3 cup long-grain rice (I prefer Rice Select, Texmati brand. Hey, I have to, it's Texan!)
1 tomato, chopped (fine, medium, large, seeds and all, it doesn't matter!)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (I prefer Gebhardt.)
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup chicken stock (I always have Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base in my fridge.)

Directions:

In a medium (2-quart) pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until the onion is translucent. Add the rice and stir until the rice turns white and is slightly toasted, but not browned, approximately 2-3 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally until the rice is tender, approximately 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand covered at least 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

*Lime wedges to squeeze over the rice makes a nice garnish.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Literary Meal with William Faulkner

One of my kids is reading As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner. With thoughts of the Bundrens, the Tulls, and Mississippi, I was reminded of Faulkner's favorite dish: salmon croquettes (aka. salmon cakes). While I know he preferred canned pink salmon, as well as the recipe on the can, I find canned salmon absolutely nauseating. Instead, when I find myself with two cups of leftover salmon, I make these fantastic "Salmon Cakes with Chipotle Cream and Arugula." 

You may be surprised that a measly two cups of flaked salmon can feed four; however, these salmon cakes are loaded with fresh veggies and yummy, buttery Ritz crackers. The spicy chipotle cream adds an appealing contrast, while the peppery arugula dressed lightly with a squirt of lemon and drizzle of olive oil reincarnates leftovers into a welcoming new meal. I like to serve them with asparagus and a warm baguette. And if you really want to channel Faulkner, a mint julep would be the perfect addition.


Salmon Cakes with Chipotle Cream and Arugula

Serves 4

Ingredients:
For the Salmon Cakes
2 cups flaked, cooked salmon
1/2 cup fine Ritz cracker crumbs
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons capers, drained and chopped
2 tablespoon Italian parsley, minced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Dash of hot sauce
3/4 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoon butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil, for frying

For the Chipotle Cream
1/2 cup sour cream or Mexican crema
1 tablespoon milk
1 chipotle chile in adobo
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the Arugula
4 handfuls baby arugula
Squirt of lemon and drizzle of olive oil

Directions:
For the Chipotle Cream
Mix the sour cream or crema, milk, and the chipotle chile with an immersion blender or in a food processor until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the Salmon Cakes
Mix all the ingredients together, except for the butter and olive oil for frying, and shape into 8 equal portions. 


Heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in a non-stick frying pan. When the butter is melted and the oil is hot, cook four of the salmon cakes until each side is browned, approximately 5 minutes per side. Set aside to a paper towel lined plate. Add the remaining butter and oil to the pan and cook the remaining four salmon cakes.

While the last salmon cakes are cooking, dress the arugula with the lemon and olive oil.

To plate, place a handful of arugula on each plate, then top with 2 salmon cakes and a dollop of chipotle cream on each cake.


Friday, April 10, 2015

Got Ham?

Sometimes it can be hard to get rid of that leftover Easter ham. Short of casserole-type dishes, which my family hates, pasta dishes, which my husband hates, sandwiches are the last option. However, I have come up with a superb recipe for "Toasted Ham and Smoked Gouda Sandwiches with Caramelized Onions and Arugula." Imagine warm ham and melty Gouda, sweet caramelized onions, tangy Dijon mustard, and peppery arugula. Yum! It's so good that I've made them twice this week! All that's needed is a comforting bowl of soup, or your favorite chips, to complete this simple yet satisfying meal. I promise you will love it!


Toasted Ham and Smoked Gouda Sandwiches with Caramelized Onions and Arugula

Makes 4 Sandwiches.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon brown sugar
8 slices good quality sandwich bread (I use an Italian style bread.)
Dijon mustard
Thinly sliced ham, enough for 4 sandwiches
4 slices smoked Gouda
Softened butter
4 handfuls arugula

Directions:
For the Caramelized Onions
In a large saute pan, heat the oil and butter over medium heat. When the butter stops foaming, add the onions, salt, and pepper. Stir well and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover the pan and cook the onions, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Remove the cover from the pan. Stir in the brown sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are a deep golden brown, approximately 30 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Place the onions into a bowl; set aside. (Don't bother washing out the pan.)

For the Sandwiches
Take 2 pieces of bread and spread a little Dijon mustard on each. Lay as much ham on one bread slice as you prefer. Top with a slice of smoked Gouda. Top the other bread slice with a quarter of the caramelized onions. Close the sandwich and butter one side. Repeat with the remaining sandwiches.

Heat the saute pan that you used for the onions over medium-low heat. Lay the sandwiches, butter-side down, in the pan. (You may have to do them in batches depending on the size of your pan.) Butter the other side of the sandwiches. Cover and let heat gently until just beginning to brown. Flip the sandwiches over, cover, and continue heating until just beginning to brown. Flip the sandwiches over again, raise the heat to medium, and let toast to golden brown. Turn the sandwiches over and toast the other side until golden brown. Remove the sandwiches to a cutting board. Just before serving, open each sandwich and place a handful of arugula inside. Close the sandwiches and cut on the diagonal, serve. 

Mmmmmm!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Best Arista!

Arista is a Tuscan roast pork loin with the ribs attached. It refers to the dish and the cut of pork. The story goes that in 1439, Greek and Roman bishops and cardinals met in Florence to discuss differences between the churches. Of course they were served the classic roast pork loin seasoned with rosemary, salt, and pepper. The Greeks were so amazed by the flavor, that they began to exclaim, "Aristos, aristos!" Arista means "the best" in Greek, and the name stuck. Although, many believe the dish dates further back to the Renaissance. 

If you've never made this cut of pork, you're in for a revelation! It is superior to boneless pork loin. It's more juicy, flavorful, and makes an impressive presentation, perfect for Easter! My favorite recipe for Arista is from Williams-Sonoma. It starts by marinating the pork overnight with thyme, rosemary, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. The next day, dried figs are soaked in sweet vermouth, which are added to the pan juices after roasting to become an incredible sauce further enhanced with stock, demi-glace, fig balsamic vinegar, and butter. My husband said it was the best pork dish he's ever tasted, and I agree! I serve it with roasted potatoes, asparagus, baguette, and a nice bottle of Syrah. It's a perfect holiday feast, guaranteed to make everyone happy! (If you are looking for lamb this Easter, check out my recipes for Grilled Leg of Lamb with Rosemary, Garlic, and Mustard or Pistachio-Crusted Lamb Chops on Rutabaga Rosti and Gingered Carrot Sauce!)


Arista (Tuscan Roast Pork Loin)

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
4 tablespoons minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt, plus more, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
1 bone-in pork loin roast, about 5 pounds (I buy a "frenched pork rack.")
12 ounces dried figs, halved (I use 9 ounces dried mission figs, and it is plenty!)
1 cup sweet vermouth or water, warmed (Don't use water!)
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken stock (I like "Better than Bouillon" brand.)
2 tablespoons veal demi-glace, homemade or store-bought (I prefer "Demi-Glace Gold" brand.)
2 teaspoons fig balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Directions:

In a small bowl, combine the thyme, rosemary, garlic, and 1 1/2 tablespoons salt, pepper, and olive oil. Rub the herb mixture on all sides of the pork loin. Cover with plastic wrap or seal in a freezer bag and refrigerate overnight.

Put the figs in a bowl, add the vermouth and soak for 1 hour. Strain the figs, reserving the soaking liquid.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Put the pork in a roasting pan and roast for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400 degrees and continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat, away from the bone, registers 135-140 degrees, 45-50 minutes more. Transfer the pork to a carving board, cover loosely with foil and let rest for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, set the roasting pan over medium-high heat. Add the reserved soaking liquid and bring to a boil, stirring to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom. Reduce the heat to medium and add the figs, stock, demi-glace, and fig balsamic vinegar. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Whisk in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, and season with salt and pepper.

Carve the pork roast between the bones and arrange on a warmed platter. Pour the sauce over the meat and serve immediately. Be prepared for cheers!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Incredible Edible Cure for Burns!

I love to cook, but hate the inevitable burns I receive on a regular basis. Not only does it leave me whimpering at the dinner table, it takes at least a week for the resulting blister to heal, and even longer for the discoloration to fade. That is until...I put a potato on it!


About a week ago, I was frying up a delicioso batch of chiles rellenos and somehow the tip of one of my fingers dipped into the incredibly hot oil! Ouch! (Actually, that's not what I said exactly, but you get the picture!) I immediately ran the finger until cold water to remove the hot oil and help reduce the temperature of the burn. I then took a peek to inspect the damage. It already looked white, like an under-cooked french fry, and it hurt like hell. My sweet kids did what all kids would do in this situation, looked it up on the internet. Their unanimous response was to place a potato on it. They said it might help prevent a blister. Honestly, I was desperate for relief, but really doubted a potato could prevent a 375 degree oil blister from forming...or could it?

I cut a small potato in half, scooped out a small indention with a melon baller, and stuck the tip of my finger in it. I felt immediate relief from the pain! Weird! I kept the potato on my finger until it started to hurt again, in which I melon balled another fresh divot for continuous relief. I did this all evening until the pain was completely eliminated, about 2-3 hours. The next morning I was shocked! Not only was the burn from hell not blistered, it wasn't even red, and it didn't hurt at all! Amazing! So, the next time you get burned, you know what to do, put a potato on it!

Special thanks to the Chinese, who appear to be the ones to discover this excellent remedy!

*Tips: Apparently it is the juice from the potato that brings relief. In addition, you can grate a potato and apply to larger areas, if needed. According to WebMD, it is also supposed to be great for sunburns, infections, boils, arthritis, and sore eyes. Who knew?