Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What's the Saffron of Latin America?

It's Achiote, also known as Annotto!. This spice, with it's slightly nutty, sweet, and peppery flavor, comes from the Achiote trees (aka., "lipstick trees") of the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas. The exterior of the seed pods are inedible, but the seeds inside are ground to add their exotic flavor to Mexican and Carribean cuisine. In addition, achiote is used as a food coloring in some cheeses and dairy products, and is used in Central and South America to make body paint and lipstick! The paste is available commercially, and is essential in traditional Mexican fare, such as fish tacos, roast pork, mexican rice, and grilled turkey, to name a few. Here is a great recipe for "Mexican Achiote Rice," which is supposedly the "house" rice at Frontera Grill, one of Rick Bayless's renowned restaurants in Chicago!

Mexican Achiote Rice (Arroz Amarillo)

Serves 4-6


For the garlicky achiote seasoning paste
2 tablespoons achiote seeds (I use the paste, like El Yucateco, available online at
2 teaspoons allspice
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferable Mexican
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
6 garlic cloves, peeled (if doing without mortar and pestle, chop finely)
Salt, about 2 teaspoons

For the rice
1 cup fresh (or defrosted frozen) peas
1 cup rice, preferably medium grain
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1 3/4 cups broth, preferably pork or beef broth
2 medium carrots, chopped into 1/4-inch dice
Chopped cilantro, for garnish


For the garlicky achiote paste
Add the achiote seeds (freshly ground in a spice grinder) or achiote paste, allspice, pepper, oregano, and vinegar to a mortar and pestle (click here for information about mortars and pestles), or small bowl and mix well to create a smooth paste.

Add the garlic and 1 teaspoon salt, and work together into a smooth paste.

Next, dribble on and work in enough water (usually about a tablespoon or 2) to give it all the consistency of a thick but spreadable paste. You will need 2 tablespoons of the achiote paste. (Reserve the remainder in a small jar for future use on chicken, fish, pork, turkey, or rice. It will keep in the refrigerator for a while.)

For the rice
Cook the fresh peas in a pot of boiling water until tender, drain and set aside. Or simply measure out frozen peas.

In a 2-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the canola oil over medium heat and add the rice and onion. Cook, stirring regularly and scraping up any sticky bits from the bottom of the pan, until the rice is chalky looking and the onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat the broth and the 2 tablespoons of achiote paste, along with 1/2-1 teaspoon of salt, depending on the saltiness of the broth. Whisk the broth mixture well, then add to the hot rice pan. Add the carrots. Stir once, scrape down any rice kernels clinging to the side of the pan, cover and cook over medium-low for 15 minutes. 

Uncover and bite into a grain of rice: It should be nearly cooked through. If the rice is just about ready, turn off the heat, stir in the peas, re-cover, and let stand for 5-10 minutes longer to complete the cooking. If the rice seems far from done, cook for 5 minutes or so, retest and then add the peas, remove from the heat, and let stand a few minutes. Fluff the rice, scoop it into a warm serving dish, sprinkle with cilantro and serve. It's enticingly exotic!

Recipe adapted from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Cheeky Chipotle

I love making salsa, especially "Roasted Tomato-Chipotle Salsa!" Take the concentrated, roasty flavor of blackened tomatoes, the smokiness of chipotles, and the sweetness of roasted garlic, and you have a splendid salsa! This all-purpose salsa is fantastic with chips and guacamole, and is especially good with red meats. To roast the garlic, cut the top off a head of garlic, place it in a foil packet, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, seal the foil packet, and roast in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until the garlic is soft and sweet. To use, just squeeze the buttery soft cloves from the head of garlic. This salsa may take a little effort, but I promise it is well worth your time!

Roasted Tomato-Chipotle Salsa (Salsa de Chile Chipotle)

Makes about 4 cups


3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, peeled and chopped
2 pounds Roma tomatoes, blackened
4 teaspoons finely minced roasted garlic
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
4 chipotle chiles en adobo, chopped (sold in cans, I like San Marcos)
1/2-1 tablespoon salt, to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 lime juice, freshly squeezed


Roasting the tomatoes
The broiler method: Lay the tomatoes on a baking sheet and place about 4 inches below a very hot boiler. Roast until blistered and blackened on one side, about 6 minutes; with a spoon or pair of tongs, flip the tomatoes and roast on the other side.

The griddle method: Line a griddle or heavy skillet with aluminum foil and heat over medium. Lay the tomatoes on the foil and roast, turning several times, until blistered, blackened and softened, about 10 minutes. Don't worry if the skin sticks to the foil.

Making the salsa
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat until lightly smoking, add the onion, and saute, stirring often, until caramelized, about 10 minutes. (Don't let it burn!) Transfer the onion, half the blackened tomatoes, and garlic to a food processor or blender, and pulse until finely chopped but not pureed. Add the cilantro and chipotle chiles, and pulse again to mix.

Peel, seed, and chop the remaining pound of tomatoes, and fold in together with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, lime juice, salt, and sugar. Splendid!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Hearts of the Cream

Finishing my week of Valentine's recipes, I cannot overlook another French classic, "Coeurs a la Creme" (hearts of the cream). From my research, there are a plethora of versions; so, I decided to try Laura Calder's version from French Food at Home, in which she calls them "Cheese Creams." (If you haven't figured it out, I have been steadily working my way through all three of Laura's cookbooks! I love them all!) I have made this version numerous times, and instantly fell in love! Laura recommends serving it with fresh blackberry sauce (2 parts berries pureed, strained, and sweetened with 1 part sugar), fresh peaches or apricot slices, dried fruit compote, or drizzled with honey and toasted cracked walnuts. I prefer the latter. Although, figs don't hurt either! The slight tang from the yogurt really makes this recipe stand out, and with honey and walnuts, it truly shines!

Coeurs a la Creme

Serves 6


3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup thick plain yogurt, preferable sheep's or goat's milk
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar, or more to taste
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Cheesecloth and 6 ramekins or heart molds


Beat the cream cheese in a bowl until soft. Beat in the yogurt and mascarpone until smooth. Finally, beat in the cream. Whisk in the sugar and lemon juice to taste.

Line six, 1/2-cup molds, or a large bowl, with a double layer of dry cheesecloth. Spoon in the cheese-cream mixture evenly among molds and smooth the top. Fold over the cheesecloth, press down slightly, and refrigerate overnight. 

Unmold to serve with the topping of your choice. Je l'aime!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Execution

Well, it's done. Because of me, a lobster has gone to crustacean heaven. For Valentine's Day, I wanted to make my husband something special, specifically, Laura Calder's "Lobster Stew." I've never cooked a lobster before, and was riddled with guilt about the whole thing. I went to purchase my unfortunate friend to be steamed by myself, but chickened-out and had the fishmonger do it. (Which is free of charge.) So, with the dirty business done, I still had the challenge of ripping off the claws, legs, and twisting off the tail. But nothing could prepare me for the initial whack of a meat mallet, in which lobster "goo" flew everywhere! YUCK! (None of my cook books informed me to let the excess water drain out of the pieces before cracking open the shells.) After an extreme kitchen AND me cleanup, I did manage to get both of the lobster claw meat out in one piece, along with the legs, and tail! HOORAY! With the dirty work done, the rest of the dish was a cinch!

The stew turned out strikingly beautiful and tasted amazingly fresh and delicious! The only comment I have, would allow for one lobster per serving, instead of half per the recipe. It was a lot of work and I was left wanting MORE!

Lobster Stew

Serves 4 (I halved the recipe for just my husband and me. Lobster isn't cheap!)


2 live lobsters, about 1 1/2 pounds each
3 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons Cognac
12 asparagus tips
12 slices yellow zucchini
6 radishes, halved
2 handfuls of freshly shelled or frozen peas
Salt and pepper
Lemon juice
A small handful of chopped fresh chervil, for garnish (I couldn't find any!)


For the lobsters
Pour enough water into a large pot to come up about a finger deep. Bring to a boil, put the lobsters in head first, cover, and steam 5 minutes. Drain, and rinse under cold water until cool enough to work with. Shell the lobsters, reserving 12 of the meatiest legs and the shells; discard the body. You should have four intact claws and two tails that you can have lengthwise.

Wrap the meat and refrigerate until ready to use. Chop the shells to pieces with a mallet or in the food processor. Set aside.

For the broth
Melt half the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat, and cook the onion until soft. Stir in the tomato paste, and add the lobster shells. Pour over the Cognac and carefully light it. When the flames have died down, pour over 3 cups water, and boil until the liquid is reduced to 1 1/2 cups. Strain, pressing down on the shells to extract all the juices. 

Return the lobster stock to the saute pan. Discard the shells.

For the vegetables
While the sauce is reducing, cook the vegetables, separately, in a pot of boiling salted water until al dente, 30 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on the vegetable. When each is done, using a strainer or slotted spoon, immediately plunge into an ice bath to preserve the color. Drain.

Finishing the dish
Bring the lobster stock in the saute pan to a simmer, uncovered. Add the lobster, and poach gently for 3 minutes. Add the vegetables, and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Arrange half a tail and a whole claw in each of four soup plates. Using a slotted spoon, divide the vegetables evenly around the meat. You should have about 1 cup sauce left in the pan; if you have too much, quickly boil it down. Whisk in the remaining butter. Taste, and season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Ladle the broth over the lobster and vegetables, scatter over the chervil, and serve. DELICIOUS!

Recipe from French Taste: Elegant Everyday Eating, by Laura Calder

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Eat This, Jack Frost!

Well, it's official! Winter has finally come upon me, with snow and subzero winds. Brrr! My poor bistro set looks so cold and lonely, it's down right dismal! On days like these, I want something comforting, earthy, and positively delicious, like "Wild Mushroom, Leek, and Gorgonzola Lasagna." This fabulous lasagna is so good, even my husband, who is a devoted carnivore, loves it! Serve it with a simple green salad, a crusty baguette, and a glass of wine, for a meal that is guaranteed to banish the winter blues!

Wild Mushroom, Leek, and Gorgonzola Lasagna

Serves 8-10


9 ounces lasagna noodles, cooked according to package directions, or "no boil" noodles
15 ounces ricotta cheese
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-reggiano cheese
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 large leeks, white and light green parts, cut into 1-inch dice
1 1/2 pounds wild mushrooms, thinly sliced
5 garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 1/2 tablespoons flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk
5 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
4 ounces whole-milk mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated


For the noodles
Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions, cool in a cold water bath, then drain and place the pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

For the filling
In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta and Parmigiano, season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the leeks, season with salt and pepper, and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the leeks a very soft and light golden, about 30 minutes. Remove the leeks from the pan and reserve.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until they are soft and the liquid has evaporated, 7-10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper, add to the leeks and stir together.

For the bechamel
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour and cook, uncovered, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly, until it comes to a boil and thickens, 4-5 minutes. Add the Gorgonzola and stir until smooth. Taste and season with salt (about 1 1/2 teaspoons), pepper, and nutmeg.

Finishing the dish
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Oil a 13x9-inch baking dish. Cover the bottom of the dish with a single layer of pasta. Cover the pasta with 1/3 of the ricotta mixture. (You may have to use your fingers to spread it out.) Sprinkle 1/3 of the mushroom/leek mixture over the ricotta. Spread 1/3 of the sauce over the vegetables. Repeat with the remaining 2 layers. Sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over the top layer. Bake until the top is golden and bubbling around the edges, 40-50 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand 15 minutes before serving. Yum!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"Excuse me while I powder my nose!"

"Excuse me while I powder my nose" is such a girly saying dating back to the 1930s, evoking images of speakeasies, jazz/swing, and "The Golden Age Of Hollywood." However, this was the time of "The Great Depression," when people were broke, and movies and radio were the most common past-times in an attempt to escape the grim realities of life. Well, I'm glad those days are over - I hope!  With that said, there is nothing depressing, or more girly, than these adorable "Powder Puffs" from Laura Calder of French Food at Home. They would be great with a civilized cup of tea, with coffee for a special breakfast, or just an indulgent anytime treat! Believe me, they taste as lovely as they look!

Powder Puffs

Makes about 12 cakes


1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup or more raspberry jam (or whatever jam you prefer)
3/4 cup whipping cream, whipped with vanilla and some powdered sugar
Powdered sugar, to dust tops


Heat the oven to 425 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick silicone mats (e.g., Silpat). Combine the flour, cornstarch, cream of tartar, and baking soda, set aside. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks and beat in the sugar a spoonful at a time to make a stiff meringue. Whisk in the yolks one at a time. Sift the dry ingredients over the meringue and gently fold them in with a spatula. (Do not stir!)

Drop the batter, using 2 spoons, into 2 tablespoon mounds, spaced well apart, on the baking sheet. (I do 6 at a time.) Bake until well risen, lightly golden, and cooked through, about 7 minutes. Cool on racks.

Spread the flat side of one cake with jam, top with some whipped cream, and then sandwich with another cake. Continue with the rest. Let them sit an hour or so to soften and meld before serving. (If you can wait! Although, if you refrigerate them overnight, they are DIVINE!) Dust with powdered sugar, if you like, then eat them right away!

This recipe is also printed in Laura Calder's, Dinner Chez Moi, but renamed "Jam Yo-yos."

Sunday, February 5, 2012

For the Love of Copper!

I would like to introduce my newest obsession, my 10-inch, Mauviel Copper Egg White Bowl! I am so excited! In fact, this bowl has been on my wish list for years! Egg whites react with copper to make them more stable and create higher peaks. I found this bowl in a tarnished state at a local kitchen store, just lying there, waiting for me! I bought it for a steal, took it home, and it cleaned up beautifully! So keep your eye out, if you can find any Mauviel products for under $100, it's a great buy and a pleasure to use and own!

Mauviel manufacturing company was established in 1830, by Mr. Ernest Mauviel, in the Normandy village of Villedieu-les-Poiles, known as "the city of copper." Copper manufacturing has been conducted in the village for 800 years and the knowledge and skill has been handed down from generation to generation. For an interesting video, by a 7th generation Mauviel, click here. (It helps explain the hefty price tag!)

Keep checking my blog for my next excellent recipe requiring beaten egg whites, of course!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Croissants - Part Trois

(They let cats in restaurants?) 

Well, I did it! My croissants turned out beautifully! My family devoured all of them within 10 minutes! In addition, they already asked if I would make them again next weekend! I really enjoyed making croissants and it was surprisingly simple! Try it!

Day 3 (Sunday Morning)

About 1 1/2 hours before baking time, remove the dough from the refrigerator and sprinkle with flour on the work surface. Roll the dough into a 16-inch circle, working as quickly as possible. (Good workout for your arms!)

Using a knife, cut the dough into quarters,

and then cut each quarter into 3 triangles.

With both hands, roll the base of each triangle toward the remaining corner. Do not curl the ends in a croissant shape.

Transfer the croissants to a baking sheet (I used 2 sheets) and brush with 2 tablespoons milk. Let stand at room temperature for about 45 minutes, or until the croissants have doubled in volume. (This took my 1 1/2 hours!) 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush the croissants with the glaze (1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon milk) and bake for 15-20 minutes. If the croissants brown too fast, cover them loosely with foil and continue baking. (This wasn't a problem for me.) Let cool 20 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

If you missed Croissants - Part Un, click here. For Croissants - Part Deux, click here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Croissants - Part Deux

Now that the existential pastry has cleared the air, let's get back to the croissants! For Croissants - Part Un, click here.

Day 2 (Saturday Morning):

Bring the butter (12 tablespoons) to room temperature and work it with the heel of your hand (I just used a spoon in a small bowl) to incorporate the remaining 3 tablespoons of the flour until smooth. Shape into a square. (My butter was so soft, I just used a spoon to spread it out over the dough.)

Sprinkle the work surface (a marble slab is ideal) (I don't have one) with the flour, shape the cold dough into a 6x15-inch rectangle, and spread the butter square on the upper 2/3 of the rectangle, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the sides and top.

Fold the dough like a letter into thirds.

Turn the cough counterclockwise (it will look like a notebook with the open flap on your right),

and then again roll out the dough into a 6x15-inch rectangle and fold as before.

Transfer the dough to a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 6 hours.

Day 2 (Saturday Afternoon):

Roll out the dough 2 more times, like above, wrap, and refrigerate overnight.