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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Breaking that "south of the border" food rut...

Blowing up the kitchen,
and savoring my homebrew...
quite tasty I might add!
(BTW, that's Dolly supervising.)
One of the things I really enjoy is learning how to use new ingredients from different cultures and trying to find success with ingredients I may have not understood and failed with previously. Ok, maybe not "failed", but some attempts are just less than spectacular. This week, I had something come together that truly was spectacular! I mean, this was "serve it to impress" spectacular! Don't believe me, just try it! (Recipe and photos below, OF COURSE!!!!)

I generally have little bits of things in my freezer. I'm not quite a horder, but I'm very frugal! Here's a couple of examples of what someone might find in my freezer, and don't laugh!

  • Onion scraps/onion broth ice cubes: When I use onions, I generally keep the peel and first layer of the onion peeled back, but attached to the root. When I get close to the root, instead of it discarding it or composting it, it goes in to a freezer bag until I have enough for broth. I've used leeks (the green parts that are always being discarded), green onions that went limp and lifeless, garlic in its husk that seems a bit dry and all sorts of onion scraps (red, white, sweet, yellow). So, I finally made onion broth with it. People coming in the house that day were disappointed I hadn't made French onion soup, the house smelled so good! I've used it to flavor rice, couscous, and even shrimp curry (instead of using coconut milk which is high in bad fats, but oh-so-good!) 
  • Leftover kalamata olive bread- We had a hankering for it, and one of us suddenly went out of town. Since one person alone couldn't finish the loaf, I cut it into a couple of large chunks, wrapped well, and froze it! Used one of those for some DELISH meatballs!
  • Chicken and veggie scraps: I have these scraps building up for a tasty chicken broth. De-boned some chicken breasts, and keep the bones in a bag in the freezer. Add to it some celery leaves, carrot tops, onion roots or scraps, etc. Soon, you've got enough for a small batch of chicken broth to cure what ails ya'!
  • Tails from shrimp: makes a great stock! And, I do a lot of shrimp curries... just do...
  • Sausage, specifically CHORIZO: I had bought some Mexican chorizo to cook with some potatoes for breakfast, and knew I wouldn't use the entire package so I cut up the raw sausage into a couple of large chunks and froze until later. And, that's partly how we got to this recipe!
So, I had originally thought I'd make a stuffed pork tenderloin- maybe with spinach and chorizo, but the tenderloin wasn't the same thickness throughout. Scratched my head for a bit, and resolved that the pork tenderloin was going to cook on it's own. I love PT, but it needs flavor. What to do, what to do... A-HA! A rub... what to use, what to use...

Achiote paste is this deep red, clay looking paste that was something I used as a rub previously, but didn't get much flavor out of it- didn't know quite how to use it. I pulled it down from the shelf, and it was hard and dried out. 

Into a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and two tablespoons of water, break it up, nuke it for 20 seconds, and mash it against the wall of the cup... This is a brick red color that you almost want to paint with! And, if you enjoy it as much as I did, you'll be happy to know it will stick around for about a day- ON YOUR SKIN! You might want to use gloves...

But finally, I'd found the right application for it. You can't just use it completely dry- it needs a catalyst like water, broth, vinegar, oil- to make it pliable, spreadable, liquid, etc. Finally, I got it! Opened my eyes, and now I have all sorts of ideas on how to use it! 

Now, I don't know about you, but I have grown to love spinach. Hated it growing up. Love it in stir fries, or just sauteed with some crushed red pepper, olive oil, S&P (salt and pepper) and chopped garlic. But, that gets BORING... I have to be honest, since it's only been the last year or so I joined the spinach bandwagon (which means I didn't just buy it to bury it in a cooked dish where I really wouldn't taste it!), I don't have that many recipes for it in my arsenal. And, if you're like me, it starts to leech a bit, or go soft, before you can use it all. Once it's bruised and turning dark in spots, you almost HAVE to cook it for it to be palatable. OR, you use it with a hot salad dressing that's going to wilt it anyways. Hot bacon dressing is good, but since I was going with the whole "south of the border" theme, why not use chorizo??? It's spicy, fatty, greasy like bacon,... it meets all the requirements I think! And, it was just completely out of my normal routine. Luckily it worked out VERY well, and I can share it with you, so you can share it with someone else!

And, again I say, this is one of those dishes, when completely composed, that will impress many people! I served it on a cuttin board, where we all ate the salad right from the board, instead of on our plates- very communal, slightly different and dramatic in presentation, and TOTALLY FUN! 

Can't wait to hear what you all think when you try this recipe!

Achiote and Cumin Rubbed Pork Tenderloin 

Prep time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Cook time: 20-30 minutes

  • 1 Pork tenderloin ("PT"; roughly 3 lbs)
  • 2 T Canola oil (for cooking)

Marinade for pork:
  • 1 T Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 T hot/boiling water
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 1 cube of Achiote paste
  • Class of 6/21/12;
    Missing from photo: Spinach, Gorganzola.
Rub for pork:
  • 2 t Ground Cumin
  • 1 T Garlic powder
  • 1 T Onion powder
  • 1 t each of S&P

PT in freezer bag and marinating.
  1. Pull the PT out of the fridge for a minimum of 15 minutes to bring it up to room temperature.
  2. Place in to large freezer/zip top bag with a dried tenderloin. Massage into the pork, and place into the   fridge for no more than an hour (or you run the risk of the vinegar and lime juice making the tenderloin mealy).
  3. In coffee mug, or blender, combine the ingredients for the marinade, and mash or blend to combine and create a deep red marinade that is smooth, without chunks of Achiote paste.
  4. Place PT on a cutting board, and mix the "rub" for the PT in a small dish or cup. Sprinkle on all sides. You should have enough to lightly cover the entire tenderloin- you're not looking for full coverage as you would with something you're going to bbq like ribs or pork shoulder. This is a light seasoning.
  5. Heat up a pan on medium high heat. Once hot, add the oil- it should become shimmery immediately.
  6. Searing the meat in the pan- and yes,
    I had drinks to help me along!
  7. Place the PT in the pan, and lightly brown all sides (don't worry about the ends).
  8. Once that is complete, place in a 375 deg F oven (covered with foil) until internal temperature reaches about 145 F (15-20 minutes). 
  9. Remove foil, broil for about 3 minutes.
  10. Remove from oven, place foil back on it (not tight) and let the meat rest for about 5 minutes.
While the meat is resting, you can make your salad! It's that simple...

Spinach and Gorganzola Salad with Warm Chorizo Vinaigrette

Salad Ingredients (for two):

  • 1/2 Bag of spinach
  • 2 Radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 Sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 oz. Gorgonzola or Blue cheese
Vinaigrette Ingredients:
  • 3 oz. Mexican-style Chorizo (most grocery stores carry this soft uncooked pork sausage in a roll or tube)
  • 1 Garlic clove, peeled, but not chopped
  • 2 t sugar, or Agave syrup (even betta'!)
  • 3 T vinegar (rice wine, white wine, white vinegar for example)
  • 1 T canola oil
    Fully cooked chorizo.
  2. Fill a large bowl with the spinach. 
  3. Set radishes, onion and cheese to the side- it doesn't go on the salad until after the dressing.
  4. In a medium hot pan, add the chorizo and cook thoroughly along with the garlic clove (we want the flavor, but we don't need the clove itself. Just throw it away after cooking.)
  5. When the sausage is fully cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the sugar/agave, vinegar, and a touch of oil (as much as 1 T, but you don't have to use all of it). Thoroughly mix.
  6. Pour over the spinach while hot and toss. Some spinach will begin to wilt, which is why if you want to use some bruised spinach in this, along with good leaves of course, you could get away with it.
  7. Add onion, radishes, and cheese and toss again.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Never thought about cooking quite that way.

So, I was flipping through a magazine with a cooking show on- Barefoot Contessa to be exact. Not a show I watch really! REALLY! But, she happened to be speaking to two things which I believe we should discuss.

  1. Order food boxes from your local farmers! You'll be helping your local economy, supporting a family-run business, and get the freshest produce you have ever had (other than growing your own). We used to get one every other week, because it was so fresh it wouldn't go bad in a week, or even two most of the time. Not only all those great things, and the parts about improving your health by eating fresh, but you can experiment with new veg that you've never heard of such as kohlrabi, broccoli rabe, rainbow chard, Japanese eggplant (oooh, love these!), celeriac... you get the drift! And, they usually provide recipes for you! How cool is that????
  2. Most people start with a recipe, and then go get everything they need. Peeps, I really never thought about it that way... I suppose there was a time, and still is from time to time that I go to the store with a specific recipe in mind and purchase the ingredients I need to fix something specific. But that's not the norm for me! Instead, I generally open the fridge/freezer, and take stock of what proteins and veggies I have. Then, I decide what I want to eat, what flavor I want it to have, and interchange ingredients from time to time when I don't have the exact ones I need. THAT, my peeps, is why I think it's so important to keep a wide variety of ingredients in the house ESPECIALLY if they can pull more than just double-duty! Cumin is great in Tex-Mex, South of the Boarder, as well as eastern Indian foods. Ginger is great cooked, or raw in a citrus-based salad dressing! Same with cilantro, coriander (cilantro seed), celery seed (well, coleslaw, potato salad, and Indian foods), vinegar of varieties, and you get the drift. It's when you start to see an ingredient on your shelf that you seldom use (or use too often) in a different light that you can truly expand your palette and create something new. THAT is what I try to do nearly every night. Doesn't always work, but I am learning along the way... and what really works I'll share with you, OK?! Sounds like a good plan, right? 
Peace, my peeps! 

PNW Wild Alaska Salmon, the right way!

Ok everyone! It's that time again- time for salmon season. The time of year that we in the PNW (Pacific NorthWest) start buying that fish fresh again, and finding great new recipes for it! However, now and again you buy something special and Copper River salmon is that "something special." It has a very short fishing season (1 or 2 weeks only), and the fish has distinctively deep red flesh, and tastes fatty even though it's not. It cooks up firm, and juicy, provided you don't leave it exposed to the broiler or the grill too long. If you don't cook salmon often, practice on a lesser piece of salmon first, and then plan to undercook the Copper River salmon just a touch.

This spring, I went with something simple, truly PNW, easy to repeat, and a HUGE crowd-pleaser every time I serve this. You just can't miss with this... and so, I now share it with you. My marinade is really simple, takes very little time to put together, and keeps you from buying those high-sodium sauces on the ends of the aisles at every store around! This is healthier, tasty, and hard to screw up! It's sweet, savory, salty, it's worth it!

PNW Teriyaki Salmon

Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes (8 minutes on the heat, 4-5 minutes resting)

Mandatory Ingredients:

1/2 C Yoshida's Teriyaki marinade (or similar THICK teriyaki)
1/4 C Teriyaki, thin sauce style (even lite teriyaki would work here)
1        Smashed and chopped garlic clove
1/4 C Chopped ginger, or 3 T grated ginger (NO POWDER STUFF!)
2 T     Brown sugar
1        Salmon filet
Mandatory ingredients
Optional Ingredients:

1/4 C Pineapple juice
Crushed red pepper to taste
1 t       Lemon zest
1 T      Chopped chives

  1. In glass or plastic bowl, mix the top 4 mandatory ingredients.
  2. IF YOU WISH, add any of the top 3 optional ingredients.
  3. Dry salmon, and place SKIN-SIDE DOWN in a Pyrex dish or on a foil-lined baking sheet.
  4. Pour 1/2 of your sauce over the salmon, and place salmon in fridge for 1/2 hour, minimum.
  5. Pour the leftover sauce into a small sauce pan, and simmer to reduce by 1/2. Allow to cool, and reserve for people to pour on their salmon at their plates.
  6. Pull salmon from fridge, sprinkle with brown sugar, and allow to sit on counter for about 15 minutes to warm up a bit. Broil or grill your salmon for no longer than 8 minutes! Remove from heat, and let sit for 4-5 minutes for carryover cooking to take your salmon to perfection! It will be fully cooked from the top, and as you get closer to the skin (on the bottom), nearly creamy medium-rare that is in no way under cooked, trust me on this!
  7. As you plate, offer the reduced marinade for your best-est of friends and family to pour on their individual pieces... sprinkle some chopped chives on there too!

Summer's LATE in the PacNW (again...)

Well all, it's that time again- the time of year that we Seattlites complain about summer not being here already, that the rain is drowning us, that we're still wearing coats and sweaters, and... and.. well, the list goes on, but I'll stop here at the risk of sounding like a complete whiner!

What I can say however, is my garden is doing well thanks to all this rain and the cold weather! I've pulled lots of radishes, and have cut lots of broccoli florets (not heads of broccoli though- hmm... what's wrong with my plants? Are they alien broccoli? If someone has tips for this, lemme know!), my lettuce is BOOMING, but my tomatoes are stalled. I know- it's only JUNE for crying out loud!

Seedlings in the kitchen window...
This year, my garden box is BOOMING, and I've even added a small planter (lower right) for more room... Broccoli is lower left corner... booming, but not heads, just florets.

Radishes and beets- look really tiny in
the photo, no?

No tomatoes until August, right? I'm impatient (anyone who knows me knows that!), and since my garden produced just a bit last year, I have high hopes this year. I picked easier things to grow (rainbow chard, lettuce, beans). And, as a novice veg grower, I even mistook WEEDS for pepper plants that I was just certain were taking off, and would be producing peppers any week now... yyyyyyyyyeah... ok then! Lesson learned! Of course, pulling those up helped open up real estate for other things to grow! WHOO HOO!! With my luck, August will come and I'll have more than I can eat- maybe I'll become a vegetarian in late summer, or I'll be handing off veg to my neighbors! I may actually have to learn how to can...

And speaking of making preserved items, I brewed a batch of beer a month or so ago and it has turned out awesome! I went with a kit, and I realized that I don't need to get too awfully creative with this! It's enough to just brew it and have it come out right!

Now, I'm creating my own Mother of Vinegar with some old white wine that wasn't finished, hoping to create white wine vinegar from scratch. If this works, I will start adding fresh thyme and/or rosemary from the garden, and get all "fancy" and stuff! (Tired of seeing how much vendors charge at farmers' markets for these tasty little things...) And, after all, isn't that all a part of cooking? creating the base items for future use? Canning tomatoes for a truly flavorful red sauce in the middle of winter? Pickling carrots and radishes and cukes for something tasty when football season needs more than just wings. (Some of you may be aghast right now that I said that...)

Well, that's probably enough for one post, right? If I keep them short, people have time to read, and come back for new news later! Speaking of which, I have two new recipes to share with all of you- one for salmon, and one for pork tenderloin that's in the works LITERALLY! I have pork marinating in the fridge right now, and will cook it tonight. If I have success (ya' know, I have a few posts that never got posted because the food was not so good!), this will help kick off summer I think!