Sunday, September 8, 2013

Grilled Shrimp Cocktail with Cajun Spices (Bbq dishes, part one of three)

August has been quite a busy month for my fiance and I--whew! We took an amazing 8 day, 7 night trip to London and Paris toward the end of the month which required planning, packing and working extra hours to make up for our absences. Sadly, I didn't find a lot of time to experiment in the kitchen, although I am sitting on material for yet another blog post (apart from the three promised in this series), a pasta dish with shrimp, which I'll be posting after this series. In between preparing for the trip, fighting a month-long sickness and studying for round two of the GREs, I've sadly been too busy to blog. All that is about to change, starting with an impressive, delicious appetizer that nevertheless is super simple to prepare! Yesterday I had a serious craving for shrimp cocktail. I knew I'd be grilling the main course for the dinner, so I thought why not grill my shrimp for the cocktail as well? Taking this idea to its *logical* conclusion I decided to also brush my shrimp skewers with butter, lemon juice and cajun spices...mmm! I used a store bought cocktail sauce, but making your own is quite easy with lemon juice, tomato paste and horseradish. I used my trusty mandoline to slice my lemon slices to make my skewers look nice, but you can easily do without and slice them by hand. I love my cheap-o mandoline, however, and I'd absolutely recommend getting one if you slice a lot of foods. Either way you'll wow your loved ones and guests with this simple variation of an old classic.

Cajun Spiced Grilled Shrimp Cocktail

For the skewers:

1/2 pound white or pink shrimp (I used white and I love their slightly sweet flavor)
1 large lemon, sliced into thin rounds (see photo)
3 - 5 small bamboo skewers

For the "rub":

1/4 teasp. cayenne pepper (or more to taste, but be careful, as it is very spicy)
1/2 teasp. smoked paprika
1 1/2 tblsp. butter
1/2 bayleaf, crumbled
salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
juice of 1/2 large lemon


1. De-vein shrimps, keeping them in the shell by using your paring knife to cut through the back of the shrimp and scrape out the vein.

2. Assemble the skewers by piercing a lemon slice in two places across the diameter of the slice (see photo), then sliding two shrimp on, then another lemon slice pierced in the same manner, then two more shrimps. Continue assembling skewers until all the shrimps are on skewers.

3. If you're making your own cocktail sauce, now would be the time to put it together. If not, melt the butter over medium-low heat in a saucepan. Add cayenne, paprika, salt, pepper and crumbled bayleaf and allow aromatics 5 minutes or so to marry flavors. Turn off heat and mix in lemon juice.

4. Allow to cool slightly, then pour over shrimp. Use a pastry brush to ensure spice rub gets into all the areas between shell segments and at the head opening, etc.

5. Allow to cook on the grill over direct heat for 2 - 3 minutes, then turn skewers and cook for 2 - 3 minutes more, or until shrimp have turned a pale pink all over and have lost their glossy translucence.

6. Serve alongside cocktail sauce, peel and enjoy.

I hope you enjoyed this recipe and I welcome your feedback.

Part 2: Beer, onion and pork fat relish for all of your grilled hot dogs, sausages and burgers.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Balsamic-Basted Lemon Chicken on the Grill

Recently we got a brand new sexy charcoal grill with cast iron grates. It's been inspiring me to dream up dishes and actually cook them with more and more frequency. Often the results of my new grill enthusiasm are snapped up too fast for decent photos to be taken and this incredibly moist chicken with crackling-crisp skin would have gone the same way had I not finally had an epiphany: shoot the frikkin' food on the frikkin' grill! No one can eat it if it isn't fully cooked! That won't work with everything, but this chicken looked quite tasty well before my thermometer told me it had reached the right internal temp. The taste of balsamic and cayenne was really only present on the skin and I might consider pouring the vinegar on in time to actually allow it to marinate next time. I tried parsley stuffed up into the top of the cavity and I don't think it lent anything, aside from perhaps a bit of extra moisture. The lemon I pierced and placed into the cavity was a whole other story, adding definite moisture as well as an unmistakeable tart citrus flavor. Since it was a huge chicken we ended up with leftovers, which made a perfect sloppy-joe's style sandwich after I shredded it and simmered it in some tangy barbeque sauce. I roasted the chicken whole on my charcoal grill using a beer-can-chicken frame (I stuffed the lemon and parsley inside the well of the frame and placed the chicken over it--you can sort of see what I mean in the pic). If you don't have a beer-can-chicken frame I'd suggest roasting this chicken in the oven. You probably won't get such crispy skin but I don't know how easy it is to get a cheap one (ours was bought at a chef's store in an outlet mall and it was the on sale item of the day; since we were on a new grill high we said yes pretty easily). I served this chicken alongside chilled tortellini with homemade pesto and balsamic glazed grilled squash.

Balsamic-Basted Lemon Chicken on the Grill

1 lemon

1 whole chicken, washed and patted dry (size will determine cooking time)

1 tsp olive oil

1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tsp Cayenne powder

Salt, to taste

Fresh Ground pepper, to taste

4 sprigs flat parsley or 3 sprigs curly parsley (optional and I recommend flat or italian parsley, as it seems to me to have much more flavor)

1. Wash lemon with gentle soap and pat dry. Whap onto clean counter top and roll backwards and forwards a couple of times, pushing it downward with your palm (to help loosen the juices inside). With a fork pierce a line of holes down the side of the lemon. Repeat four even times across the lemon (every quarter of the fruit score another line).
2. Place the stand in a large bowl and the lemon in the well of the stand, toward the bottom; place the parsley above in the well. Cover with the chicken and douse with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and rub well all over skin.
3. Put stand with chicken onto grill and cook with the lid closed over medium hot coals for approximately 15 minutes per pound of chicken, or until meat thermometer reads 180 when stuck into the breast. Baste with liquid from the bottom of the prep bowl every 10 or so minutes, being sure to moisten the darkest/driest parts.
4. Serve alongside veggies, salad or pasta and enjoy.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and I welcome your feedback!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Greek Style Frittata with Lamb Shawarma Crumbles and Fire Roasted Tomato Ketchup

A month or more ago I started crafting a menu for a Springtime brunch I haven't yet had time to realize (and clearly won't, this year, as spring is over). On the brunch menu I'd planned the protein as an egg scramble (where the fire roasted tomatoes would be part of the scramble instead of pureed as a ketchup and to be accompanied by roasted spiced red potatoes and a sweet rice pudding with pistachios and rosewater), but while I was visiting my family in New York I was persuaded by my good friend to try this recipe as both a quiche and a frittata. In my opinion it worked best as the latter dish, and in fact this recipe turned out the most perfect looking frittata I've ever made, so that's how I've decided to present it, even though I've recently shared a frittata recipe. Instead of being served alongisde, the potatoes now form a crust at the bottom and lovely rendered lamb fat from the crumbles mixes well with the eggs and light cream in the filling and makes for a smooth consistency. The shawarma spices in the fat served to unify the dish. Oh, and the cayenne spiced fire roasted tomato ketchup with smoked paprika and fresh greek oregano wasn't bad, either. You'll need a grill to fire roast your tomatoes and if you have one pop the tomatoes on after a good dinner to prep the next day's breakfast; trust me, this is best done ahead of time and a good way to take advantage of the hot coals after a good barbeque.

Fire Roasted Tomato Ketchup

Makes roughly 1 cup

6 medium vine ripe tomatoes, halved, de-spined and de-seeded
>1 Teasp Olive Oil
1/2 Teasp. Smoked Paprika (the kind that's sweet, not spicy)
1/4 Teasp. cayenne
1 Teasp. honey
1 1/2 Tblsp apple cider vinegar
4 sprigs' worth of fresh greek oregano leaves, minced (after you've washed them, pass through gently pinched fingers to strip leaves)
Salt, to taste
Fresh Ground Black Pepper, to taste

1. Brush tomatoes all over with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
2. Roast tomatoes on gril until the outside is the slightest bit charred and the tomatoes get soft. Remove from heat and slide skins off.
3. Puree the tomatoes, then add the spices, honey and vinegar.
4. Cool, then cover and allow flavors to marry in refrigerator at least one hour and up to overnight. Serve with Greek Style Frittata, or another Greek themed egg dish.

Greek Style Frittata with Lamb Shawarma Crumbles and Feta

5 Large baby red potatoes, scrubbed and sliced about 1/8" thick with a mandoline
8 Oz. marinated artichoke hearts*, chopped coarsely
8 Oz. fresh baby spinach, washed
2 Tblsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 lb. ground organic lamb with a decent fat ratio
4 cloves completely crushed
1/4 Teasp cinnamon
1/8 Teasp freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 Teasp cayenne
4 oz. Feta cheese, crumbled (or more, to taste) - the best feta you can find
1/2 Tblsp butter
8 cage free, organic eggs
1/4 cup organic, hormone free half n half
salt, to taste
black pepper, freshly ground, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375. Grease frittata baking dish and lay a crust of potatoes across the bottom of the dish (like a cheesecake crust), 4 or more layers of potatoes deep. When you can't see the bottom of the baking dish anymore add one full layer of potato slices over that. Put into oven as soon as it reaches the proper temperature. It should be cooked enough to add the frittata filling
2. In a pan over medium heat, melt butter and add 1/2 Tblsp olive oil. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne, salt and pepper to butter and cook for 5 minutes to infuse butter with spices. Add lamb and break up into small crumbles. Cook until browned. Pour into a bowl to cool, making sure to include every drop of fat from the pan (trust me!)
3. Using a little olive oil and a small sprinkling of garlic at a time, sautee the spinach over medium heat in small batches** until all of it is cooked. Set aside to cool.
4. Beat eggs with a little salt and fresh pepper and mix in half and half. Add crumbled feta and chopped artichoke hearts. When they've cooled, add lamb crumbles and spinach. Mix to thoroughly combine all ingredients.
5. When the potato crust is starting to be tender when pierced with a fork, remove from oven and add filling.
6. Return frittata to oven and cook for another 25 to 30 minutes, or until eggs are just cooked through. Serve with fire roasted Greek style ketchup.

*I tried the recipe with fresh, fire roasted artichokes, and the version with marinated artichoke hearts was far superior.

**Sauteeing the spinach in small batches will help keep the spinach from leaking too much water, meaning they're not only more tender and fresh-tasting, they also don't add nearly as much of that yucky green spinach water to your dish. Tip courtesy of my absolutely amazing co-chef, Szelin, who is too modest about her cooking abilities, and without whom I could never have pulled off not only the quiche and frittata, but the ketchup as well! ^_^

Friday, June 14, 2013

Spring Dishes Part II: Asparagus Fettuccini with Lemon Cream Sauce and Lemon Fried Chicken

Technically, this sauce is more like a custard, or maybe like a light version of Hollandaise (whichever you prefer). The story of the inspiration for this dish goes back to last week and the necessity for a quick meal. You see, last week my fiance and I went back to my childhood home in upstate, NY (we landed at JFK and picked up a rental car, so you can bet we stopped in to our favorite Brooklyn Bagelry to scarf down a couple of pumpernickel everything bagels--his with tuna salad and bacon; mine a bacon, *fried* egg and cheese) for a much needed visit to family and friends. We took our Chihuahua mix, Lucas, who had an amazing trip ('cept the actual flying; he didn't love that--heck, he didn't even like it much). Even though it was a visit and a vacation, we had things we needed to accomplish: my fiance had yet to meet our new nephew and I'd yet to see him since the week he was born; my brother made us all very proud by being the opening band on Friday at an enormous outdoor music festival (of course the all-day torrential downpour tried to wipe the grins off of our faces) and the bulk of the trip was devoted to looking at and possibly booking a wedding venue. Amidst our growing to-do list was a private goal I'd been entertaining since we purchased our tickets: cook a (belated) Mother's Day dinner for my Mom and an (early) Father's Day dinner for my Dad. Because staying with my Father coincided with my dear friend and maid of honor's taking a couple of days off to come upstate with us and look at venues, I found myself with limited time to realize my grand Father's Day dinner plans (originally it was supposed to consist of curried cauliflower fritters, new potato and baby spinach curry and chicken tikka masala)--roughly 25 minutes to cook and plate a dinner for five people, to be exact. I settled on Italian and a dish of Jamie Oliver's I'd tried before and absolutely adored: his sausage carbonara, only I'd remembered it with zucchini, as laid out on this blog. I just took the elements I liked best about both recipes and improvised a little and we were in business. Thankfully for me and for our dinner, m.o.h. Sharon is a kick-ass sous chef, and between the two of us we managed to bang it out in the nick of time! :) In a way this dish is also inspired by my Mom's own special dinner, which was another pasta dish: gemelli pasta and pencil asparagus in a white wine, butter and garlic sauce with lemon-zest rubbed, fire-grilled organic chicken breasts. You'll see elements of both in this dish, but the most important thing about it is that it is tasty. If you'd like to make a lovely vegetarian version of this dish, the chicken breasts are optional. I purchased my pasta fresh-made in the refrigerated section of my grocery store, but if you have time and the right equipment, feel free to make your own! Tonight I'm serving it alongside an arugula and mango salad dressed in lemon juice.
I hope you enjoy this recipe and I welcome your feedback!

Asparagus Fettuccini with Lemon Cream Sauce

1 bunch asparagus (about 12 stalks), fibrous ends snapped off and sliced into 1/2" pieces
3 large egg yolks
2 Tablespoons butter
zest of 1/2 lemon
salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pkg (10 oz. to 16 oz., depending on where you purchase it) fresh fettuccini (or pappardelle, whichever you prefer)
3 to 3.5 Tablespoons cream
flat leaf parsley, minced, for garnish
2 chicken breats, butterflied and dredged in flour, salt, pepper and some lemon zest

1. melt butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan on medium heat. Add a few drops of olive oil to keep the butter from burning. Add sliced asparagus (except for the tips), salt and pepper and sautee for 5 or so minutes. Add tips and cook 2 - 3 minutes more.
2. While Asparagus is sauteeing, put on a large pot to boil with at least 4 quarts of water and 1 Tablespoon olive oil. In a small bowl combine egg yolks and cream and whip until completely incorporated, then mix in lemon zest. Set aside for now, away from the stove or another heat source.
*Optional*: If you're planning to make this with chicken breasts, remove asparagus (once cooked to your liking) from the pan and set aside in another small bowl. Sautee chicken until cooked through, no more than 4 minutes on each side. Remove chicken to a cutting board and clean the blackened flour out of the pan, before adding 1.5 to 2 Tablespoons of butter to the pan. After the pasta has been cooked (next step), use a salad tossing fork or meat fork to brace the chicken breasts against the board and dice the chicken into bite sized pieces.
3. Cook the fresh pasta for 1 - 2 minutes, or according to directions on package. Before draining pasta, reserve 1/4 c. cooking liquid.
4. Toss all ingredients together, stirring well to help the egg yolks turn into a custard-y pasta sauce. If the pasta is dry, add reserved cooking liquid. Once sauce is glossy and smoothly coats the pasta and ingredients, plate up and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese and minced Italian parsley as garnish.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Spring Vegetable Frittata

I don't give my mother enough credit. In listing my inspirations for cooking and culinary adventures, I often talk about all of the different cuisines I've tried, the recipes I've consulted and the blogs I follow, but I don't talk about my first inspiration: my mother. When I was growing up we had a home cooked meal practically every evening and a hot breakfast every saturday and sunday. Even so, I don't have many memories of my mother slaving over a hot stove or laboring for hours to bake desserts--not to say we didn't have lots of delicious, homemade baked goods in our pantry--she just made it look that easy. My mother is a whirlwind in the kitchen and a champion improviser. She was also the first person to ever bring me into the kitchen and teach me the art and science of cooking. I wanted to feature one of her recipes for Mother's Day, but my mother hardly ever made the same dish twice (except for her amazingly delicious vegetarian cream of soups featuring fair trade wild rice, which deserve their own special category). Sure she had a few standard tried-and-true knockout dishes that she went to time and again when her fridge wasn't full of seasonal veggies, but when she had a fridge full of fresh, organic produce she would often throw together a quick, delicious stir fry, or a scrumptious frittata. It was in this spirit that I threw together my spring vegetable frittata with spring onion chevre and roasted asparagus. My mother loves redskin potatoes, so I chose them as the base/crust of this frittata. If you'd rather have a pastry crust this makes a great quiche. In the spirit of my mother's endless culinary creativity and ability to make a delicious dish out of virtually any ingredients, I encourage you to look at this recipe as a jumping off point. Don't get me wrong, it's super tasty as is (and something I'd have been proud to serve my Mom, had we been able to spend Mother's Day together, but we live on opposite sides of the country; sad) and I'd recommend trying it at least once this time of year. Roasting the asparagus gave the dish an extra dimension of flavor, as did carmelizing the shallots in sherry. But the real flavors of spring were captured by the green onion chevre, which I made a couple of hours ahead of time by adding the sliced-thin white parts of a few green onions to a softened log of goats milk cheese and allowing the flavors to marry by chillIng it, covered in plastic wrap, in my fridge for a couple of hours. Serve it alongside French style peas (simmered in chicken stock with mint and escarole or lettuce), or a butter lettuce and pea shoot salad dressed in something citrus-y. Whatever you serve it with, enjoy it with your mother. Or at least call her.

A quick note on what didn't work: I thought I'd managed to move with my 9" spring form pan, but I was mistaken, so I used a stove-to-oven 10" stainless steel saucepan; because of the extra space the egg was spread too thin for my liking. If you have a larger pan I'd suggest using more eggs. Or just use something the rough size of a pie tin.

Also, get a mandoline if you can and just use it carefully. I purchased mine for 17 bucks plus s & h and it made my potato slices delightfully uniform.

Spring Vegetable Frittata

Green onion chevre
(Make ahead of time, if possible, and let chill in the fridge)
3 - 4 green onions (also called scallions or spring onions), white and light green parts sliced thin, dark green tops discarded
1 log of goat's milk chevre (8 oz), softened

1. Combine all ingredients and allow to chill in the fridge up to 4 hours, wrapped in plastic wrap.


5 medium sized baby redskin potatoes (also called new potatoes), sliced potato chip thin, about 1/8" thick (use your mandoline if you've got one)
1 bunch asparagus (optional: pre roast asparagus at 425 for 15 or so minutes, until the sugars begin to visibly caramelize); approx 1 dz spears, fibrous ends snapped off and sliced into 1/2" slices
4 oz. Green onion chevre
6 eggs
3 Tbl milk
1/2 Tbl butter
1 Tbl (total) extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 Teas. Cooking sherry
2 small shallot cloves, diced finely

1. Preheat oven to 425; grease baking dish and arrange potato slices in bottom of dish 3 or more layers thick (trust me, even if you can't see the bottom you'll end up with empty spaces in between because the potatoes shrink in the oven).
2. Roast the potato crust in the oven for about 15 minutes (it's ready for filling when the potato slices are soft enough to be easily pierced with a fork).
3. While the potatoes are roasting, caramelize shallots: in a separate pan over medium to medium high heat, melt butter (with a few drops of olive oil drizzled in to prevent the butter from burning) and add diced shallots. Stir and cook for 5 or so minutes, until shallots start to become translucent. Add sherry and cook, stirring every 1 to 2 minutes, until caramelized (brown or burnt looking areas start to appear on your diced shallots, indicating that the sugars are starting to gather). Cool shallots and meanwhile:
4. Whisk together eggs and milk. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add sliced asparagus and cooled caramelized shallots and stir to combine.
5. Allow potato crust to cool for a few minutes (so you don't cook your egg filling the minute you pour it in). Turn oven down to 350.
6. When potatoes/baking dish are cooled sufficiently top with egg/asparagus/shallot mixture.
7. Using a teaspoon, drop 1/2 teas dollops of green onion chevre into the egg mixture. Spread the dollops out as evenly as possible.
8. Put (now) assembled frittata in the oven and cook until set (approx 15 or so minutes). Serve with your chosen side and enjoy.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and I welcome your feedback.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Mushroom Barley Soup

My Grandparents came for a visit and to attend the Bat Mitzvah of a close family friend. They arrived a full day early and I wanted to offer them lunch. I knew they'd enjoy my mixed field greens salad with smoked trout and a mustard/lemon/thyme vinaigrette, but what to serve with it? My mother mentioned soup and that's how I hit upon the idea of making my grandfather's favorite, mushroom barley soup and this recipe was born. Cooking the barley in beef stock and fresh thyme really adds an extra dimension of flavor.

Mushroom Barley Soup

7 cups organic beef stock
3 cups water
1 bay leaf
14 oz. mirepoix*
3 cloves of garlic, minced or put through a press
3 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
4 to 6 black peppercorns
1 large and 3 medium sprigs of thyme
12 oz. sliced crimini or button mushroom caps
1 cup pearl barley
salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Mix barley, 1 cup of water, 3 cups beef stock, whole peppercorns and large sprig of thyme to a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, on medium low heat for 30 to 40 minutes.
2. As the barley is cooking, put your soup pot on the burner and turn the heat to medium. When your pot bottom is nice and hot add olive oil, then butter. Pull the thyme leaves off of the medium sprigs and toss in thyme, mirepoix, bay leaf, salt and ground pepper. Saute for 5 minutes, or until onions begin to soften, then add garlic and mushrooms and saute for another 5 to 10 minutes. Cover and allow the mushrooms to sweat, stirring occasionally, for another 20 minutes.
3. When the barley is cooked through, add the remaining 5 cups of beef stock to the mushrooms and veggies in the soup pot, as well as 2 cups of water and the barley, sans the whole peppercorns and large thyme sprig.
4. Fish out the bay leaf, then serve with crusty bread and enjoy.

*I get this from Trader Joe's already chopped and measured, but if you like to do it yourself just make 1 3/4 cups total.

I hope you like this recipe and I welcome your feedback!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Mexican Shredded Chicken and Refried Bean Dip

This post is all about entertaining. I had a few friends over for the super bowl (sadly, our team lost! Boo!), but I did make some enjoyable food and our fridge is still full of all sorts of awesome beer! In honor of the 49ers and the amazing Mexican food in their home city, SF, I decided to make Mexican food to serve to our guests. Even though the super bowl has long passed these two recipes are great for entertaining. The great thing about these two recipes is that they can be made together, compliment each other, can both be eaten with corn chips and/or corn tortillas (I recommend both) and you can serve your guests hot food with a minimal amount of effort! If you have a Trader Joe's nearby, or can find a similar product, I recommend using one can of fire roasted tomatoes with diced chilies (one can split between both recipes), as it really ratchets the flavor up a notch. In addition to the shredded chicken and bean dip I also served guacamole. Sadly, the food got eaten too fast for any decent photos. Ah, well. At least we can be sure our friends enjoyed it! ^_^

Pictured below is both recipes the second time I made them, for the purpose of picturing taking (and also to enjoy a fairly easy, filling late winter meal); to make it more of a meal I served it over brown rice.

Mexican Shredded Chicken

1 whole organic chicken, quartered, or a family pack of 2 bone-in breasts and 4 drumsticks (like I found at my local T.J.s) - leave the skin on and bones in
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 medium yellow onion
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped in half or thirds
4 whole peppercorns
1 medium vine ripe tomato
1/2 jalapeno pepper, ribs and seeds removed
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon cumin + a little more to taste
salt, to taste
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 bayleaf
1 Tablespoon minced cilantro leaves (for garnish)

1. Combine all ingredients (except ground pepper) in a medium pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a gentle boil (medium-low heat).
2. Cook for about 15 minutes, but check on the chicken after 10 minutes. When it is fully cooked (starting to fall off the bone), scoop chicken out of the pot.
3. Take the meat off of the bone and discard skin and bones. Shred the meat. While you're doing this, turn the heat under the pot up to high to reduce liquid in broth.
4. When the liquid has reduced to 3/4 cup, scoop out all debris (bayleaf, tomato, onions, garlic). Reserve 3 tablespoons of broth to add to the refried bean dip.
5. Add 3/4 can of fire roasted tomatoes and 1 whole can diced tomatoes to broth in pan. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes to marry flavors.
6. Reintroduce chicken to the pan and add ground black pepper and a little more salt and stir to combine. Cook for another 5 minutes, then serve garnished with a generous sprinkling of minced cilantro, alongside tortilla chips and/or fresh corn tortillas.

Refried Bean Dip

2 cans of organic pinto beans (15 oz.s each)
3 Tablespoons homemade chicken broth (see above recipe)
1/4 can fire roasted tomatoes w/ diced chilies
1/2 cup shredded Mexican cheese or cheddar blend
2 Tablespoons diced fresh jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced or put through a press
2 Teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 Teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 Teaspoon ground cayenne
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 bayleaf
salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
>1 Tablespoon minced fresh cilantro (for garnish)

1. Add olive oil to a hot pan. Add onion, jalapeno, bayleaf and spices. Cook for 5 or so minutes on medium heat, until the onion begins to turn translucent.
2. Reduce heat to medium low and add chicken stock and garlic. Cook for another 5 minutes.
3. Remove bayleaf and add tomatoes, beans and salt and pepper. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes on medium low heat, until the beans are softened enough to mash.
4. Mash beans. When beans resemble a medium thick paste (you may have to add water during this process to loosen the thickened ingredients, especially if the beans aren't quite cooked through), add cheese and turn off the heat. Serve garnished with minced fresh cilantro, alongside tortilla chips and/or fresh corn tortillas.

I hope you enjoyed these recipes and I welcome your feedback!

Pics to follow!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Orange and Mint Spa Water

I first made this yummy spa water to accompany my Christmas dinner (orange + mint seems to me to be very Christmas-y, for some reason). It was inspired by the quick, fresh fruit juice and herb sodas Jamie Oliver is so fond of making. I used the juice of four large oranges, plus an entire pint of club soda, but if you want your spa water to taste more aggressively of oranges, you should consider adding the juice of an additional orange or two. This refreshing drink is great on its own, but it can also be mixed with vodka, gin or tequila. For a really yummy treat with either vodka or gin, try making lemon and fresh ginger spa water.

Orange and Mint Spa Water

4 large oranges
1 liter of club soda
1 cup of cubed ice
1 heaping Tablespoon fresh mint leaves
Optional: 1 Tablespoon sweetener (I recommend trying it without sweetener first)

1. Cut the oranges in half and squeeze the juice into the pitcher through your fingers, to catch any seeds. When cleaning the mint and pulling the leaves off of the stems, set aside a few nice looking buds for garnish.
2. Add ice, then mint.
3. Using the handle of a clean, long-handled spoon, crush the ice and mint together.
4. Once you've gently shredded the mint into the ice (muddled the mint), top up with club soda.
5. Turn your spoon around and mix together all ingredients. Taste and add sweetener if desired.
6. Serve alone, or with spirits, garnished with the mint buds.

I hope you enjoy this recipe, and I welcome your feedback!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

German Style Pork and Beer Stew

I've been meaning to get back to blogging, truly I have. Finally the holidays have passed, so my life isn't as hectic. Between studying for a G.R.E. subject test (lit) and housebreaking a puppy, I barely had enough time to cook a Christmas Eve dinner for loved ones. I believe Christmas dinner should be a special meal, offering up dishes decadent enough to only be eaten once a year. Everyone loved my cauliflower au gratin and my trio of fingerlings roasted then tossed with butter and parsley, but to me the real star of the dinner was the inspiration for today's blog post: a three and a half hour traditional French wine-rich beef stew. This German-style stew recipe subs out the beef for pork and the wine for beer. Rendered pork fat melds nicely with dark, trappist-style ale and a thickener of rye bread crumbs gives the stew an interesting little twist. I've based it on the traditional recipe, but added a few tweaks of my own, like a teaspoon of wildflower honey (same flavor profile as buckwheat honey, only a less forward molasses note) and a few whole peppercorns. I also roasted the mushrooms before adding them and left the carrots out. Next time I make the dish I will add carrots, so I'll be including them in the ingredients list. A couple of notes on what worked and what didn't: because I could only find pork loin and it got kind of dry over the stewing time (which is, of course, the opposite of what should have happened*), I'll be recommending using pork shoulder (also called pork butt) for this stew. Also, don't try to get all fancy with the rye bread. Plain old dark rye will work perfectly. I tried to use sprouted wheat rye bread to give it a little extra nutrition, and it didn't really lend anything to the stew's consistency. Adding the honey and roasting the veggies, only to add them at the end also added some depth of flavor that complimented the stew really well. This recipe is perfect to chase away the winter gloom, and with about 6 generous servings, you'll likely be enjoying it the next day. I served this dish with a toasted piece of rye bread and some roast fingerling potatoes, but the internets tell me it is also yummy with a dollop of light sour cream and accompanied by some homemade (or fresh made) spaetzle and steamed cabbage dressed in sweet cream butter.

German Style Pork and Beer Stew

1.5 to 2 lbs. pork butt/shoulder, cut into large cubes
3 small cloves of garlic
1 med-large yellow onion, sliced
500 mLs dark beer, such as trappist style ale**
1 bay leaf
1 small stick of cinnamon
1 whole clove
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teasp. wildflower or buckwheat honey
.75 to 1.5 cup(s) low sodium chicken broth or veal stock (if you can get your hands on some veal stock, that would be an even tastier addition)
12 ounces crimini mushroom caps, cleaned
3 medium carrots, cut into 1 to 1.5" slices
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 Tablespoon or less unsalted organic butter
1 plus Tablespoons olive oil (for roasting the veggies)
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
6 whole black peppercorns
4 slices dark rye bread, with the crusts cut off, pulsed in the food processor or blender until it is reduced to very fine crumbs

1. Add 1 Tablespoon canola oil to the pan plus the butter. Brown the cubed pork in the oil and butter, then remove from the pan and set aside.
2. Add the onions to the pan and caramelize (saute on medium-high heat until the sugars start to brown).
3. Once the onions are soft, reduce heat and add the garlic. Cook for a couple minutes to incorporate the garlic flavor, but be careful of burning the garlic.
4. Reintroduce the meat, then add all of the spices (bay leaf, cinnamon, thyme, allspice, peppercorns, and cloves), the beer and stir in the rye bread.
5. Bring to a lazy boil, then add veal stock until the liquid in the pan covers the meat. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low (the stew should only bubble occasionally), and cook for an additional hour, or until the pork is falling apart at the touch of a fork.
6. While the stew is stewing, (after you've covered it and left it to simmer on a very slow boil) preheat the oven to 400 degrees C and toss veggies in olive oil over a greased cookie sheet and add salt and pepper to taste. Roast the veg for 20 to 25 minutes.
7. In the last five minutes of the stew's cook time, stir in veggies and let simmer for those last minutes to incorporate.
8. Serve with your chosen sides and enjoy.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and I welcome your feedback!

*I mention this because sharp eyed readers will notice that it is not pork shoulder in the picture, but a different cut of meat.

**you can find something like this at T.J.s, but if you have trouble finding a suitable beer, let me know in the comments and I can try to help you find something suitable in your area