Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mango Salsa

I can’t let summer pass us by without mentioning one of my go-to hot weather dishes, mango salsa. Not only does it take minutes to assemble, it doesn’t require any heat (other than the Jalapeño sort). The sweet-hot combination pairs beautifully with everyday proteins by adding freshness and vibrancy. Try it with grilled salmon, pan-seared cod, chicken or my personal favorite, red curry shrimp.

Mango Salsa Recipe
This recipe could also be made with fresh peaches or nectarines. To dice a mango, cut it in half lengthwise following the pit as closely as possible. Score the flesh of each half in a criss-cross fashion all the way to the skin (but don’t cut through the skin). Invert each half (it will look like a porcupine) and slice off the chunks. Adapted from Simply Recipes.

1 ripe mango, diced 

1/4 large red onion, finely diced
1 Jalapeño, minced (leave out the seeds and ribs if you don’t like hotness) 

1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced, optional
Juice from one large juicy lime 

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (fresh mint also works well)
Pinch of salt 

Other additions: avocado chunks, halved cherry tomatoes, diced red bell pepper or jicama

In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and taste for seasoning.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Apricot Almond Raspberry Tart

We look forward to birthdays at work, especially since Wendy came on board. She was a pastry chef in her former life and, as you can imagine, turns out some phenomenal patisserie.

A few weeks ago she graced us with a French apricot almond raspberry tart (thank you Mike for being born). But not just any tart, this one had tangy fruit suspended in a baked almond cream over a sweet pastry crust. Seriously off the hook. 

So when I was invited to a housewarming a few evenings ago, I jumped at the chance to recreate this tart. I tweaked the recipe slightly to make it less sweet and had tremendous results. It allegedly works with canned apricots as well but I highly recommend using fresh ones while they’re still available.

And be advised to make this for a group unless you want to test your will power in a serious way.

Apricot Almond Raspberry Tart

This is a perfect tart for a picnic, dinner party or potluck. The almond cream keeps it moist while the apricots and raspberries contribute a vibrant acidity. Adapted from Simply Sensational Desserts by Francois Payard.

3 tablespoons melted butter
7 fresh or canned apricots, pitted and cut into thirds
3 tablespoons sugar
1 – 1 3/4 cups Almond Cream (recipe follows)
One partially baked 9 1/2-inch tart shell made from sweet tart dough (I used this one)

1/2 pint raspberries
2 tablespoons slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and brush it  with some of the melted butter. Arrange the apricots on the sheet, cut side up, and brush with the remaining butter. Sprinkle the apricots with the sugar. Place in the preheated oven and bake until tender, about 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool (leave the oven on).

Spread half of the almond cream into the tart shell and smooth into an even layer. Arrange the apricots, cut side up, in a pinwheel pattern, starting from the outside and working toward the center. Sprinkle the raspberries over the top and press down lightly into the cream. Spread the remaining almond cream over the fruit and sprinkle the slivered almonds over the top.

Note: the original recipe called for a total of 1 cup almond cream but if you’re like me, you’ll want to use closer to 2 cups.

Bake the tart until the filling is golden brown, about 25 minutes. If you used more than 1 cup of almond cream, it will take 30 minutes or more. Cool completely before serving.

Almond Cream
Also called frangipane, this almond cream compliments chocolate and fruits. It becomes somewhat cakey when baked and adds wonderful texture.

Makes about 2 cups

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup slivered almonds
8 1/2 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1/2 tablespoon) butter, softened
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Place 2 tablespoons of the sugar in the bowl of a food processor along with the almonds. Process until finely ground, about 1 minute.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and remaining 1/2 cup sugar on high speed until well mixed, about 1 minute. Add the ground almond mixture and mix on low speed until combined. Add the egg and egg yolk one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in the flour until just combined. The cream can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Luis' Gazpacho

I used to think gazpacho was just ok. Then Luis came to town.

He, along with my friend Andrew, was running a language exchange program for a group of Spanish kids for a month. When they weren’t being teachers, they were exploring Seattle to its fullest (Mariners games, Mt. Rainier, the Fremont Troll, Hooters) but in my opinion, the night they threw a tapas party really beat all.

When I arrived the tables were covered with platters of bread and cured Spanish meats, wedges of tortilla de patata, olives, Marcona almonds, and toothpicks of cheese, anchovies and pickles. I was in heaven. And then someone placed a seemingly standard cup of gazpacho in front of me. I’d had my share of this chilled soup while traveling through Spain and thought I’d tasted it all, but I never saw this coming.

One sip and I was addicted. It had the perfect amount of white vinegar playing against the olive oil, and after cross-examining Luis regarding its preparation, I learned of its other secret: soaked bread. Unexpected, yes, but the texture was incredible. Plus, after refilling our glasses 5 or 6 times, it made much more sense than our original guess: crack.

Luis’ Gazpacho
On a hot summer day, almost nothing is more refreshing than this chilled soup. It's a salad in a glass!

Serves 8-10 people (or only a few if you're the greedy, addictive type)
7-8 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
2 red peppers, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 white onion, chopped
2 big slices of  good quality white bread, crusts removed and soaked in water (gently squeeze some of the water out before processing)
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cup white vinegar
Salt to taste
To peel the tomatoes: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Using a paring knife, slice a small “x” into the bottom of each tomato. Place the tomatoes into the water and simmer for 1-2 minutes or until their skins start to loosen. Quickly transfer the tomatoes into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Their skins should come off easily at this point. Roughly chop the peeled tomatoes.

Place the tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, garlic, onions and bread into the bowl of a food processor. Puree until the texture is uniform. Add the olive oil and 1/2 cup of the white vinegar. Taste and add more vinegar if necessary (mine was perfect with the entire 3/4 cup). Add salt to taste. Water can be added if the gazpacho is too salty or too thick.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Crispy Zucchini Pancakes

I’d been meaning to make these for the longest time. The reviews of Barefoot Contessa’s recipe were highly favorable, plus I love anything fried and crispy. And besides, who couldn’t use a new way to prepare the ubiquitous zucchini?

I’m delighted to say that the hoopla was well-deserved. These. Are. Phenomenal.

But there’s no need to take my word for it. I put them to the test and made a double batch for a fruit and vegetable-themed cooking class that I did for clients last month. Not only were they a hit, even the pickiest eaters came back for 2nds and 3rds. I could barely keep up production!

Then a couple weeks ago, I was asked to teach a one-hour cooking class for a kids’ summer camp. In addition to homemade hummus and raspberry fruit dip, I thought little silver dollar sized green pancakes would be fun. While they sizzled on the griddle, the teacher read Pancakes, Pancakes! By Eric Carle, which talks about the lengths a little boy has to go to have pancakes for breakfast (milling the wheat, gathering eggs, milking the cow and boiling down maple sap). By the time the story was done, so were our little pancakes. The kids eagerly gobbled them up with comments like, “15 stars!” and, “These would be GREAT for St. Patrick’s Day!”

You really have no excuse for not eating your veggies.

Zucchini Pancakes
If you think zucchini is boring, try this recipe. It can be served hot and crispy with sour cream and salmon or as a simple side dish to your entrée. You could even fold a little cheese into the batter. Adapted from a Barefoot Contessa at Home recipe.

2 medium zucchini (about 3/4 pound)
1/4 cup grated onion
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 to 8 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
A few grinds of freshly ground black pepper
Butter and vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 300°F. 

Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the zucchini into a bowl. Add the grated onion and eggs; stir well. Stir in 6 tablespoons of the flour, the baking powder, salt and pepper. If your zucchini are on the watery side, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour. 

Heat a large skillet (I like using cast iron) over medium heat and add a ½ tablespoon each of butter and oil (or you can use all oil). When the butter is hot but not smoking, lower the heat to medium-low and drop heaping spoons of batter into the pan. Cook the pancakes about 2 minutes on each side or until browned. Place the pancakes on a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you continue frying the rest, wiping out the pan with a dry paper towel and adding more butter and oil in between batches. The pancakes can stay warm for up to 30 minutes in the oven. Serve hot.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

Fig, Prosciutto and Mozzarella Salad

I went to Whole Foods the other day with a definitive shopping list in hand and the intention of getting in and out. But, inevitably, something always distracts me. This time is was the display of fresh figs. 

They immediately conjured up breakfast memories from last summer in Croatia. We were in Rovinj on the Istrian Peninsula and started every morning with a sack of fresh figs, a container of homemade yogurt and a pastry from the local farmers’ market. While overlooking the communist-era monument celebrating the Partisan Army’s victory over the Nazis in WWII, we munched on the plumpest, juiciest figs we’d ever had. And knowing how small their seasonal window was, we took full advantage.

So I greedily grabbed a pint from the Whole Foods display knowing full well their destiny - a beautifully delicious salad that Jamie Oliver deems the sexiest in the world. Fresh figs are partially quartered and opened, adorned with fresh mozzarella and basil, woven together with prosciutto and drizzled with a lemony dressing. Salty, sweet, creamy and fresh, all in one. Darn pretty, too. 

Figs have a peak season from mid- to late summer with some varieties stretching into early autumn. So if you haven’t had the pleasure of eating this old world treat this year, now is your chance! They work especially well in appetizers, jams, sauces and, of course, sexy salads.

Fig, Prosciutto and Mozzarella Salad
Not only is this salad sexy, it's practically effortless. A simple balsamic and olive oil drizzle would also work in place of the lemon dressing. Adapted from a recipe in Jamie Oliver's Happy Days with the Naked Chef.

Serves 2 as a main course (but can easily be reduced for a first course)

8 fresh figs
6 paper thin slices prosciutto
4-6 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
Handful of fresh basil leaves

Honey Lemon Dressing:
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon honey
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Using a paring knife, make two criss-cross incisions into each fig from top to bottom, but not all the way through. Divide the figs between two plates, squeezing each at its base in order to open them up a little. Weave half the prosciutto around each plate and decorate with half the mozzarella. Roughly rip the basil and scatter it over the top.

Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well to combine and season to taste.

Drizzle the honey lemon dressing over each plate of salad. Garnish with freshly ground black pepper and serve with crusty bread to mop up the juices.