Friday, June 29, 2012

balsamic lemon fig chutney

What's that you say? You still have figs?  Better make some chutney...

The fig fairy delivered enough fresh figs from her tree, that I still had some leftover, even after I loaded last night's tart full of those golden-hued beauties.  A chutney would be nice.  Let's see, what do I have on hand... Lemons? Yes.  Red onion?  Yes.  Currants?  Yes.  Rosemary from the garden? Balsamic vinegar and honey?  Yes, yes, yes.  Add some spice.. like ginger, orange peel and red pepper flake, and we're making chutney, baby.

MAN, does the house smell good. It does.  And I keep thinking about how yummy this will be with grilled pork tenderloin, or as the topper on goat cheese crostini.  Which to make first??  These are big decisions.

balsamic lemon fig chutney
makes 2 jelly jars

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
18 small fresh figs, top stems removed, sliced in half
3 lemons, sliced in half lengthwise, then sliced into 1/4 inch half-rounds, seeds removed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup currants
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup water
1/4 tsp orange peel
1 tsp salt
scant 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger

Heat olive oil on medium heat in a large saucepan.  Add red onion and saute until it just begins to turn golden, about 8-10 minutes.  Add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to a simmer.  Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Partially cover and simmer for an additional 15-20 minutes.  Remove lid and simmer for an additional 15 minutes, or until most of the liquid evaporates.  Increase heat slightly if need be, and stir frequently.  Place in jelly jars and cool. Store in refrigerator up to a week.  Great served with pork or chicken, or with goat cheese or brie.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

fennel frond pistachio pesto pasta with zucchini

I've been on a crazy fennel kick ever since I returned from my Italy girl's trip a few weeks ago. Have I mentioned I went to Italy? ;)  We found fennel quite popular there, as it continually popped up in our salads, fresh, and on our appetizer plates, grilled.

Consequently, fennel has been showing up in various ways in my kitchen at home now too.  I've been using the fronds for garnish, and mixed in herbed salads, but wanted to have a way to use up a bunch at once.  Fennel Frond Pistachio Pesto.  Voila!  The pesto is really nice with julienned zucchini tossed in pasta.  And for those not eating pasta, it would be darn good on just the julienned zucchini.  Fresh, green and good!

Into the food processor with fennel frond, flatleaf parsley, garlic, pistachios, lemon zest and juice, olive oil and parmesan -- whirl it up, and put it in a jar.

Place some of the pesto in a bowl, add warm pasta and the julienned zucchini and toss to coat. Use a tablespoon or so of the starchy cooking water as you toss.

fennel frond pistachio pesto pasta with zucchini
for the pesto
1 1/2 cups fennel frond
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley
2 cloves garlic
1 lemon, zest and juice
1/4 cup pistachios
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

for the pasta
pasta of your choice, cooked al dente
1-2 zucchini (depending on how much pasta you make), julienned
fennel frond pistachio pesto

Add fennel, parsley, garlic, lemon juice and zest, pistachios, a few grinds of pepper, and big pinch of salt to food processor and pulse.  Gradually add in the olive oil with the machine running.  Add in the parmesan.  Taste and add additional salt/pepper if needed.  Pour your pesto into a jar.

Toss warm pasta cooked al dente with some of the pesto, then add in fresh julienned zucchini.  Add more pesto to taste, as well as a bit of the starchy pasta water until it comes together perfectly.  Sprinkle with grated parmesan and freshly cracked pepper to serve.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

cold cucumber soup with feta, and grilled caprese sandwiches

     With temps above 100 degrees, I'm thinking of all things cooooool and refreshing.  
Like this soup. 

And a grilled Caprese sandwich on the side completes the evening meal.

No cooking involved, and the food processor does most of the work.  Use a thin-skinned cucumber (Suyo longs are my favorite), so no need to peel or seed.  I like to put this together early in the day, so the flavors really have a chance to develop. 

They like cooooool things too.

Goodness.  GOODness.

cold cucumber soup with feta
serves 6-8

1 thin-skinned cucumber, such as Suyo Long or English, coarsely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, grated
a palm full of fresh mint leaves
a palm full of fresh dill
3 scallions, chopped
juice from one large lemon or 2 small
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tablespoon agave nectar or honey
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth or unsalted chicken stock
1 quart plain low fat yogurt
3/4 to 1  tablespoon kosher salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper
feta to crumble as garnish
lemon zest to garnish

Combine cucumber, garlic, dill, mint, scallions, olive oil, lemon juice, 1/2 cup of the stock, salt and a good grind of black pepper in a food processor, and pulse to blend.  Place in a large bowl, and stir in yogurt and remaining stock.  Cover with plastic wrap for at least 2 hours (I like to make mine early in the day if serving that evening).  To serve, ladle into bowls and top with some crumbled feta, garnish with lemon zest.

For the grilled Caprese sandwich, you'll need bread, ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella di bufala, fresh basil and mayo, if you'd like.  I used herbed peasant bread.  Spread a bit of mayo on bread, layer on the cheese, tomato and basil, and top with second slice of bread.  Brush the top of bread lightly with olive oil (garlic infused if you have on hand) and place in a non-stick skillet until golden brown, flip and repeat. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

perfect pork carnitas tacos with roasted spiced sweet corn on the cob

     These are, hands down, the best pork carnitas tacos I have ever made. 

     I consider myself a carnitas connoisseur.  Call me a snob, but it's true.  They are simply the best taco on the planet, in my humble opinion.  There are a couple neighborhood Mexican Restaurants that do them right (the beauty of living in Houston), but there's nothing like making them at home.  I've tried a few recipes/methods that work well, including Homesick Texan Carnitas (from Homesick Texan Cookbook) which has wonderful citrus notes, and most recently, a slow cooker version, which included beer, from How Sweet It Is.  I married the two and created this version, and the result is pure pork bliss.


    There was a big attraction for me to the slow cooker version in the flexibility it affords, though I wasn't sure this method would provide the crispy brown goodness needed for the just-right end result.  But it sure did!  All you need to do is follow two key steps to achieve perfect pork goodness:  1)  Brown the pork butt on all sides before it goes into the crockpot; 2)  once the meat is nice and tender, remove pork,  shred, drain liquid, and add back into the crockpot to fry.

     We planned them for a Sunday afternoon meal, so I started them at about 10 p.m. on Saturday night.  At about 8 a.m. on Sunday morning, I pulled out the pork, eliminated most of the fat and the bone, discarded the cooking liquid, shredded the pork and put it back into the crock for another hour or so, turning every so often so it "fried" and browned up nicely.  The end result was just what carnitas should be... crisp and tasty browned bits on the outside, while the meat remains tender and succulent.  

     For the tacos, I served the meat piled on corn tortillas, which I heated on the grill, and topped with diced mango and avocado, and some fresh cilantro and lime.   

     We had the grill going, because it seemed to me that the ideal side for these tacos was locally grown, Texas Sweet Corn on the cob -- spiced with ancho chili powder and lime.  

   For the corn, shuck, wash and pat dry.  Tear yourself a square of aluminum foil for each ear of corn.  Rub with butter, and season with salt, pepper and ancho chili powder (just a sprinkle). Roll up in the foil.   Grill, turning occasionally, to allow all sides to contact with the heat, for about 15 minutes.  Remove from foil to platter. Squeeze fresh lime juice on top just before serving.   

carnitas tacos
serves a bunch

4 1/2 to 5 pound pork butt, bone in
1-2 tablespoons canola oil
1 bottle beer (I used New Belgium Summersault Ale, perfect for its citrus notes)
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
corn tortillas

Combine the dry spices/seasonings together in a small bowl.   Heat a cast iron skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the oil.  Sear pork butt on all sides until golden brown (about 2 minutes per side).  

Add pork butt to crockpot and sprinkle seasonings all over all sides of the meat.  Pour in beer, orange and lime juice and add in garlic.   Cook in crockpot on low setting for 10 to 12 hours (mine was ready in 10) until very tender.  Remove pork, shred the meat, and get rid of most of the fat and bone, discard the cooking liquid.  Add shredded pork back into crockpot and cook for another 30-45 minutes or so, turning every so often with tongs so it "fries" and browns up nicely.  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

honey roasted salmon blt sliders with avocado basil mayo

         I was on an herbed peasant bread baking kick this weekend, and thinking of ways to use the fresh bread, and thought of blt sliders. An avocado basil mayo sounded like a nice compliment to the bread and salmon, and with fresh basil a plenty in the garden right now, we had just about all the fixins on hand for dinner.

avocado basil mayo
1 large ripe avocado
handful of fresh basil leaves
1 small clove garlic, chopped
zest and juice of one small lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

  Buzz up your basil, garlic and lemon zest in a food processor.  Add in your pitted and peeled avocado, and pulse to combine.  Add in your olive oil and lemon juice and process until pretty smooth consistency. 

     These were perfect to end a hot day.  They were super quick to put together, which meant we had time enough to fill up the dogs' pool in the evening and watch them play while we enjoyed a beverage.  Now that's a nice Saturday night!

honey roasted salmon blt sliders with avocado basil mayo
makes 4 sliders

2 small salmon fillets, skinless
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon butter, melted
salt and pepper
3 slices thick cut bacon, cut into thirds
avocado basil mayo
herbed peasant bread (or rolls/bread of your choosing)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cut your small salmon fillets into squares to fit your bread.  I cut mine in half to fit  half slice of my herbed bread.  Line a baking sheet with foil and spay with a little nonstick cooking spray.  Place your salmon on the sheet.  Season with salt and pepper.  Combine your honey and butter.  Brush the mixture on the salmon.  Roast in preheated oven for 5 minutes, then broil for an additional 5 minutes, until they are nicely golden on top. 

In the meantime, cook your bacon pieces in a skillet until crisp, and toast your bread.  I used 4 slices of herbed peasant bread, cut in half. 

When you're ready to assemble, slather on the avocado basil mayo, top with salmon, bacon, tomato and lettuce.  And open wide... mmm

Friday, June 22, 2012

perfect summer squash soup

     This morning was one of those perfect summer mornings.  I got up early, drank a little coffee and headed out the door to visit Farmers Market before work.  Smooth and cool savory soup with a slice of toasted herbed bread on my mind...  sounded so good for a hot day.  And that's just what I set out to make.

     I always forget how much I love going to Farmers Market early morning, before the rush of the world pushes  in... it's a mostly quiet, peaceful experience.  The bins are all full of fresh produce, ready to start their day, and it's all open for my choosing.  This morning, the summer squash called to me...

     I have to admit, until recently I had not been a huge fan of summer squash.  Don't get me wrong.. it's not that I didn't eat them, just that I didn't crave for them the way I have ever since our love affair with zucchini carpaccio began not that long ago. 

     Veggies in hand, I set to chopping.

     With a little assistance from my ever-present helpers...

     And lickety-split, onion, zucchinni, yellow squash, red bell, carrot and tomato were ready to make the perfect cool, Summer Squash Soup.

     Simmered a while and before you know it, they were tender and ready to be pureed.  And my kitchen smelled like heaven.

     Time to blend away.

     And oooooohhhhh that's so so so so so so good!  Served chilled or at room temperature, garnished with a bit of squash and red pepper, slice of bread on the side.  YES.

perfect summer squash soup

1/2 cup olive oil
2 onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 fat cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
4 ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 zucchini, coarsely chopped
5 yellow squash, coarsely chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 large red bell, seeded and coarsely chopped
kosher salt
2 cups vegetable stock
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
freshly ground black pepper
finely chopped zucchini and red bell for garnish

Heat oil in a large dutch oven or stockpot over medium-high heat.  Add onion and saute until softened, 5 minutes.  Add garlic, remaining veggies, and 3 1/2 teaspoons salt, and saute about 15 minutes more. 

Add stock, vinegar, fennel seeds and freshly ground black pepper, and bring to a simmer, cook uncovered until vegetables are extremely tender, about 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly. 

Using an immersion blender (or regular blender, in batches), puree the soup.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot, warm, or chilled.  Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish and enjoy!

everybody's favorite herbed peasant bread

Hay Day Country Market calls this "Everybody's Favorite Peasant Bread," and I can tell you for a fact it dang sure is mine!  I mean this is good stuff. GOOD.  STUFF.  Perfect for toasted tomato sandwiches in the Summer, great made into croutons for salads, and kick butt awesome toasted along side a soup, as it was today with a chilled summer squash soup.  It's chewy and has a texture similar to an English muffin.

     These guys are always near to lend a helping.... clean up?  Today on duty for any zucchini tid bit that might have accidentally slipped to the floor.  They are mindful of doing a good job.

     Seriously, did I mention this bread is good?  And everybody's favorite?  It is.  I follow the recipe nearly exactly as is from Hay Day Country Market Cookbook -- one of my long time favs.  You must get this cookbook.