Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Be a Part of a Culinary Challenge

Tasty Travels Runs: Third Annual Recipezaar Invites Everyday Cooks to Join Free Online Cooking Competition Exploring Cuisines of the World

Everyday cooks everywhere are invited to participate in Recipezaar’s Zaar World Tour – a free team-based competition that virtually explores recipes and culinary insights around the globe, all from the comfort of a kitchen at home. Designed as a fun way to meet other online cooks and try new culinary creations, the six-week tour kicks off May 24 and goes through July 9, with the winning team to receive $1000 toward a charity of its choice. Sign-ups begin today and a video sneak peak is available now at Recipezaar.com/sitenews.

This marks the third year for the Zaar World Tour, which was invented and organized by Recipezaar’s online community itself. A robust resource boasting more than 200,000 recipes, Recipezaar is based completely on user-submitted recipes, and has a community of millions of cooks who frequently interact similar to other social networking sites. From culinary contests, to cook-a-thons honoring other members, recipes exchanges, and special cooking community days, Recipezaar is a unique online cooking destinations where the community is at the heart of the site.

"Recipezaar has a huge community of cooks, and we are always amazed by the ways they invent to interact, learn from each other, explore the site, and try new cooking styles and techniques," said Recipezaar Community Director Kathy DesRosiers. "Community-driven content and activities are a growing Internet trend, as people are looking for new ways to use technology to better connect, share their knowledge, and celebrate common interests. Everyday cooks on Recipezaar are fully embracing this, and we’ve built up a strong sense of community where people can have fun sharing their cooking adventures with each other."

The Zaar World Tour works as follows:
. Participants sign up by visiting Recipezaar.com/sitenews for further instructions.
. Each participant is assigned to a team of roughly 10 people, as created by the tour moderators.
. Tour moderators guide the quest by announcing which regions will be visited – Australia to Britain/Ireland and North Africa to Scandanavia and beyond – then posting cooking challenges through the tour message board.
. When new regions and challenges are announced, participants work with their team to post recipes and cook various dishes from the local cuisine in order to earn points.
. The team with the most points at the end of the tour wins, and collects $1000 for their favorite charity.

Tour moderators anticipate hundreds of cooks will again join the tour this year. For a sneak preview, the 2006 tour cookbook is available online (Zaar World Tour II Cookbook), and includes 140 of the "best of the best" recipes used in the tour, as rated by the community. Visit http://www.recipezaar.com to learn more.

Monday, May 28, 2007


Back when our children were as small as our budget, we always had a big garden, which was supplemented by my godparent’s garden, my father’s trip to Lake County, and the occasional foray to the growers in Half Moon Bay. Spring, summer, and fall we had fresh lettuce, veggies, and fruit at next to no cost. I canned jam, put up pears, the kids ate homemade pizza topped with a variety of vegetables, and I made my own salsa. I would make big batches, keeping some on hand for use and for friends in the fridge, canning the rest. I have a distinctive memory of one particular canning day in the kitchen of our first house, probably eighteen years ago: Our friends Paula and Keith were over. We had onions, garlic and peppers from my godfather and had gone to the farmers market and bought a lug of tomatoes. We were chopping, chopping, chopping and decided to reward ourselves with a margarita while we worked. By the time all was chopped (by hand in those days), we were into our second margarita. We put the canning kettle on, prepped the jars and got ready for the production line. Something went wrong along the way and I got a nasty burn. I persevered, finishing the canning, helped along by another margarita to dull the pain. We finished up and had a bounty of beautiful salsa, and several hours later began to regret those margaritas! Lesson learned here: do not mix alcohol with hot liquids!

The last few years my garden has been small or nonexistent. With all the soccer-related travel for our son, the work commitments, etc., we just hadn’t the time. So canning and salsa-making took a backseat. But this year I have put in a garden, with corn, peas, beans, tomatoes, peppers, lots of herbs, and mint. We have also been making a few forays over to Half Moon Bay to the growers. And we began the canning and salsafying. Last Thursday I made the Sam (soupy/saucy/jam) and on Saturday I made Jam. Also on Saturday, Brilliant Daughter came over and made a huge batch of her delicious salsa. Far from being the labor-intensive fresh salsa of my past, she makes a roasted salsa, which basically consists of roasting and pureeing. Really, just two steps. Very easy, very tasty. And while local tomatoes are not really at their peak right now, you can hunt around and find some good ones at your local greengrocer, farmers market or fruit stand.

This salsa goes quickly, so we don’t bother to can it. Far superior to any canned salsa you can buy, it is worth the small amount of time it takes to whip it up. So next time you fire up the barbie, throw on the veggies and after dinner you can whirl them up in a food processor and, Voila!, you have salsa for the week.

10 medium tomatoes
10 jalapenos
1 1/2 red onions, peeled
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ c chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons white vinegar
3 teaspoons salt (to taste)

Heat your barbecue to medium-high. Peel paper off of whole onion (trim stem if necessary) and rub all vegetables with olive oil. Once grill is heated, put veggies on the grill, turning as they get charred. Once soft and mainly charred (with tomato skins starting to fall off), remove from grill. Let veggies cool until you are able to handle them.

Peel tomatoes, then break apart and put into a food processor. Puree on high until no chunks remain. Pour into storage bowl. Stem and de-seed the jalapenos, chop the onion (both the roasted and raw), and add these to the food processor. Add in the garlic, cilantro, and vinegar and puree on high until mixture is smooth. Add the pepper mixture to the tomatoes and stir well. Add salt to taste (keep in mind that tortilla chips may be heavily salted) Cover and chill for several hours or overnight.

Note: Jalapenos vary in their heat – so you may need to adjust the number based on this factor. When roasting, the peppers should have a paper quality to them, but still slightly soft.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Beehive Behavior

The kitchen is a beehive of activity this weekend, with almost everyone getting in on the action. My busy bees include Brilliant Daughter who slaved over a hot barbecue, roasting tomatoes, jalapenos and onions for her homemade salsa. While she was out there, she threw on a couple of our homemade chaurice sausage for us to nosh on as we worked. Busy Bee #2, Butcher Son, came over to cut up the pork shoulder roast so that I could make carnitas for our Sunday dinner (build-your-own-taco night). And I would be Busy Bee #3, spending Saturday making the black beans for dinner, simmering the carnitas, and putting to good use the lugs of strawberries I bought over in Half Moon Bay. In the last few days we have enjoyed roasted strawberries with mint chantilly cream, roasted strawberries with dark chocolate (both of which only took 15 minutes, start to finish), and one batch each of sam and jam. Sam, you ask? Well, the first batch of strawberry jam turned out a bit soupy, more like sauce, so husband named it Sam.

Today I will cook some chicken for taco night, make some Mexican rice and guacamole, and grill some skirt steak. Am I feeding an army? Well, one never knows around here. We could have 5 or 15 people for dinner, which is the fun of it. Five means we have leftovers to eat all week long, fifteen means we have a great time and fill a lot of bellies. And that leftover liquor from last weekend’s Jen and John party…it will be put to good use today I am sure.

The strawberry results are below: Sam on the left, Jam on the right.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Party Favorite

It always amazes me that it takes weeks of planning for a party, days of cooking for a party, but only hours for the party to consume all the preparation and food. Seems like we should be able to party for longer, don’t you think? Well, in all fairness, there is a lot of booze left…..

So last Friday night we hosted a cocktail party for our recently engaged friends, John and Jen. Jen spent almost 10 years in the Bay Area and has amassed a large number of friends here, many of which had not yet met the groom-to-be. So the happy couple flew in from Las Vegas and John put on his best happy face to do a meet and greet with all Jen’s NorCal pals (and John’s uncle). It was a rousing success: everyone loved John, saw how happy Jen is, and devoured almost every single morsel of food available. And given the feedback, the mini corn cakes were the hit of the party. Small rounds of corn-based goodness topped with a small dollop of sour cream, and a strip of roasted red pepper. The recipe is an easy one, makes about 50-55 corn cakes, and allows you to cook them the night before to minimize any frantic last minute rushing around. Just reheat and dress. Maybe this is just the thing for your Memorial Day weekend bash?

Ricotta-Corn Cakes

2 c ricotta
1 c green onions, tops and bottoms, finely chopped
½ c sun dried tomatoes, diced
2 T sugar
1 1/2 t salat
1/2 t black pepper
2 cups corn kernels (can use fresh or thawed frozen corn)
3 large eggs
2/3 c cornmeal
1/3 c all purpose flour

Olive Oil
Sour Cream
One of the following for topping: cilantro sprigs, thin slivers of roasted red pepper, salsa

Mix ricotta, onion, tomatoes, sugar, salt & pepper in large bowl to blend. Combine corn and eggs in food processor or blender until coarse puree forms. Stir puree into cheese mixture. Add cornmeal and flour and mix until well incorporated. Allow mixture to rest at 1 hour at room temperature.

Heat pancake griddle or large fry pan over medium heat. Lightly brush with olive oil and beginning dropping heaping tablespoons of batter onto hot pan. (I used a small ice cream scoop.) Cook until brown on bottom, then flip and continue cooking, about 3-4 minutes total. Repeat with remaining batter.

Corn cakes may be kept warm on baking sheet in oven as you cook them. They can also be cooled and stored overnight. Reheat in 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. Top with a small dollop of sour cream (I used a pastry bag) and one of the recommended toppings.

NOTE: The sun-dried tomatoes were not in the original recipe, but I wanted more color in the corn cakes. You could add finely diced fresh tomatoes, roasted red pepper, or fresh red pepper.

FYI - Good hostess that I am, I completely neglected to get the camera out! Hopefully Tea will have a shot or two that I can add????

Monday, May 21, 2007

Nuts About…Nuts

I am deep into the planning and preparation stages of a formal cocktail party that we are hosting for some friends who are soon to be wed. I decided to do it the old-fashioned way, with invitations (RSVP requested), full bar with specialty cocktails, and served hors d’oeuvres. But I wanted some sort of nibble for the tables, so I turned to one of my favorite things: Nuts. Almonds, walnuts, pecans. Spiced, sweet, savory. It’s been a challenge, and I even burned one batch, but I am fairly happy with the results, and with my tinkering around with some recipes. I made a batch each night, so as to stress myself out too much.

I started with a test batch of the rosemary-garlic almonds, added some more salt and ended up with a nice toasty nut. Not too much garlic, as I don’t want the guests shunning one another – but enough to jazz up the flavor. I pulled the rosemary from my garden – and sure am glad I have 3 rosemary plants in various stages, as I do use a fair amount of this herb.

Attempting the sweet-hot pecans, I found them a bit tempermental this time around. I had made them during the holidays and enjoyed them on our Christmas salad, and to just pop in my mouth. The sweetness of the sugar and kick of the cayenne go well together with an egg white binder, making them nice and crunchy. But something went wrong, and part of the batch was burned. I had to patiently separate the burned pieces from the good, as we cannot serve sub-par nuts to our guests, can we?

The third batch was the ginger-glazed almonds. This is the recipe I futzed with, to accommodate the ingredients I had and to satisfy my love of ginger, not to mention making them taste and look a bit different from the rest. I chopped up candied ginger rounds finely in the cooking process and then after all was said and done, cut more up in larger chunks and threw them in with the nuts. This gives the nuts a sweet power punch when you chew both ginger chunk and nut together.

The last recipe is a Teriyaki-glazed walnut. I don’t think I got this one quite right. It’s not awful, but not up to my standards, and I think I will withhold them on party day. I will serve ‘em to family, but not to people I do not know. Gotta keep up the rep, you know…. I am not providing this recipe, as it is not something I would make again.

Rosemary Almonds

1 T butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T fresh rosemary, minced
1 ½ c unsalted raw almonds
salt to taste
2 t Worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in a large skillet over med-high heat. Add the garlic and rosemary and stir for a few seconds until fragrant. Add the almonds and season generously with salt (about twice what you think you need). Stir for about 1 minute, until nuts are well coated. Add the Worcestershire, shake pan vigorously, then stir the almonds until glossy (about 1 minute). Pour nuts onto a parchment-covered baking sheet and bake until they’re toasted and fragrant, about 8 minutes.

Sweet-Hot Spiced Pecans

1/3 c sugar
3/4 t cayenne
1/2 t salt
1/2 t ground coriander
1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/8 t ground allspice
1 large egg white
2 t vegetable oil
2 cu pecan halvaes

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a bowl, mix together first 6 ingredients. Whisk iin egg white and oil, then stir in the pecans. Spread in a single layer in an oiled nonstick 10x15” pan, Bake fore 20-25 minutes, stirring every 5. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes, then loosen nuts with a wide spatula.

Ginger Glazed Almonds
2 T unsalted butter
3 T packed brown sugar
2 T water
2 T finely chopped candied ginger
1 1/4 t kosher salt
1/4 t ground ginger
1/4 t cayenne
2 cups raw whole almonds with skins
¼ cup rough chopped candied ginger

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Melt butter in 12-inch skillet over moderate heat. Add remaining ingredients except almonds. Cook, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in almonds, coating thoroughly. Spread almonds in a lightly oiled shallow baking pan and bake, stirring occasionally, until inside of nuts are golden (cut open to check). This will take about 25 minutes. Once the almonds have cooled, toss with rough chopped ginger and serve.