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Posts Tagged ‘hot weather food’

It’s about time I pop in and say hello!  I just had to share the salad I’ve been eating about every other day since strawberries have hit the farmer’s market in full force.  It’s really a combination of some of my favorite things in the world, all mixed together in one bowl.   There’s just such a melange of flavors and textures that it’s really satisfying–the leafy greens, the crunch from the pecans, the bite of red onion, the sweetness of the strawberries, and the acid from the balsamic vinaigrette just make this a delicious lunch.

Spring Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Grilled Chicken

Serves 2 as a small lunch dish

  • 4 cups baby spinach
  • 6-8 ounces grilled or broiled chicken breast, shredded
  • 1/4 of a small red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 8 large strawberries, sliced
  • 2 ounces broken pecan halves (about a large handful)
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette (or you can use your favorite) to taste

Just add all of those ingredients into a mixing bowl and toss until the vinaigrette is evenly distributed.

Happy Spring, everybody!

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It’s time to admit that Summer is on its last legs;  Kiddo starts Kindergarten in a matter of days, the Valley is giving its last oven blasts of heat, and the farmer’s market is packed full of the last of the summer produce.  The peaches, my dear readers, THE PEACHES on display are amazing, and I couldn’t help but pick up a few.  They are so juicy and bright with that perfect balance of acid and sweet.  I had bought some peaches about 2 weeks ago from the supermarket (I know, I KNOW) and they were so… sad.  Mealy and flavorless, and I hated to waste them, so they ended up in our morning smoothies where I could barely taste them.

I’ve seen versions of this salad hitting the rounds in magazines and food blogs, and I knew I had to make this for today’s lunch.  A bed of mesculun, a few heirloom tomatoes, red onion sliced paper-thin, juicy wedges of ripe peach, and a nice drizzle of homemade balsamic vinaigrette make this a fantastic, easy summertime lunch.  If you were feeling sassy, this would be nice with a sprinkling of feta or chevre, or if serving this for dinner, a piece of grilled fish would be a great match.  We had this with a glass of Casa Nuestra 2009 Riesling which was just right–any crisp and fruity white would be an excellent accompaniment.

Heirloom Tomato & Peach Salad

Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side

  • 6 cups Mesculun or any mixed salad greens or arugula
  • 3-4 heirloom tomatoes (depending on size), sliced
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 large peach, sliced into 12 wedges
  • Balsamic Dressing as needed

On a platter, layer salad greens, tomato slices, onion and peach.  Drizzle with balsamic dressing and serve.

(How hard was that?  Now go make it!)

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Back in 1984, Ronald Reagan passed what may have been the most important piece of legislation during his term:  designating July as National Ice Cream Month, and that the third Sunday in July to be observed as National Ice Cream Day,  with ‘appropriate ceremonies and activities’ to celebrate these events.

Well.  If the POTUS of my high school days declared it, I believe it.  Let’s celebrate some ice cream!

When the weather started to heat up, it was time to pull out my ice cream maker, but alas, my trusty old Krups maker, after 8 years of noble service, had finally developed a crack in its casing.  It was time for a new ice cream maker, and found that Williams-Sonoma is having a sale on the Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker with the bonus of an extra freezer bowl, which only meant one thing:  getting to make double the amount of ice cream!  The maker arrived on Friday, and after giving the bowls a chance to freeze for 24 hours, I was ready to crank out some new flavors of ice cream.

Also, one important lesson learned today:  photographing ice cream before it gets all melty is quite the challenge, but a delicious (someone’s gotta eat it) one.

First up:  Raspberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

Loosely based off the Cheesecake Ice Cream recipe that came with the ice cream maker, I knew it needed some love in the guise of a raspberry swirl.   The cheesecake base is egg-free and no-cook, which makes this easy for anyone who is uncomfortable with the making of anglaises.  The combination of cream cheese, mascarpone, and sour cream add the richness; the raspberry swirl is easily made with frozen raspberries and a bit of Chambord to be added to the maker in the last few seconds of churning to create a ribbon of raspberry flavor buried in a creamy cheesecake ice cream.

Raspberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

  • 1 8-ounce block of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 12-ounce bag frozen raspberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Chambord or any raspberry-flavored liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  1. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese, mascarpone, and sugar until smooth and creamy.
  2. Beat in half & half, vanilla and sour cream until combined and pour into a covered container.  Refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.
  3. While the ice cream base chills, take 2 cups of frozen raspberries and add into a medium saucepan, reserving the remaining frozen raspberries (appx. 1/2 cup).
  4. Add sugar and Chambord to raspberries and on medium heat, bring to a full simmer.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and cold water, then pour into raspberry sauce and stir until incorporated and sauce returns to a full simmer.
  6. Strain sauce through a fine mesh sieve to remove seeds.  Fold in remaining frozen raspberries.  Cover and refrigerate.
  7. When the ice cream base is cold, freeze as per ice cream maker’s instructions.
  8. Once the ice cream is ready to take out of the maker, pour in the raspberry sauce and churn just long enough to create a swirl through the ice cream.  Ice cream will be of a soft-serve consistency;  pack into lidded container and freeze for 2-4 hours until firm before serving.

Next up:  Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream

Man-oh-man, this just might be one of the best ice creams I’ve ever made.  It’s rich and deeply chocolate, not too sweet, with the hints of cinnamon, molasses from piloncillo sugar, and a touch of heat from cayenne pepper that makes it so uniquely Mexican chocolate.  This ice cream base gets its intense chocolate flavor from adding both cocoa powder and dark chocolate and the resulting base is more custard-like as opposed to a thinner anglaise.

A note about piloncillo sugar:  it’s a raw Mexican sugar, packed into cones;  you should be able to find it in the ethnic foods aisle of your market.  If you have difficulty in finding it, brown sugar is a perfectly acceptable substitute.

Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream

  • 3 cups half & half
  • 1 cone of piloncillo sugar (or 3/4 cup brown sugar)
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  1. In a saucepan, heat half & half, cinnamon sticks and piloncillo to a hard simmer, turning the heat off before the cream begins to boil.
  2. Turn off heat, and let steep for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
  3. Whisk cocoa powder into the cream and bring back to a simmer.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks, then add about 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the yolks, and whisk until smooth.  Add another 1/2 cup of cream to the yolk mixture, whisk, then pour back into saucepan, and whisk until mixture returns to a simmer and thickens.  Remove from heat.
  5. Add in vanilla extract, chocolate, and cayenne pepper, and stir until chocolate has melted.
  6. Pour into lidded container and chill until cold, about 2 hours.
  7. Freeze as per ice cream maker’s instructions; pour into container and freeze until firm.

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The official grilling season is here!  Aren’t you excited?  I am!  I love grilling food–fat steaks cooked rare, with the bits of fat, crackling and brown;  eggplant and zucchini, smoky and tender; pineapple dipped in rum and sugar, caramelized by flame–it’s all so, so good.

This year, I decided to roll out an old favorite for my first meal on the grill:  Paella.  When Choo and I were first dating, I had purchased a paella pan.  Now, Choo was very anti-seafood (with the exception of some shrimp) back in those days, so I’d make it with chicken thighs, sausage, and a few shrimp–delicious by all means, but not as exciting as the Seafood Extravaganza that paella can be.  He’s comfortable with pretty much all seafood these days, so now I can have fun with adding tons of mussels, clams, and shrimp.  My old paella pan was lost in our big move in 2001, and I didn’t bother to get a new one until just recently when we recalled how much we loved cooking paella out on the grill, and how fun it was to have a big, brimming pan of savory rice and meats to share with friends on a Saturday night.

Everyone knows one of the key ingredients to paella is saffron, which creates the distinctive golden-yellow rice, but the important component to flavor the dish is sofrito–a combination of tomatoes, onion and garlic typical to several Mediterranean cuisines.  A Spanish sofrito takes those tomatoes, onions and garlic and finely minces  them (best done using a box grater or a the grater attachment in a food processor), and slowly simmers the mixture with olive oil until the liquids are evaporated and what is left is nearly a paste, a deep-reddish brown and rich in flavor.

Sofrito simmering away in the paella pan.

Why cook paella on a grill?  The first answer is that it is an authentic way to cook paella–they are traditionally cooked over an open fire, and the smoke adds more character to the dish as a whole.  Secondly, paella pans are large–mine happens to be an 18″– and they just do not fit well on a stove.  Sure, you can do it on the stove, but you will be turning the pan constantly to try to keep the heat even.

When making paella on the grill, one of the major components to having everything come together easily will be doing all your prep before heading outside to cook.  While you light your charcoal and wait for it to be ready (usually about 30 minutes or so), is a perfect time to get all your ingredients measured out and ready to go.

Once the sofrito has cooked down, the sliced sausage is added and browned quickly, chicken stock added and brought to a boil, rice sprinkled in, then all the seafood and vegetables carefully placed in the pan.  A few minutes covered with foil helps cook the shellfish.

When the paella comes off the grill, a generous sprinkling of fresh chopped basil and parsley finishes the dish.

Paella is such a great, fun communal meal to have with a few friends–a pitcher of sangria and a crusty baguette with some olive oil for dipping, and you’re set to go.

Paella Mixta

Proportions are for an 18″ paella pan–serves 6 generously.

  • 1/2 teaspoon Saffron threads
  • 7 cups low-sodium Chicken Stock
  • 3 large Tomatoes, seeds and pulp removed
  • 2 small Onions, trimmed and peeled
  • 4 cloves Garlic
  • 1 teaspoon Paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Salt
  • 1 teaspoon coarse-ground Black Pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 8 ounces dry-cured Chorizo, sliced (Linguica or Andouille can be used as a substitute)
  • 2 1/2 cups Valencia or Bomba rice (a short-grain rice  like Arborio can be used as a substitute)
  • 2 pounds Mussels, scrubbed and beards removed (toss any with cracked shells or shells that remain open after tapping)
  • 8 Littleneck Clams, scrubbed
  • 1 1/2 pounds Jumbo Shrimp, deveined, shell-on
  • 1 cup frozen Peas
  • 2 cups frozen quartered Artichoke Hearts
  • 1/2 cup jarred Piquillo Peppers, sliced into 1/2″ strips (roasted red bell peppers can be used as a substitute)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped basil
  1. Start grill–charcoal should have a full grey ash coat.  A hand placed 2″ above the grill can be held to a count of 4.
  2. While charcoal heats up, place saffron in a saucepan and break up threads with the side of a wooden spoon.  Add chicken stock to saucepan and bring to a full boil.  Once the stock comes to a boil, take off heat and let saffron steep in the stock.
  3. Using a box grater or grater attachment in a food processor, shred tomatoes and onions and pour into a bowl.  Finely mince garlic and add to sofrito base.  Stir in paprika, salt, and pepper and set aside.
  4. Once charcoal is ready, place paella pan on grill and heat; add olive oil.
  5. Pour sofrito into pan and stir frequently; simmer until all liquid has evaporated.
  6. Add sausage, toss and let brown for about 3-4 minutes.
  7. Pour in chicken stock and stir.  Bring to a full simmer.
  8. Sprinkle in rice and stir.  Distribute rice evenly with a spoon and then let rice simmer for about 8-10 minutes, until the rice starts to absorb the liquid.
  9. Place clams and mussels hinge-down into rice, evenly distributing them around the pan.  Add shrimp, peas, artichoke hearts and peppers.  Once the stock is at a full simmer again, lightly tent with aluminum foil and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, about 8-10 minutes.
  10. Let paella rest for 5-10 minutes and sprinkle with chopped parsley and basil before serving.

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Today was the hopefully the last of the year’s triple-digit weather, and we spent a good part of our day running errands in the heat.  There are grand plans in the works for next weekend, as it will be My Birthday Observed, where Choo and I will have two of our favorite people over, and there will be cooking, eating, and drinking;  I decided to shop for some new table linens and to replace some chipped plates.  Hauling bags around in the heat made us weary and hungry, and by the time we got home, we needed a fast lunch, and we had everything we needed from our Saturday morning trip from the Calabasas Farmer’s Market for this:

caprese

Sure, an Insalata Caprese can be an elegant thing, but it doesn’t have to be–in fact, I like it simple and stripped down to the basic elements:  good fresh tomatoes (homegrown or farmer’s market), mozzarella cheese, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper.

It’s one of the things that I love about summer, and when June rolls around, I’m waiting for the first great tomatoes to show up at the farmer’s market.  This will more than likely be our last Caprese of the season–any tomatoes in our possession are being turned into sauce and canned/frozen.  I’m not sad, since all the wonderful fall produce is starting to show up (hello, Acorn Squash, I’m looking forward to roasting and stuffing you), and I know come next year, I’ll be ready for a summer full of tomatoes and basil.

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I don’t hate P.F. Chang’s.  I think they have some lovely cocktails, and the food isn’t bad, but I’ve always found it ridiculous that people will wait up to 2 hours to eat there on a Saturday night for overpriced “fancy” Chinese food served by blond college kids.  I like my Chinese restaurants old-school and cheap, like Hop Louie in Chinatown or Ming’s in Bellflower.

One dish of theirs that I am fond of is their Lettuce Wrap appetizer, and I was thinking that would make a great Friday night dinner at home–fun, fast, and not heating up the kitchen because it’s still 95° outside at 5 PM. It’s not an exact replica (a quick check on Google shows the recipe is definitely out there), and it really wasn’t my intention to copy the restaurant, but to make a spicy, full-of-vegetables filling that caters to our own personal tastes.

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I just love these colors.

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For the onion and bell pepper, I diced them small.  It’s important for a stir fry to have the items that take longer to cook, such as onions, carrots, celery to be sliced thinly or diced small.  Stir fries are done on high heat and should not take more than a few minutes to cook.

I’m a fan of recycling my plastic takeout cups like these, along with a bunch of random plastic tubs that fresh mozzarella or pizza sauce comes in.  When I’m prepping a dish like this, where it’s best to have everything chopped and ready to go before the actual cooking, those little tubs come in handy.

This goes in with one of the first lessons of culinary school:  mise en place (literally, putting in place), but we definite it as “everything in its place.”  All the vegetables are chopped, the steaks are trimmed, pasta is par-boiled, the ovens preheated, utensils set in a bain marie next to the stove so they’re in easy reach–all done to make a chef’s job efficient while cooking on the line in a restaurant.  It’s a concept that once a home cook masters it, the matter of throwing together a meal becomes easier.

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See what I mean?  Nice little pieces of chicken breast, happily caramelizing in oil, hot splatters hitting my arm…

The chicken gets cooked in 2 batches;  chicken breast dries out quickly, and if I were to dump all of the chicken in at once, it would bring the pan temperature down, as well as all of that chicken giving off juices would mean there would be no quick browning and a longer cooking time–definitely not what we’d like to see here.

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Once the chicken is cooked and set aside, the onion and bell pepper go in and cook until translucent and just starting to brown; the bok choy and bean sprouts get tossed in–these cook very quickly, a minute and a few stirs, and the chicken goes back in the pan.

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Some chicken stock, some soy sauce, a little garlic, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and a tiny bit of Chinese Five Spice (go easy on that stuff, it can overpower a dish before you know it) whisked with cornstarch makes a fast sauce;  if I had thought of it before, I probably would have put a little bit of rice vinegar for a little bit of acid to brighten up the sauce, then again–I didn’t miss it, either.

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Once the sauce thickens, take the wok off the heat, stir in some cilantro, and you are ready to go.

WAIT.  I FORGOT SOMETHING.

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Call it Bibb, Boston, Butter, Butterhead or Limestone Lettuce;  I’m calling it Perfect for using in Lettuce Wraps.  Iceberg lettuce has its place (wedged, with blue cheese dressing), but the crisp texture causes it to break when you’re trying to, you know, wrap your filling. Bibb lettuce leaves are soft and flexible, and have a slight sweetness to them that works just right with the heat of the dish.   This one was sold in one of those clear boxes with the roots still attached to the bottom–instant science lesson for Kiddo while we were in the market.

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Take lettuce leaf.  Fill with a generous spoonful of chicken.  Eat.  Be Happy.  And when the chicken is all gone, do what Choo did and fill the serving bowl with rice, to sop up all the leftover sauce and bits.

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

2 generous main dish servings; 4 if serving with other dishes

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

1 Tablespoon sesame oil

appx. 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (3 medium-sized, in my case), trimmed of fat, diced small

1 yellow or white onion, diced small

1 red bell pepper, diced small

1 head baby bok choy, sliced thinly

1 cup bean sprouts

1/2 cup cold chicken stock (if not homemade, use low-sodium broth)

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more)

1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice

1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon corn starch

Salt to taste (I still needed about a 1/2 teaspoon when I tasted it)

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped, plus extra for garnish, if desired

1 head of Bibb lettuce, washed, dried, and leaves separated

  1. On a high flame, heat wok or large skillet.  Add vegetable and sesame oils.
  2. Add half of the chicken and fry, stirring often, until just cooked and turning brown, about 3 minutes. Remove chicken from pan,  put into a bowl, and set aside.  Repeat this with the second batch of chicken.
  3. Add onion and bell pepper and cook until glossy, translucent, and just starting to get a little brown, about 4-5 minutes.
  4. Add bok choy and bean sprouts, toss until incorporated and bok choy is wilted, about 1 minute.
  5. Return chicken to pan.
  6. In a bowl, whisk together chicken stock, garlic, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, black pepper, Chinese Five Spice, and cornstarch; pour into pan and stir until sauce has thickened and coated everything.
  7. Take off heat, salt to taste, and stir in cilantro.
  8. Pour into serving dish, and serve with lettuce leaves.

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I have found myself addicted to Foodgawker these days–if you’re not familiar, go on, take a look.  I’ll wait.

Is that not just Food Porn Central?  I probably check that site about three times a day to see what goes up.  I’ve attempted an entry, but my picture wasn’t good enough (not bitter about it–I welcome constructive criticism, and it’s made me focus on trying to take better pictures with my little camera).  Some things don’t quite spin my salad, such as anything that puts the two words Vegan and Chocolate together;  bless your little organic cotton socks, Vegans, but I’m just not going there.  Sometimes, I find a recipe that catches my interest and I think with a few of my own personal tweaks, it would make a fine meal.

For Sunday lunch, I did just that.  I went with shrimp instead of chicken, since, well, Choo and I do love shrimp, and I felt it would fit this better for us personally.  I dropped the fish sauce (not a big fan) and went with soy sauce,  just went with the juice of one lime, and skipped the sugar.  As for the vegetables, I halved the amount of red onion and substituted the other half with thinly sliced radishes.  Instead of that crazy amount of mint, I reduced the mint to 1/4 cup, and replaced the other 1/2 cup with chopped cilantro.  I sprinkled the salad with about 3 tablespoons of seasoned rice vinegar, with salt and pepper to taste.  Of course, once all was said and done, it was an entirely different recipe, and absolutely perfect for a lunch on warm Sunday afternoon.

Spicy Shrimp, Cucumber & Radish Salad

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 pound of large shrimp, shell-on,  deveined, defrosted

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more to taste)

juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon soy sauce

In a very hot skillet or wok, add your oil, then toss in your shrimp, stirring often.  When the shrimp shells start turning pink (about 2 minutes), add in garlic, pepper flakes, lime juice and soy sauce, and stir until the shrimp have finished cooking, approximately 2-4 minutes more.  Put shrimp into a bowl and set aside to cool.

shrimpsalad1

Mmmm, garlicky sea bugs.

While your shrimp cool, prepare the salad:

1 English “hothouse” cucumber, thinly sliced

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

1 small bunch radishes (about 8), thinly sliced

1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

3 Tablespoons Seasoned Rice Wine Vinegar

Salt & Pepper to taste

If you have a mandolin, this is the time to break it out, as having everything thinly sliced is what makes this salad special.

Toss the sliced vegetables and herbs with the vinegar, salt and pepper.

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Let the salad sit for a few minutes to marinate while you peel the shrimp.

Toss in shrimp.

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Eat with relish; fight over seconds.

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