Sunday, May 23, 2010

Chipotle Lemon Popcorn

For years now, I have loved cayenne pepper on my popcorn.  This seasoning mixture yields slightly less heat but adds smoky and acidic elements, which are very complimentary to one another and to the popcorn.   

1/4 c. yellow popcorn
2 Tbsp. butter, melted

For the seasoning mixture:
3 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. Salimon
1 Tbsp. chipotle powder

The Method
Combine salt, Salimon and chipotle powder in a salt shaker. Drizzle melted butter evenly over air popped or oil popped popcorn.  Sprinkle on desired amount of seasoning mixture and save the rest for later use (you'll want to have it again).  Enjoy.

Food for Thought
What's Salimon?  Trechas Salimon is a citrified salt with a delicious, potent lemony zing that works well in Mexican cuisine (see one other application here).

Monday, May 17, 2010


So as it turns out, crepes are either easier than I'd previously thought or I had a full-blown case of beginner's luck this last Mother's Day.  Crepes are just plain fun and have a lot of versatility; breafast/bruch or dessert, sweet or savory fillings.  All good. 

One other possible explanation for the fabulous outcome is that I followed a great recipe so I though I'd post it here.  This comes from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (Revised Edition): 

1 cup whole milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for the pan
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Blend all of the ingredients together in a food processor or blender until smooth, about 4 seconds.  Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate the batter for 2 hours or up to 2 days.

2. Gently stir the batter to combine if it appears separated.  Heat an 8-inch nonstick skillet (or crepe pan) over medium heat for about 3 minutes.  Brush the pan bottom and sides very lightly with butter (it should sizzle when it hits the pan).  When the butter stops sizzling, remove the pan from the heat, tilt the pan slightly, and, following the photos, pour 2 1/2 tablespoons of the batter (you can fill a 1/4 cup measuring cup a little past the halfway mark) into the pan.  As the batter is poured, rotate the pan to swirl the batter evenly over the face of the pan before returning it to the heat.  Cook until the first side is spotty golden brown, 30 to 60 seconds.  .  . Use a thin spatula to flip the crepe and continue to cook until the second side is spotty golden brown, about 30 seconds longer.  Transfer the crepe to a paper-towel-lined plate and let cool (you can stack crepes on top of each other).  Repeat with the remaining crepe batter, brushing the pan with butter as needed after cooking several crepes.  (p. 230)

On this particular day, we did two separate fillings; one sweet and one savory (did I mention that crepes are very versatile).  Our sweet application is as follows:

Strawberry Short Crepes

For the filling:
1 lb. fresh strawberries
1/4 c. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

2 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. real vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. orange extract
Mint for garnish

The Method
Slice strawberries and place in medium sized bowl, add lemon juice and sugar and set aside.

In a medium sized mixing bowl, add cream and beat on medium-high speed and add in extracts and powdered sugar just as cream begins to thicken.  Continue to beat until stiff.

Tightly roll 8-10 mint leaves together and chop into small ribbons (chiffonade). 

Fill crepes with cream and strawberries garnish with fresh mint.  Top with additional strawberries if desired.

Food for Thought
The cookbook shows photos of how to flip the crepe. You'll know it is ready to flip when you see the edges begin to curl slightly and lift off the edge of the pan. Turn by lifting up an edge with a spatula, grabbing that edge with your fingers while sliding the spatula further under the crepe then lift with your hand and the spatula at the same time and flip the crepe.

This recipe says it yields 20 7-inch crepes.  With our group, these went fast.  I used a 10-inch skillet and doubled the recipe (which just barely fit in our blender) and it yielded 24 crepes.  When using a 10-inch skillet, use a full 1/4 cup of batter for each crepe. 

These things are super fun.  I highly recommend experimenting on the great blank culinary canvas we call the crepe. 

- Skillet potatoes with diced red peppers, onions and pepper jack cheese
- Sautéed mushrooms and asparagus with Gorgonzola bleu cheese
- Ricotta cheese with lemon zest and blueberries
- Blood oranges or naval oranges, whipped cream, cinnamon and nutmeg
- Bananas, whipped cream and Nutella
Let us know how your crepes turn out and what ideas you come up with.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Caesar Salad

H said this was the best Caesar Salad she'd ever had.

6 chicken tenders, fresh or thawed
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

1 head Romaine lettuce
1/4 c. good quality store-bought Caesar-salad dressing
1/4 c. good quality store-bought mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/4 c. croutons, coarsely crushed
2 oz. Parmesan cheese, finely grated or chopped
Fresh ground black pepper

The Method
Place chicken tenders in a medium sized mixing bowl and add lemon juice, olive oil, Kosher salt and black pepper and toss until evenly coated. Grill over medium direct heat for 3-4 minutes per side, remove from heat and set aside.

Mix salad-dressing, mayo, lemon juice, olive oil, Worcestershire, garlic along with half of Parmesan cheese and whisk together. 

Cut lettuce in half along the center rib.  Top each half with three 3 pieces of chicken, remaining Parmesan, croutons and drizzle with dressing.  Salt and pepper to taste. 

Food for Thought
There are many great recipes you can find online or in print if you want to make your own Caesar's dressing.  I find that this yields excellent results with less labor.  When choosing Romaine (as with practically all other produce) avoid produce that appears discolored or wilted.  One additional consideration with Romaine is that the presence of strong, milky ribs should be avoided also, since this feature which commonly occurs in older produce will give the lettuce an unpleasant bitterness that exceeds the pleasantly herbacious bitterness of good Romaine, a quality which, in small doses as found in fresh heads, makes Romaine go so well with funky cheeses and other strong flavors. 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mint Pea Puree (Springtime Italian Guac)

We have made this one many times over the last several years and have not been able to resist sharing it with many of you so it seems silly that I haven't posted the recipe yet.  I suppose one reason is that, while there are very few if any things in food, music, art, etc., which are truly original anymore, the general approach here is to post only those things for which I feel some ownership.  Whether it is a bizarre tweak on a classic, something that I can't recall seeing done the same way elsewhere or just a common dish that I really like and find that one particular recipe surpasses or at least typifies all known variations, I suppose it could be said that I just like any recipes I post to be interesting.  If I can recall the particular origin of a recipe, I will give credit where due.  That said, I can't take too much credit for this recipe.  I can however take credit for the high-octane modifications.  Click on the link below to see the recipe where I first encountered this concept.

Mint Pea Puree

2 c. chicken broth or water with 1 Tbsp. chicken base
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen peas
1/4 c. fresh chopped mint
4-6 cloves garlic
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
4-5 oz. Parmesan cheese

1 baguette or loaf of Italian or French bread 
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

The Method
Add chicken broth, red pepper flakes and peas to a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil and remove from heat.  Cut Parmesan cheese into 1-inch cubes and add to food processor.  Process until even coarseness is achieved.  Remove cheese from food processor and set aside.  Drain liquid from peas in a colander and add peas to food processor, along with mint leaves, garlic, salt, pepper and cayenne and process for 15-20 seconds.  Remove food processor bowl from base, cover with foil and refrigerate for 15-20 minutes. 

Cut bread (bias cut) into 1/2 inch slices, brush with olive oil, place on large baking sheet and place baking sheet in oven that has been preheated to 375 degrees until golden brown (7-10 minutes depending on the rack setting and type of bread).  Remove from oven. 

After cooling pea mixture, reattach bowl, add Paremesan and process for an additional 20-30 seconds while drizzling in olive oil and heavy cream.

Spoon finished mixture on crostini and enjoy. 

Food for Thought
Basic departures from the recipe linked above and this one are that this one has more salt, more heat and more garlic (I am from the "No Such Thing as too Much Garlic" school of thought) and no prosciutto, although I think prosciutto is great.  We actually usually top ours with grilled chicken tenders.  I think the basic concept of this dish is brilliant, though it may actually be more English than Italian (Another good food idea from England?  What the?). 

Regarding the salt, you may actually want to add even more salt incrementally as you sample the product.  I find that doing so can really liven up the whole dish and bring the Parmesan to a more taste-forward  position - just enough to balance it with the freshness of the mint and the sweetness of the peas. 

Finally, if you are in a mischievous mood, serve this with tortilla chips as guacamole.  After the first victim reels to find a proper sensory anchor and recovers from the profound gustatory confusion you have inflicted upon him, bag the chips and whip out the crostini.  Your victim may be gun-shy but everyone else will love it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Pasta con Sugo Rosa

I'm not sure where this recipe originated.  I do know that our introduction to the dish came by way of a great friend and epicure of ours over a decade ago.  It has, with a minor tweak or two, been a family favorite ever since.  Once you get a taste for the zippy savory sauciness and see how easy it is to make, it will be one of your favorites too. 

1/2 lb lean ground beef or ground turkey
1 qt. home-canned tomatoes canned with lemon juice
10-12 white button mushrooms, sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pint. heavy cream
16 oz. rotini noodles
Fresh ground black pepper
The Method
In a deep 10-12 inch skillet over medium heat, add olive oil and ground beef or turkey burger and cook until lightly browned.  Add garlic, mushrooms and tomatoes along with canning liquid and reduce heat to medium-low.  If using store bought tomatoes, add 1/4 c. lemon juice.  Allow mixture to simmer for 10-15 minutes.  In separate pot, bring water to a boil and cook rotini noodles to desired texture, remove from heat and drain.  Remove sauce mixture from heat, add cream and stir to combine.  Dish noodles into bowls and top with sauce.  Salt and pepper to taste.         

Food for Thought 
Adding the cream should only be done at the end as adding dairy to an acidic compound over high heat could cause the cream to become granular or curdle.  

When buying mushrooms, avoid pre-sliced.  Pre-packaged whole mushrooms are permissible but can be a bit of a gamble.  I prefer to purchase the desired amount of loose bulk mushrooms taking care to select produce with closed gills and which are free of discoloration. Prior to slicing, a quick rinse or even a short soak in cold water is permissible - just don't allow them to soak for too long. Dry mushrooms with paper towel, brushing off any debris or unsavory residue. 

And, by the way, sugo is Italian for sauce and rosa for pink, hence the name - pasta with pink sauce, due to the unique color of the sauce after the cream is added. 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Buon Giorno Crostini and Eggs with Pesto

It certainly will be a good morning if you start off with this dish.  If your standard American toast and eggs could be described as an old Ford pickup - utilitarian, ordinary and unadorned then this version could be described as a Ferrari - a much more fun and interesting way to get around with unmistakable Italian flare.    

This is an all-time favorite breakfast/brunch dish. It's so good that there really aren't words to describe it and if you tried to use any that you know in an effort to do this dish justice, you'd probably regret it. 

Italian or French bread
2-4 oz. Parmesan cheese, divided (do I even need to say it - nothing from a can!)
1-2 Tbsp. butter

For the pesto
2 Tbsp. slivered almonds, toasted
Fresh Italian parsely - 1 large fistful
Fresh basil - 1/2 to 2/3 the amount of parsely used
4 -5 cloves garlic
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
Table salt
Fresh ground black pepper

The Method
As you've noticed, the amount of eggs and bread has not been specified.  The amount is a function of how much you want to make, how many you are feeding, etc.  

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Slice bread (bias cut) into desired number of 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick slices and brush lightly with olive oil or real butter (not that the two are interchangeable, it just depends on the effect you prefer) on one side.  Toast in oven til light to golden brown, remove and set aside.  Toast slivered almonds in oven on a small baking dish for 3 minutes, being careful not to let them get too over-browned or burnt. 

Wash parsley and basil well under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.  Place herbs in blender with toasted almonds, garlic, olive oil and 1/4 of your grated Parmesan.  Pulse blender several times until herbs, garlic and nuts are well pulverized but still a bit coarse (not pureed).  If you have to scrape down the sides of the blender between pulses, make sure blade has completely stopped spinning first.    

Heat butter in non-stick skillet over medium-low heat.  Fry desired number of eggs over-easy two-three at a time.  Apply pinch of table salt and pepper to each egg.  Apply pesto (about 1 Tbsp.) to each piece of toasted bread.  Plate bread with pesto and top each piece of bread with an egg.  Sprinkle each eggs with remaining Parmesan and another Tbsp. or so of pesto.  Serve while eggs are warm.   
Food for Thought
You may also do this with poached eggs.  No instructions for poaching eggs will be given here but it is easy to find in various print and web resources.  Those who know how to poach eggs well may agree that the process is something akin to making a potion in Harry Potter's advanced potions class where you require a personalized copy of the instructional text from the Half-Blood Prince himself, complete with helpful hints in the margins.  Over-easy works great and is self-explanatory.  The point is, that you have firm egg white with an intact yolk that is not so firm (which is not to say that the yolk is infirm). 

My wife does not care for uncooked egg yolks (or so she thinks), yet she loves pasta carbonara - which she know employs uncooked egg yolks.  Whatever.  The pesto is, of course, herbacious as all get out but the addition of the almonds and Parmesan temper what might otherwise be overly grassy notes.  You may wish to add a little additional salt to your finished product but try a bite first because the Paremesan in the pesto and on the eggs adds more saltiness than you might expect.    

If you are concerned about foodborne illness from an uncooked egg yolk, that's OK.  If you are elderly or pregnant, or have some other potential contraindication, you may want to avoid such a preparation.  For the rest of us, it is relatively safe (I've been eating eggs over-easy since I was a kid and I'll let you know the first time I become ill from it).  In fact, you are more likely to get salmonellosis or other foodborne illness from other foods which are generally consumed raw than from an uncooked egg yolk; certain vegatable matter like pre-packaged spinach, salad greens, sprouts, etc.  In many countries, eggs may move from the chicken coupe to your home and never see the inside of a refrigerator until you get them home.  And besides, it is delicious and adds a unique and wonderful element of rich and wholesome yumminess.  Buon appetito!