Archive for ‘Appetizers’

July 24, 2012

Despite the Heat | Tortilla Soup

Eating soup when it’s hot out can strike people as odd.  But think French-inspired Pho in steamy Vietnam, or British-influenced Mulligatawny in India.  There’s a point to eating something hot and spicy when it’s hot out: it makes you sweat (I glow).  And that helps you cool off.  So while it may seem counter-intuitive, now is certainly the season to give some spicy soup a go.

It’s always hot in Texas.  So it’s not surprising that tortilla soup is on just about every menu you peruse in San Antonio.   There’s something about it that San Antonians can’t seem to get enough of, no matter the season.   Perhaps it’s the mix of textures, but like Pho and Mulligatawny, it’s spicy and hot and a treat to eat.  (It also happens to the be the exact thing I was eating when Hades first fell in love with me fifteen years ago.  I even spilled it all over myself and he still loved me.  Magical stuff this is.)  And summertime is when the produce that comprises the bulk of the ingredients for tortilla soup are at their peak.

I like to play around with ingredients: if there’s corn, add some, if there’s not, no worries.  Zucchini and summer squashes work wonderfully, too.  Tomatoes, however are a requirement. 

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June 27, 2012

Good on Everything | Ajvar

This is something I will be making repeatedly throughout the summer.

Roasted red bell peppers and eggplant, finely chopped, along with copious amounts of garlic and a bit of olive oil and salt.  I was quite astonished to find the depth of flavor in something that truly only had four ingredients.  Roasting is certainly what certainly makes it so good.  And the thing is, with a gas stove (or this summer the grill, which is in near constant use) roasting takes almost no time.  Five to seven minutes or so straight on the burner over the heat, turning every so often to completely blacken the outsides.  Put in a covered container to steam and cool for 10 minutes, the skins on the peppers slide off like a silk dress.

This is sexy stuff.

I want it on steaks, on fish.  On these balkan burgers.  On regular burgers.  In my eggs.

In this recipe, I included a bit of roasted eggplant (at which Balkan traditionalists would have been shocked and horrified) but I found it gave a gorgeous texture.

For some background: ajvar is typically made in Serbia in the fall, where in small towns its process requires just about everybody who lives there to pitch in and help.  The peppers are roasted, peeled and deseeded.  Everything is pureed and put up in jars for the winter.  Only here, I can’t wait that long: I ate spoons of it out of the dish while we were waiting for company to arrive.  They were lucky they got here when they did.  I would have eaten it all.

Lovely stuff.

Make some.

Ajvar

2 red bell peppers, blackened over a grill or stove, skin, stem and seeds removed, chopped

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May 26, 2012

Luxury | Copper River Gravlax

I’d been following the FB posts of Dorothy Lane Market and tracking when the Copper River salmon was coming in.  It was the king that was in the store Friday.  Its brief season is only May and June.  But it is so very, very worth making every effort to find and indulge in it the fleeting moments you can catch it.

This year, I did something I almost can’t believe I did with the costly pound I purchased.

I made gravlax.

Making true gravlax requires no smoking.  It is, in essence, the purest Scandinavian method of preserving fish.

Only the best salmon, lovely coarse sea salt, pounded peppercorns, sugar, a handful of backyard dill.  Wrapped tightly in clingfilm and flipped twice a day for two days.

The dry salt-sugar coat results in the fish giving up all its water content and producing a oceany brine that the fish luxuriates in for the duration of its cure.

Once removed from its bath, it is finely shaved and mounded on potatoes, or garden baby greens for the most precious of all culinary experiences.

But the most important aspect of all of this?  You can do it.  You don’t need any special equipment or know how.  Make it and enjoy it.  While it lasts.

Copper River Gravlax, made using the instructions from Rick Stein in Complete Seafood.  If you don’t have this book, I don’t know what else to tell you except that you have to get it.  You have to.

One pound Copper River King Salmon

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February 26, 2012

Southern Twist | Black-eyed Pea Hummus

I made a whole mess of black-eyed peas and had plenty of leftovers.  And to me, black eyed peas are already so creamy, that they almost just beg to be made into a hummus.  With only four ingredients, aside from the aforementioned peas and saltpepperoliveoil, it’s a snap to fix.

And I have to say, this batch came out even more velvety than I could imagine.  I think it was the generous use of tahini along with an already willing bean.

It was all gobbled up in no time flat.

Black-eyed Pea Hummus

3 green onions, thinly sliced

3 large cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled

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September 22, 2011

Farewell, Summer Garden | Gazpacho

Every so often you run across a recipe that begs to be made just as is, such as Spanish maestro José Andrés’s recipe for gazpacho.  Not a more perfect dish than this can be found to send summer off into its nine month hiatus.  Celebrate all that we are losing before the clock strikes 5:05 a.m. tomorrow.  Well, perhaps this post is a bit late for that, but rustle up some of these ingredients this weekend for a quick, albeit belated, goodbye.

I used some gorgeous, juicy yellow tomatoes from a Green B.E.A.N. Delivery box along with peppers and cucumbers from my back yard.  All gone now.

Don’t cry because it’s over.  Smile because it happened.

Playlist included Quiet Town, by Josh Rouse.

July 12, 2011

Cherub in the Kitchen | Cherry Salsa

Whole Foods recently ran a contest for kid-friendly cherry recipes and honestly I can’t think of a better time for them to have done this.  This house has been overrun with cherries.  And Cherub’s always wanting to help in the kitchen.

Here’s a no-cook cherry salsa that we came up with together, that uses seasonal raspberries and tomatoes, too.  Her favorite task was to pit the cherries: smashing them lightly with a glass and removing the pit.  It was roll-y, juicy, slightly messy fun.  I recommend an apron for this part.

As for the final product, it was, in a word, devoured.  I love that she gets an extra boost of fiber along with a good amount of vitamin C.  She loves to scoop big, delicious mounds into her mouth.   Everybody’s happy.

While this recipe is super kid friendly, don’t let it stop you from serving it next time you’ve got a bar-b-q or a casual family get together.  It’s wonderful.  No chilies means it’s not too spicy and the hint of cumin lends it just a bit of sophistication.  And we all love that.

Firecracker Cherry Salsa, Serves 4

1/2 c. sweet red cherries, pitted and quartered

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July 11, 2011

Summer Salad | Pickled Cherries and Serrano Ham

I adore the big pots of mesclun that have been moved to the shadier spots in my backyard now summer is in full swing.  A few snips and I have the base for a fabulous summer lunch.

There’s no real dressing to make, just assembling a couple of ingredients, including a few slices of Serrano ham, shavings of Parmesan and a handful of yellow cherries pickled with Chinese Five Spice.  Somehow these three things paired with just picked lettuces and tender herbs result in a taste greater than the sum of their parts.

The cherries were the result of about an hour in the kitchen over the weekend.  Now preserved for the dark days of winter, I couldn’t help but crack into one of the jars for this salad.  And I’m glad I did.  I have to make more of these while cherries are still in season.  I did not make enough.  These cherries are not only wonderful in this salad, but perfection with a cheese plate.  I want to have plenty on hand to dish out with nibbles of cheese when friends pop in for a cocktail.

For the salad, combine

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