June 29, 2011
I have four entree salads in my recipe rotation, and tonight I discovered a great way to kick one of them up a notch using some cilantro and garlic scapes I had left over from the Farmers’ Market this week. Sadly, I was down to half a tomato and ran out of greens, so I had to supplement with supermarket produce. Maybe I need bigger bags for Saturdays… Anyhow – salsa fresca! This was completely easy to make, pretty much just chopping, stirring it up, and checking the taste. I didn’t have any chili peppers at home, but not to fear, I had some dried chipotle peppers that I bought a while ago from Savory Spice Shop. I just reconstituted one, removed the seeds, and minced it.
A word about chili peppers. You have to experiment with them to find out which ones are just the right amount of hot for you (or not-hot, as the case may be). And add the pepper to your dish gradually. My husband and I both have created a couple of mouth and lip burners by not following the incremental method. The best way to check a chili pepper’s heat is to cut a piece off, and just touch it to your tongue. Should you experience painful burning, have some dairy, and move back down the Scoville Scale. Hopefully you won’t start too high up, and this won’t be a problem. The seeds have the most heat, so if you want to reduce the heat a bit, take those out. Also be careful not to rub your eyes after touching the cut pepper – capsaicin isn’t something you want in your eyes.
I prefer romaine lettuce for this salad, but any basic, sturdier lettuce would work. For tortilla chips, we really like Guiltless Gourmet’s black bean or blue corn. We use Kuner’s canned beans, as we find they are a bit firmer than most brands. We like to use non-fat Greek yogurt in place of sour cream to cut the fat down a bit.
My husband felt that the salad was too ‘juicy’ with the salsa made as it was, but I thought it was just the right amount. If you want yours less liquidy, just seed the tomatoes before you chop them.
Taco(ish) Salad with Salsa Fresca
2-3 tomatoes – 1 or 2 finely chopped, 1 chopped a bit rougher
2 green onions, finely chopped
2 garlic scapes (or 1 garlic clove), finely chopped
1 small bunch of cilantro, chopped
2 tsp lime juice
chili pepper type and amount of your choice, minced
salt and pepper to taste
Combine the first six ingredients in a bowl, and then add a bit of the minced chili, taste, and if it’s not hot enough, add some more. Repeat until you reach the heat you want. Salt and pepper to taste.
romaine or other salad greens
2 grilled ears of corn, kernels cut off
1/2 – 1 can of black beans
salsa fresca (recipe above)
4 Tbsp guacamole
4 Tbsp plain Greek yogurt
Chop or tear the romain, and put into two large bowls. Line the outside of the bowl with tortilla chips. Add the corn and beans. Top each salad with as much salsa as you want, half of the guacamole and half of the Greek yogurt.
June 28, 2011
Chocolate and Coffee. Two things I can’t, and don’t want to do without. I love them both.
I remember the old days, when I considered a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar, or a Nestle Crunch to be the most awesome treat. Then came Dove and Ghirardelli – nice improvement, richer and darker than the former two. But now, gourmet chocolate has become widely available, and what a wonderful plethora there is! Dark chocolate (which we have been lucky enough to be told is good for you), spicy chocolate, chocolate with marzipan, sea salt, dried fruit. Switzerland and Germany provide a bonanza of wonderful chocolate. We gave Lindor Truffles, made by Swizz chocolatier Lindt, as a favor at our wedding. And Ritter Sport bars are just fun, because their candy bars are square(!) and they have such an interesting assortment of flavors (check out the Dark Whole Hazelnut and Marzipan varieties).
Probably the best place in Boulder to find a huge variety of chocolate from all over the world is The Peppercorn, on Pearl Street. They have a dizzying array that makes your mouth water just standing there. A Boulder company, Chocolove, has become my gourmet chocolate supplier of choice. I’m hard pressed to choose a favorite between their Coffee Crunch, Peppermint, and Chilies & Cherries – all in 55% dark chocolate. I was once given a gift of a bar of green tea chocolate from Japan by some visiting coworkers. I can’t even begin to describe the nirvana this chocolate bar was. Since then I have tried every brand that I can find in the US offering green tea chocolate — and none even come close. That’s the one elusive chocolate that I can’t find here.
And then there’s coffee. Freshly ground coffee always smelled good to me as a child, but when I tried it – YUCK! I remember the day that I started drinking coffee. I was on a high school trip to Ireland and England. At breakfast, the waitress at the hotel came by offering coffee, and I declined, but I swear the she seemed disappointed, even sad. (Yeah – I don’t know if she really was, but hey, I was 18 and very sensitive.) So the next day, I accepted the offer, and added milk and sugar, as others at the table did. That was the magic. From that day on, I was a coffee drinker.
The two pinnacles of coffee for me are Kona coffee (100% only, no blends, and ideally imbibed while in Hawaii) and Blue Mountain coffee from Jamaica. They are both so smooth tasting. Kauai coffee is definitely not an equal to Kona coffee, but while on the island we stopped by the Kauai Coffee Company for a walking tour. In the tasting area, they had samples of their Kauai Estate Reserve Coffee, which is only available in small quantities. These coffees were phenomenal – smooth, rich, and very fresh.
As far as espresso drinks go, my husband and I have yet to find a domestic cappuccino that equals one made in Europe. It doesn’t even have to be Italy. We have had divine cappuccino in Germany. I’m never quite sure if it is just the being in Europe part that makes it so magical, or if there really is something different in the technique, the milk, or some other critical factor.
June 27, 2011
(translation of Une Gourmandise) by Muriel Barbery
This was a beautiful book, once I knew how to treat it. I started reading it for plot, which was a mistake. There is one, but it’s only a skeleton to hold together a series of reminiscences related by a dying food critic. The critic is a horrible person (which we find out through the chapters in the words of his family and associates), but his love of food is very real, and the descriptions he gives are lyrically beautiful. It’s a strange juxtaposition of the of narratives of others which make you hate the man, and the beautiful memories he has of his favorite food experiences as he struggles to remember a forgotten taste that he wants to experience just one more time.
Once I started reading more slowly, and for the descriptions rather than the action, I loved this book. There are wonderful stories about his food memories — childhood summer days at the beach, culminating in his father’s passion of fresh grilled sardines, a chance meal at a farm house after he gets lost on the way to a restaurant, the satisfaction he finds, without eating a bite, from watching a man prepare a simple lunch with unhurried, loving care as if he were preparing a five star meal.
This is truly eating with attention, appreciation, and love, the way the French do. Despite the man being such a jerk, he has a lot to teach about what food should mean.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
by Barbara Kingsolver
A fascinating and impressive biographical story about when the author and her family moved back to a family farm in Virginia, and pledged to live on only local, in-season food. Kingsolver discusses the economic and environmental costs of shipping out of season foods from distant places, as compared to eating local food when it is in season, and preserving food for leaner times. She describes the difficulties her family had adjusting to doing without tropical fruit in the middle of winter, and waiting for the first spring crops to begin eating green vegetables. There is an abundance of interesting detail on what it takes to run a small farm. She discusses a plethora of vegetables, heritage chickens and turkeys, harvesting and canning, and interacting with other local farmers.
Written by famous food critic Ruth Reichl about her work as a critic in New York city, this book not only has some great descriptions about food, but also much interesting information about what is involved with being a food critic. Reichl wore different disguises each time she went out to review, since she was already well known from her work on the West Coast, and the New York restaurants were on the lookout for her. Her description of a hidden, off the beaten path sushi restaurant run by a master chef made me want to try sushi again after 24 years. I was never a fan, despite having tried it a few times, but her description was so vivid, I could taste the sushi, and found that I had a craving for it. (Luckily the place I went to with some friends was divine, so I found that I am indeed, now a sushi fan).
Five Quarters of the Orange
by Joanne Harris
Primarily a mystery/human relationship story set in occupied France during World War II, the entire book is interwoven with a passion for food. The narrator’s mother, while troubled and unhappy in many ways, is passionate about food, and creates a diary with descriptions of the enchanting dishes she makes. Years later, the narrator returns to her childhood home, and carries on her mother’s tradition of cooking, while slowly revealing answers to secrets she has lived with her entire life. Many of Harris’s books are rich with food descriptions, and she has a wonderful way of weaving a mysterious tale.
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
by Anthony Bourdain
A bold, sometimes raunchy, always amusing autobiography of life in the culinary industry. Bourdain tells stories about cooking school, coming up through the ranks, and the exhausting demands on people working in a restaurant. There are many hilarious anecdotes that you want to share with everyone while you are reading the book, as well as some excellent tips on how to ensure you order the best, freshest food on the menu (the seafood tips are the best). A warning to vegetarians: go in with a sense of humor, and ignore his comments on the subject – the rest of the book is worth it.
June 26, 2011
See Pretty Good Refrigerator Pickles for a more successful attempt!
After seeing all the Japanese and Chinese turnips as well as some gorgeous multi-colored radishes at the Boulder Farmers’ Market over the past few weeks, I thought it would be fun to make some refrigerator pickles. I had tried a recipe for Indian-spiced cucumber pickles a year ago, and was surprised at how easy it actually is to make them. These aren’t the kind of pickles that require boiling and canning – they are meant to be eaten more quickly than those, but I think they would easily be good for a week in the fridge.
I wanted to do something on the spicy-sweet side, and what resulted wasn’t bad by any means, but I do wish that I hadn’t chosen to use radishes in the mix. On the one hand, because I did use them, and left the skin on, all of the pickles I made are variations of a gorgeous pink color. But they all have a not-quite-mild-enough hint of that peppery radish taste. They aren’t hot in the way I intended — radish hot, yes, chile hot, no. Nor were they quite as crisp as I would have liked.
Fortunately, they are good enough that it is definitely worth another go at them, with some adjustments based on this first round. I’ve finally gotten to the point where I don’t regard cooking efforts that don’t turn out as well as I like as failures, but think of them more as experiments which allow me to learn some things, and create a better end result in the future. (If I didn’t take this view, it would be too easy to either make the same 5 dishes every week, or just do sandwiches or frozen dinners every night!)
The following is the recipe I concocted, without any of the adjustments that I plan to try next time.
Spicy-Sweet Refrigerator Pickles – Attempt I
5 cups Chinese turnips and radishes (I used a 3:2 ratio)
1+1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp whole brown mustard seeds
1/2 tsp whole cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cinnamon chips
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp salt
Peel the turnips (leave the radishes unpeeled). Thinly slice both turnips and radishes. Pack into a deep glass bowl (vinegar can react with unlined metals) that you will be able to cover tightly and put in the refrigerator. It’s ideal be able to fit small plate in the bowl to weigh down the vegetables so the pickling liquid covers them.
Combine all other ingredients in a saucepan or dutch oven (glass, ceramic, or something lined with teflon, silverstone or enamel – again, due to the vinegar), and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve sugar, and boil for 1 minute. Pour over vegetables, cover with plate to ensure they are submerged in the liquid, and let cool to room temperature, about 40-50 minutes. Cover tightly, and refrigerate overnight.
Next time I plan to use milder tasting vegetables, see what I can do to increase the crispness, and figure out how to get a little more chile heat. I was pleased with the allspice/clove/cinnamon taste, so I plan to keep that. Look for an update in a couple weeks.
June 25, 2011
I went a little overboard at the Farmers’ Market today. I had the idea that I wanted to make pickles this week, so I was on the lookout for turnips, radishes and cucumber, but there were a lot of other things that caught my eye as well. And there were still garlic scapes. You do not neglect to buy garlic scapes if they are present at the market. I ended up bringing home spring garlic, garlic scapes, a mixed bag of mushrooms, Chinese turnips, radishes, tomatoes, cilantro, parsley, arugula, mixed greens, basil, chocolate mint and nasturtiums. I also got some prepared/packaged items — Righteous Cinnamon Cayenne Almonds from Olomomo Nut Company, Tunisian Harissa fettuccini from Pappardelle’s, and 6 mini cupcakes from Street Fare.
The turnips and radishes went into some spicy-sweet refrigerator pickles, which I’ll post about later (assuming they turn out well, that is!). One of the tomatoes and some basil went into a nice Insalata Caprese for lunch. For dinner, we had salad and pasta, and used quite a bit of what I brought home.
I made a really nice green salad that I’ve been doing the past few weeks. I have been mixing baby lettuce, spinach, arugula, baby red chard, and dill sprigs, and dressing it with balsamic vinaigrette (Annie’s Tuscany Italian Dressing). This week, since they had nasturtiums (which are edible if grown for that purpose), I decided to put some on the salad. They have a slightly sweet, peppery taste, and personally, I prefer them in smaller doses, so I used individual petals instead of the whole flowers in the salad.
For the Tunisian Harissa fettuccini, Pappardelle’s website suggests using a simple olive oil or butter sauce so the flavor of the pasta comes out. Most recipes that I find online for olive oil and garlic sauce indicate that you should use 1/2 cup of olive oil for 1 lb of pasta. But I like to keep things a lot lower fat than that, and find that too much oil actually interferes with other flavors in the dish. Continuing with my ‘alternatives to traditional garlic’ theme of the past few weeks, I decided to use spring garlic for that component. Like garlic scapes and green garlic, spring garlic is milder than regular, common garlic. You can use a stalk of green garlic in place of one or two cloves of regular garlic. I removed the outer layer of the spring garlic, and chopped a bit off of the root end of the bulb. I didn’t use the stems, although you definitely can use them.
Tunisian Harissa Fettuccini with Spring Garlic
and Olive Oil
4 oz Tunisian Harissa Fettucini
2 spring garlic bulbs, minced
2 Tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1 Tbsp basil, finely chopped
3 tsp olive oil, divided
pecorino romano (or parmesan)
salt and pepper to taste
Mince garlic and chop parsley and basil. Start cooking pasta in salted, boiling water (8-10 minutes, check at 8). While the pasta is cooking, sauté garlic in 1 tsp olive oil, stirring frequently. Cook until garlic just starts to turn golden (don’t brown it), about 2 minutes When pasta is ready, drain and put back into the pan. Reduce heat to low, and add 2 tsp olive oil, basil, and parsley. Stir until pasta is evenly coated, then add some grated pecorino romano, stir again, and salt and pepper to taste.