Sunday, January 20, 2013

January Joy: Oaxaca Tortilla Soup

It’s cold outside and I needed something thick and hot that would warm my bones. Rather than cook one of my go-to soups or stews, I decided to try one of Brilliant Daughter’s favorites: Oaxaca Tortilla Soup. This hearty Mexican-inspired soup did just the trick. Flavors abound, from the cool creaminess of the avocado and the sour cream to the zesty flavor of the lime juice and chili powder, combining to make a complex soup that comes together in a jiffy.

While the original version is vegetarian, you can make a heartier version by adding leftover shredded chicken or some cooked prawns. And no worries if you cannot find the dried Pasilla de Oaxaco, you can substitute a dried chipotle or 1 tablespoon of chili or chipotle powder.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Meyer Lemon Bonanza

We’ve been experiencing several concurrent days of frost here in California, and while the weather is certainly not as severe as in many parts of the country, it is dire when it comes to my prized Meyer lemons. So Saturday found me picking 3 flats of Meyers, yielding a total of 71 pounds.

On Sunday I began to make use of the lemons, and it’s much harder than you might think. Here is what I have done so far:

1. Limoncello
I started off with peeling 15 lemons for limoncello. I’ve got those peels mixed with 1.75 liters of Skye vodka, marinating for a month in my large glass sangria dispenser. Then I’ll make some lemon simple syrup to combine and finish it off. I keep my limoncello in the freezer and it can be used over ice cream, served plainly over ice, and in a version of the favored lemon drop cocktail. It’s a perfect summer drink (try adding some to your iced tea for a tasty adult version!), and will store nicely chilled until that time.

2. Simple Syrup
I also made a quart of lemon simple syrup, which involved 2 cups of sugar, 2 cups of water and 6 quartered lemons. I just boil it all for 10 minutes, let it cool, strain and pour into jars. We use this to flavor sparkling water, ice tea, hot tea, and of course, those lemon drop cocktails.

3. Lemon Zest and Juice
I have recipes that call for lemon zest, and often just make a topping for veggies using garlic, lemon zest, salt and some toasted bread crumbs. So I like to have some on hand. I do two types, a fine zest using a microplane and a long curly zest done with a traditional zester. I make little piles on a sheet of wax paper and throw them in the freezer for an hour or two. Once frozen, they can go in a Ziploc or Tupperware in the freezer for future use. Once I’ve zested the lemons, I juice them and freeze them in half-pint and pint jars. They are perfect for desserts, lemon curd, lemonade, soups, any recipe calling for lemon juice. You can even defrost them slightly in the microwave and just pour out the amount needed, popping the remainder back in the freezer.  I now have 8 jars of juice in the freezer.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Yum Factor: Spicy Grilled Tuna Rolls

Spicy Grilled Tuna Rolls—a cross between sushi and a lobster roll—always elicits a chorus of “yums” when served. That means I can pretty well guarantee that you will love these on first bite.

Brilliant Daughter brought this recipe to my attention over the summer, and I have fixed it numerous times since, including a small informal dinner party in Charleston in September. I have yet seen a diner walk away unsatisfied. And while they are somewhat costly to make, give the price for quality fresh tuna these days, they are well worth the indulgence. I have also found that it is worth sourcing out King’s Hawaiian or brioche hot dog rolls, for both flavor and presentation.

Quick to fix, you can complete this dish within 30 minutes. Should you have any problem finding wasabi powder for the dressing, you can substitute wasabi paste, both of which should be adjusted for your own palate. The dressing should be slightly hotter than you want, as mixing it in with the blander tuna and avocado will dampen the spiciness.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Quick & Easy: Asian Lettuce Cups

There are some days when I just don’t have time to spend hours in the kitchen cooking the family dinner, and for this reason I keep quick and easy recipes on hand that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less and will please all the palates at the table. This recipe, modified from Sunset magazine, is part of that repertoire.

Originally prepared for me by my good friend Jen Leo, it requires only 5-10 minutes of prep time and is ready to serve in about 25 minutes. I often double the recipe to use for lunches, which definitely impresses the co-workers.

While the recipe calls for ground chicken, you can also use ground bison or lean ground pork. Bison is becoming more available across the U.S. and the majority of American bison is grass-fed and privately—not mass—produced. Overall, bison is leaner than ground beef and contains more iron, as well as less calories and cholesterol.

Asian Lettuce Cups

1 pound lean ground chicken
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
2 1/2 tablespoons Asian black bean sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons hoisin sauce (plus extra for serving)
1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, rinsed, drained, and coarsely chopped
1 bunch green onions, sliced (both white and green)
1 cup chopped roasted unsalted peanuts
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 large head butter lettuce, separated into leaves
Sriracha chili sauce

Heat oil in large fry pan over medium heat. Add meat, ginger and garlic, breaking up the meat as it cooks. Fry until meat is just cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, break apart a head of butter lettuce, rinsing off the individual leaves, and drying on paper towels. Dab off excess water with paper towel and place leaves on a plate.

When meat is cooked, add black bean sauce and hoisin and stir just until combined. Stir in water chestnuts and onions and cook for one minute to heat through. Take off the heat, and mix in the cilantro.

Spoon mixture into a serving bowl. Serve with chopped peanuts, hoisin, and sriracha on the side.

To assemble, take one lettuce leave and smear with hoisin or Sriracha, top with meat and peanuts, fold in half and enjoy!

Serves 4

Monday, January 07, 2013

Winter Warmth: Creamy French Lentil Soup

Cold winter days call for hearty soups and one of our mainstays is this creamy French lentil soup. The recipe elevates the lowly lentil, which is quick to cook, cheap to buy and good for you, but often overlooked.

Lentils are a member of the legume family and come in a variety of colors from a dull brown to green, to French black to a vibrant red/orange, and are sold in one-pound bags or in the bulk aisle of grocery stores. The benefits are myriad and, given their diminutive size, rather amazing. First is the amount of dietary fiber packed in these little guys; one cup provides 62% of your daily dietary fiber requirement, which in addition to the high percentages of magnesium and folate, make them a heart healthy choice. You also get six minerals, two B vitamins, and 35% of your daily protein requirement, and it only adds up to 229 calories. All this and they are basically fat-free.

Lentils can be cooked plainly with some diced garlic and onion and curry to make a simple daal (served with plain yogurt), or they can be dressed up with lots of veggies, herbs, and meat, and served for supper, like they are here.

This recipe took about 5 minutes to prep and 10 minutes of hands-on cooking time, and spanned 80 minutes start to finish, the bulk of which it is just simmering on the stove. So you can come home, get it started, and relax for an hour or so. Served with some hearty bread, this makes a complete meal, given the vegetables incorporated in the soup.

Note: While the recipe calls for bacon, chicken stock and cream, you can make a vegetarian and vegan version. The bacon can be omitted, using a bit of olive oil to sauté the onions and garlic. Vegetable stock can substitute for the chicken stock, and there are vegan (soy, tofu and nut-based) cream alternatives.

Creamy French Lentil Soup

4 ounces sliced bacon, diced
2 cup diced onions
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon dry thyme
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
1 cup brown lentils
2 quarts chicken stock
2 cups diced tomato
3 bay leaves
1 cup whipping cream
Salt, nutmeg, cayenne, and white pepper to taste
2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

Heat a 4-quart pot and cook bacon until crispy. Add the onions and garlic and cook over a medium heat until brown. Then add thyme, bay leaves, carrots, celery, and lentils and stir well. Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer, and cook for 40 minutes until the lentils are soft. Cover the pot and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

Uncover the pot and add the tomatoes, cream, basil and seasoning and return to a simmer for 5 minutes.

YIELD: 6-8 servings

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Comfort Food: Chicken Potpie

I am not, and have never been, a fan of the potpie. Growing up, potpies were bought frozen and had too much crust and not enough flavor. And they didn’t lend themselves to drowning in some sort of sauce of my youth (ketchup, A-1, salsa) to amp up the flavor. But last year, when I was tending to my mom in the hospital and Brilliant Daughter was doing all the cooking for the family, she made this exceptional dish. A potpie that not only tasted wonderful, but was a comfort—to my stomach, to my soul, to my heart. I had seconds, and even thirds. (I think I must have needed a lot of comfort!)

I’ve actually resisted making it again, because even though the food memories are wonderful, the circumstances and body memories during that difficult time thwarted my effort. But I was ready to try it again. I think you’ll agree that it is worth the effort.

I started by completing my mis en place. (Prepping all the ingredients ahead of time allows me to visit with my family more during our weekly Sunday dinners.) I diced up our tasty home-cured and smoked bacon, chopped the vegetables, ran to the garden to cut some marjoram, and instead of using shredded chicken (from a purchased rotisserie chicken), I made use of the leftover turkey from First Christmas. (Yes, we had 2 Christmas’ this year!) I hate to let anything go to waste!

Once you have the ingredients in place, the prep time is about 30 minutes and then the potpie gets popped it in the oven for an additional 22-25 minutes. You could actually do the prep a few hours ahead of time, leaving the puff pastry off and completing that final step before putting the potpie in the oven for the final bake. 

This is not a terribly complicated recipe, and using a shredded rotisserie chicken cuts down on prep work, so think about treating your family to a bit of comfort…and enjoy those leftovers.

Chicken Pot Pie

5 thick slices applewood-smoked bacon, diced into ½-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
12 ounces peeled whole baby carrots, cut in half
1 8-ounce package trimmed haricots verts or other slender green beans, halved crosswise
4 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon crème fraîche
3 cups coarsely shredded chicken from 1 small purchased roasted chicken (skin removed)
Fresh ground pepper
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Cook bacon in heavy large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels.

Add onion to drippings in skillet and sauté until tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Add carrots, haricot vert and marjoram, stirring for 1 minute. Add broth and bring to boil over high heat.

Reduce heat to medium-high and boil until vegetables are almost tender and some liquid is reduced, about 8 minutes. Stir in 2/3 cup crème fraîche, chicken, and bacon. Bring to simmer. Season with pepper.

Pour chicken mixture into a deep-dish pie pan or cast iron stewpot.

Unfold puff pastry onto work surface; roll out to be slightly larger than your dish. Top chicken mixture with pastry; fold edges down onto rim. Brush top of crusts (not edges) with remaining 1 tablespoon crème fraîche. Cut small X in center of crust; pierce all over with fork. Bake until crust is golden brown and filling is heated through, about 22 minutes.

Yield: 6-8 servings