Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Almost Meatless and Almost Heatless Monday - Tostadas

My son declared his four favorite foods tonight at dinner.  (Only one fast food on the list and it was In n Out which I personally don't really count as regular fast food.) And I have to say I was proud that our Monday night, almost-meatless dinner was fourth on the list.  It's easy, cheap and healthy to boot.

Having grown up in Texas, Tex-Mex and BBQ are really the only two foodie claims-to-fame. We don't have any food movements coming out of TX and there isn't a Texas regional cuisine that I'm aware of.  (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

So for me, "Mexican" food is about as home-cooking and comforting as I can get. And my kids seem to be taking on that trait as well.  Our must-eats when visiting Texas are mostly Mexican joints.

Tacos, burritos, nachos and later in my teen years, fajitas were what Mexican used to be for me.  THEN, after a trip to an all-inclusive in Mexico, everything changed. Kyle and I found ourselves in a less populated area of the resort and saw employees eating something that looked like thick fried tortillas, eggs and a green sauce.  We asked to try it and realized we were totally missing out while dining with all the other touristy breakfast buffet diners.  That WAS breakfast for the last few days we were there and it was all I could think about after returning.  I honestly couldn't tell you about any of the other meals there, but I remember that breakfast vividly.

Wanting to know more and how I could replicate that food, I did what I've always done to learn about food.  I read.

Rick Bayless' books Authentic Mexican and then Mexican Everyday started me on the journey of learning how this cuisine differs vastly from Tex-Mex.  Rather than relying heavily on dairy and fat, this cuisine actually utilizes seasonal veggies much like other regional cuisines.  Tomatoes and chiles, of course, factor in heavily for salsas, but there's also jicama--a flavor cross somewhere between a water chestnut and an apple and the texture between an apple and a raw potato, greens, potatoes, herbs, squash, onions of all varieties, lots of tropical fruits, cactus.

In studying the authentic Mexican cuisine, I have learned how to make real salsa (nothing in a jar can even come close) and how to even make a darn good Mole Negro sauce.  I've learned that tacos really only come on corn tortillas and with just a sprinkling of cilantro, onion, and lime juice.  Maybe augmented by salsa if it's handy.  Sour cream and cheese never make an appearance on enchiladas, tostadas and other dishes we would expect them. Instead Crema, a very liquidy and only slightly sour cream and more crumbly cheeses such as Cotija are what you will see. 

While all this is good, and I really LOVE the freshness of authentic Mexican, I'm really only telling you all this to let my readers know that I DO know what real Mexican food is...and tonight's dinner, it ain't!

Well, it could be I suppose if we had used the well-roasted, oil-fried salsa I had in the freezer and I had thinned the sour cream with a little half n half, and I had purchased the Cotija cheese to crumble on top.  But I didn't do any of those things.

Going with my CWYG concept, I had sour cream (and a little Greek yogurt to stretch it), I had cheddar cheese, I had lettuce and continuing on with the not-authentic theme, I had Valentino hot sauce (which to my Mex cuisine cred is a legit Mexican hot sauce, but still not a freshly roasted and fried salsa).  So tonight it was Tex-Mex.

I followed Rick Bayless' well-worn method of bean cookery.  Rinse, load them in a crock pot, add some fat of some sort...olive oil, coconut oil if you're hard-core healthy, or some other sort...remember, I'm a Southern girl at heart, so bacon fat, if in the fridge, is the fat of choice for pintos even on meatless Monday.  Chopped onion and garlic are Mr. Bayless' flavor enhancers, but I also added a bay leaf and some cumin to get the flavor party started. Add a tea kettles' worth of boiling water, set that puppy on high and let it go. 

Here's the result after 6 hours of cooking on high
Once they were soft, I removed some of the cooking liquid (could have saved for soup later, but I didn't) and mashed them slightly. 

Adding them to a large skillet, I cooked the over medium high until they cooked down to a spreadable consistency. 

Lacking pre-made tostada shells, I simply brushed corn tortillas with oil and let them bake in the oven for about 10 minutes at 425 degrees to crisp.

Spread a little of the beans then finish it off as you wish.

See the little tangle of pink strands on the tostada at the top of the post?  These pickled onions are my new favorite condiment...yesterday's lunch featured them in the middle of a grilled ham and cheese!! YUM!  Here's a great recipe to make them, the only thing I did differently was add a bay leaf and a couple of tablespoons of raw sugar.

So no real recipe today, since it's really just that easy.

Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Grilled Sockeye Salmon with Corn & Fennel Succotash


Having lived in Napa Valley for two years on a starving artist's budget, we always drove by fabulous restaurants with the hope that one day we could actually patronize them.  Cindy Pawlcyn's Mustards Grill was one of those. I always admired the garden planted next door and since farm-to-table is my preferred restaurant concept, I had a feeling I would really enjoy the experience. A couple of months ago, the opportunity finally arose. 

Our friends Leonard, pastry chef and line cook at Mustards, and his wife Elise, invited us to join them and other friends, Ned and Holly for dinner back in June.

Kyle and I were more than happy to oblige and brought a fantastic bottle of wine as a "Thank You". 

Dining with a chef has its advantages which came in the form of Smoked Sticky Vietnamese Chicken Wings with Cucmber Raita and Peanut Sauce.

Oh, and see the bread...I usually avoid bread entirely unless it's really good.  But with the just-right sourdough flavor, individual ramekins of butter and coarse sea salt, I had to actually tell my husband I would eat no more to remain accountable and to avoid eating an entire loaf.

My vegetarian friend, Holly, got to enjoy the sweet corn tamales as her meat-free complimentary appetizer.  As an omnivore, I got to enjoy a little of hers, the bread and a little of the wings with the waiter's wine recommendation, a Gruner Veltliner.  Sadly, it doesn't appear to be on the current wine list and I didn't snap a pic of the label so I don't actually know the name.  It was the perfect mate for the sticky-sweet heat of the wings and the tomatillo salsa on the tamales.  Gruners as a whole are good friends with heat so look for them!

Anyway, in case you're wondering how all this ties in with the featured photo of salmon above, my chalkboard menu dinner choice was the inspiration for this recipe.  Wild Salmon is a treat so as soon as I saw that as a daily option, it was as good as mine.  Accompanied by a butter-sauced saute of first-of-the- season corn and tomatoes and end-of-the-season English peas, I couldn't resist.

Remaining orders at the table were  Chalkboard pasta of the day (Pappardelle with Lamb Ragu below), Lemon & Garlic Chicken (no pic), Hangar steak (no pic) and this ridiculously amazing, totally off-the-menu vegetarian pasta made at the chef's whim with porcini mushrooms and a white wine cream sauce. YUM!


Pappardelle with Lamb Ragu

Porcini Mushroom Pasta

As good as the salmon was, the Porcini pasta made me decide I was going to request this the next time I dine there, or try and figure out how to recreate it!

Our wine was definitely worth the modest corkage fee.  A gift from a good friend and fellow oenophile, Continuum had sat in our cellar for awhile until we had the right reason to pull it out.  Tonight was the night and considering it paired perfectly with everything from the salmon to the steak, I'm glad we did.

The Lemon-Lime tart (the same one that inspired these after Leonard brought home leftovers one night),

Warm Chocolate Hazelnut Truffle Tart with Espresso Ice Cream,

And a not-pictured Strawberry Rhubarb (chalkboard special) Cobbler helped us wind down a spectacular dinner before heading off to Uncorked at the Oxbow Market in Napa for cigars and port (which turned out to only be Cigars on their patio since we got there just minutes after closing.)

Mustards Grill lived up to the hype.  There are so many amazing places to dine in Napa Valley, but considering Cindy's heart for the people who truly do the hard work in the valley, I really love supporting her restaurants especially.  (For other Pawlcyn choices go to Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen and Brassica in St. Helena...AKA our former home.)

So here's my version of the salmon that I created after finally finding reasonably priced fresh (not previously frozen) wild, Sockeye salmon.

Grilled Sockeye Salmon with Corn & Fennel Succotash
The succotash is actually a combination of what I had at Mustards and the Shaved Fennel and English Pea Salad inspired by Cafe LaHaye in Sonoma.  The greens on top are simply sauteed with sliced garlic and olive oil.  Use spinach or whatever other greens are in season or leave them off and garnish with a few extra basil leaves.

extra virgin olive oil
4 ears of corn, cut off the cob
1 head fennel, cored and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 small red onion, chopped
juice of half a lemon
3 tbsp unsalted butter, divided use
1 cup of fresh or frozen English Peas
4 5-6 oz sockeye salmon fillets
sea salt & pepper or dry seasoning of choice
a handful of tiny heirloom tomatoes or quartered regular cherry tomatoes
a handful of basil leaves
 flaky sea salt or grey salt for sprinkling

In a large skillet, heat a little olive oil and 1 tbsp of butter until the butter just melts then add the corn and fennel and 1/4 cup water.  Let cook until the fennel softens slightly then add the garlic and red onion.  Saute until everything is cooked and softened but not browning at all.  (Add a little more water if necessary.)  Add the lemon juice and remaining butter along with the English peas.  Turn off the heat and swirl the skillet until the peas are heated through and the butter melts evenly.  It should not break at all with the heat off and will actually form a creamy sauce around the veggies.  Set aside while cooking salmon.

Sprinkle the salmon fillets with sea salt and pepper or your favorite dry seasoning.  Grill over high heat starting with the flesh side first then finish with the skin side so it will be crispy.  The inside should still be very pink and slightly gelatinous looking for rare or light pink all the way through for well-done salmon. 

Just before serving stir the tomatoes and basil into the veggie saute reserving some of the sauce.  Divide among four plates, then top with a salmon fillet and drizzle with the butter sauce to give it a sheen.
Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I'm Back - Shaved Summer Vegetable and Sesame Noodle Salad with Roasted Shrimp

I've been in permanent summer mode.  I deeply apologize for just leaving everyone out there with no new recipes, blog posts, or anything.  I've had emails (very kind emails I might add) suggesting maybe I should blog at some point this century.

So I'm Back.

After 9 months of greens we have finally reached the time that all CSA members love...Summer produce.  Boxes of colorful, sweet fruits and veggies; mostly green-free except for lettuce which fits perfectly into hot-summer-day meal plans.

Summer Low Point:

It's a 105 degree day and we're trying our best to adhere to the SmartRate plan. On PGE determined SmartRate day, you're supposed to turn off AC and limit electrical usage from 2 to 7.  Being the environmentally-friendly family (my husband even works for an eco-friendly company whose motto is "Waste Nothing") we decided to give it a shot.  Stuck with more greens than I knew what to do with, I dutifully prepared all the ingredients for Kale, Sausage and Potato Soup and placed them in the crockpot.  (This appliance apparently uses little electricity and is dubbed SmartRate day friendly.)

As we are sitting at the table around 6:30 watching the clock for when we can push the ON button on the AC, soup has been doled out and cooled off with a little extra cream.  Apparently not quite cool enough, my youngest and oh-so-observant son asks "Why again are we eating soup on a 105 degree day?"

I filled him in on how I had to use the greens and potatoes that I had and the cooking method used the least kilowatts.  Knowing that a freezing cold popsicle and water war with neighbors awaited soup consumption, he went along with the craziness and ate with no further questions.

Needless to say when I made the observation one day last week (a week after said LOW POINT) that the chard we were eating tasted extra earthy due to the fact it was the last of the year, there was much rejoicing among my kids!  They are troopers and almost always eat the greens without a word, but much like me and all of my fellow CSA members that Ive talked to, it's always a welcome change when the new season's produce arrives.

As is normal every year at this time, the first arrival is usually summer squash then cucumbers.  With squash not being a fave with the boys, I decided to make something super light (ironically on a not-so-hot day) and chilled versus cooking the veggies.

Using this fun, and somewhat lethal, veggie julienne cutter, I shaved yellow squash, cucumber and carrot.  Joined with the last quarter of cabbage from a box a few weeks ago, basil from my box last week and the ubiquitous bunch of cilantro from my veggie drawer it was shaping up to be super flavorful.

A big squeeze of  lime juice, some salt, tamari sauce, sesame oil and a little sugar, it became a quite-nice, Asian-inspired slaw on its own, but tossed with a half-bag of corn pasta from Trader Joe's that was sitting neglected on my pantry shelf it was shaping up to be a meal. The kid-friendly factor was amped up - as well as providing a protein source for shellfish-shy Eliot - by making a little peanut sauce to drizzle over the top. (Download "Rock Star in the Kitchen" recipe collection to get this and lots of other recipes to amp up any meal)  A few roasted shrimp made it more substantial for the rest of us and toasted almond slices and black sesame seeds dressed it up.  It was light, refreshing and totally consumed by my squash detractors.

So now that I'm back, I should tell you to watch for my blog re-design that is in the works right now.  This is also partially why I haven't been writing.  I was waiting for the big "Reveal" (watched too many design and food shows, I guess) and the process is taking WAY longer than I originally anticipated...mostly due to my lack of being inside on the internet.  But I promise to get back on the horse and begin to blog again.  Thanks for reading.

Shaved Summer Veggie and Sesame Noodle Salad
Salad Ingredients:
1 yellow squash, shaved, shredded or julienned
1 medium cucumber, shaved, shredded or julienned
1 carrot, shaved, shredded or julienned
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 head of cabbage, shredded (you can leave this out and use extra shredded veggies)
a large handful each of basil,cilantro and mint leaves (or any combination of those that you have available), roughly chopped
8 oz spaghetti, cooked and rinsed in cold water (I used Trader Joe's Corn pasta)

Dressing Ingredients:
2 limes, juiced and zested
2 tbsp tamari, Bragg's aminos, or soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp agave nectar (brown sugar if you don't have agave)
1 1" piece of ginger (see picture for what this looks like)
1-2 tsp chile garlic sauce (to taste)
2 garlic cloves, minced

Roasted Shrimp:
1/2 lb of  medium shrimp (31-40 ct)
sea salt to taste
toasted slice almonds and black or toasted white sesame seeds for garnish, optional
Peanut Sauce, for passing at table

For the salad:
Combine all the veggies and herbs in a large bowl.  Toss with the cooked and cooled spaghetti.

To make the dressing and shrimp marinade:

In a small bowl, whisk together the lime zest and juice, tamari sauce, sesame oil, agave nectar, and chile garlic sauce if using.  Remove 1/3 cup of this mixture and toss with the shrimp.  Marinate for 10 minutes only.  (Any longer and the shrimp will start cooking in the lime juice.)

Whisk the ginger and garlic into the remaining dressing and toss with the salad.

To roast the shrimp:
Heat broiler.  Drain the shrimp and pat dry with paper towel.  On a foil lined cookie sheet, arrange the shrimp in a single layer and sprinkle with sea salt.  They will most likely be brown or grey before being cooked, like this:

Broil for 3-5 minutes or until the shrimp curl up and turn pink, like this:

Turn them over and cook until they brown a bit on the other side (just a minute or two).

To serve, place a mound of the salad in a shallow bowl and top with shrimp, sliced almonds and sesame seeds.  Pass peanut sauce if you're using.

Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Copyright 2012 TablaVie Personal Chef Service

All photos and recipes may not be used without express permission from Christi Flaherty, owner and creator of Cook What You've Got Concept and blog.
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