Sunday, August 3, 2014

Apricot Smoothie


The whole smoothie phenomenon has pretty much passed me by. I have not been making kale and chia berry smoothies for breakfast like much of the rest of the world. But a recent harvest from the backyard apricot tree had me wondering what to do with all of the fleeting fruit. I could make more preserves and can them but I still have jars from previous years in the pantry.

I sent a friend home with a batch of the recently harvested apricots. She texted later saying that she had made a yummy apricot smoothie for dinner. So the idea was planted.

I did some looking online for apricot smoothies. But I was disappointed that the smoothies only called for 2-3 apricots at a time. I needed to use them up more quickly than that.

Then my CSA provider recently shared this blog post about making and freezing smoothies in an ice cube tray so that you don't have to get out the mixer every morning.

So I gave it a try. I started with a NY Times article that appealed to me because of its simplicity. I then doubled the recipe (substituting vanilla extract for the almond extract). I drank a glass and then poured the rest into ice cube trays and stuck it in the freezer overnight. Pop the cubes out and stick them in a  freezer bag and keep it in the freezer until you're ready to use them.

The apricots kept coming so I kept making smoothies. I began to tweak the recipe, pretty much now following these guidelines:

Apricot Smoothie

  • 6 apricots (pitted and sliced into quarters)
  • 1 - 2 tablespoons plain yogurt (I actually used a plain Greek yogurt)
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 milk
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • few drops of vanilla extract
  • 4-5 ice cubes
Put all ingredients into a mixer or food processor and blend until smooth. Drink immediately or freeze. 

Since then I've been making a variety of smoothies using other summer fruit as well. Tasty!

Monday, June 16, 2014

In the Garden: May 2014 - Introducing Tatsoi

Planting is pretty much complete for the year. In the ground there's green beans, lots of basil, tomatoes, broccoli, bell pepper, and, introducing, tatsoi. Tatsoi caught my eye at the nursery this year so I decided to bring some home and give it a try.

Tatsoi is an Asian green that is growing in popularity in North America. It seems to have been around a bit longer on the east coast and it's now showing up more on the west coast. It has dark green, round leaves that form a compact, thick rosette. Tatsoi contains an abundance of nutrients and minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron. It's one of many alternatives to your typical greens. If you have the luxury of a nearby farmer's market then look for Tatsoi.

Tatsoi can be used the same way you might use spinach and other greens. It can be added raw with other greens to a salad or it can be cooked into stir fry. It would work well in any of these existing recipes:

Here are some external websites that provide more information on tatsoi along with some cooking ideas:
I will have to see how I use it this summer.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Raspberry Sauce

So simple.

I made a cheesecake for a recent dinner party (recipe coming soon) but I needed a little "something" to take it to the next level.

I got to thinking about how in restaurants they decorate the plate with smears and dribbles of sauces. I figured I needed some of that. For whatever reason, raspberry puree popped into my brain and I got online and did some research and I found this simple sauce.

This is it. This sauce will take your simple desserts up a notch.

Drizzle it on a plate. Squeeze some over the top of your dessert. It's super easy to make and keeps in the fridge a long time. I just bought a squeeze bottle on Amazon for $3 in order to play around with various presentation techniques.

The photo features some leftover sauce days after the dinner party drizzled over ice cream along with some wild strawberries from the back yard.

Raspberry Sauce

  • 1 pint raspberries
  • 2 tbsp. orange juice
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 cup cold water

Combine the raspberries and orange juice in a medium skillet. Add sugar and stir until the sugar is spread around and becoming transparent. Whisk together cornstarch and water in a separate bowl and add it to the skillet. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes stirring constantly. Turn off heat and let cool for a bit. Pour sauce into small food processor and puree the sauce. Pour it into a sealed container and set it in the fridge. Let it cool completely before using.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Spicy Tantra Martini

We were in Puerto Rico recently traveling with another couple. One night, during our stay in Old San Juan, we decided to try a restaurant that caught our eye earlier in the day when we were out sightseeing. The restaurant, Tantra, is mostly Indian but it fuses a variety of cuisines. We had a big lunch so we just decided to go with a series of small dishes.

But first, some drinks. We ordered a glass of wine but the spicy martinis on the bar menu caught the eye of one of our friends. He ordered one of the many specialty martinis. Upon arrival, it got passed around the table so that everyone could take a sip. Wow! The sweet fruit up front was refreshing after a day in the 80 degree sun. But then there was a smooth transition to a mouthful of heat. We all decided it was delicious. When the waiter returned I asked about the source of the heat. I figured that there was some secret exotic ingredient to the spice. It turned out that a homemade chile-infused vodka was the heat. I asked for the ingredients in the drink and was told spicy vodka, triple sec, and guava juice. That's it.

I recorded the ingredients in my notes for later experimentation. I was already thinking of that bag of dried chiles sitting in my pantry. We went on to have a fabulous meal at Tantra and I would recommend the restaurant if you're in Old San Juan.

When I got home I jumped right into my research by looking online on how to infuse vodka with chiles. Here's what I ended up doing: I brought home a 750 ml. bottle of Smirnoff. I took a few generous sips off the top one evening and then dropped in 5 dried chiles. I sealed the bottle back up and stuck it back in pantry for three weeks (trying a sip once a week to gauge the spiciness). The vodka took on a slight reddish hue from the chiles after week 2. Although I did three weeks, next time I'd go for four to compare.

At that point, I poured the vodka through a strainer into another receptacle until I could retrieve the chiles. I poured the strained vodka back into the original bottle and returned it to the pantry.

I managed to find some guava juice at my local supermarket but the color didn't match what I remembered from Puerto Rico.

I got online to do some research on the proportions. I started with a Cosmo recipe and after my first spicy martini I tweaked the recipe a bit. Here's version 1:

Spicy Martini

  • 1/4 cup spicy vodka
  • 1 tablespoon Triple Sec
  • 1/4 cup guava juice (or some other tropical juice)

Fill a martini shaker with ice and add all ingredients. Shake and strain into a martini glass.

This was pretty close to what we enjoyed at Tantra. Not quite as spicy (but another week of chili infusion might do it).
Enjoy this interesting drink that starts nice and turns naughty.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Stir Fry Shrimp and Vegetables with Chinese Chili Sauce

The second half of my college years was a formative time in my cooking life. My roommate and I lived off campus in a rented condo and we really got into cooking Chinese stir-fry. This cookbook became our bible and we spent lots of time making stir-fry sauces and chopping vegetables.

The main spicy stir-fry sauce stayed with me in the years after college. I shared it with others who loved it and they even named the sauce after me. It was fun to know that coast to coast people were cooking a recipe with my name on it.

For the past few years, I've been making the sauce again and doing some tweaks on the recipe. After a few years of trials, I'm ready to reveal the 2.0 version.

Let's start with Chinese Chili Sauce:

For the red chili paste, you should start with a bottle of Huy Fong Foods' Chili Garlic Sauce. But there are other options. With the current Sriracha sauce craze, you likely have a bottle of that which you can use. For a twist, I've sometimes added a Thai element by using Thai Kitchen's Red Curry Paste.

In a large bowl mix together the ingredients in the recipe below and set aside.

Chinese Chili Sauce

  • red chili paste - 3/4 - 1 teaspoon (adjust to your taste)
  • soy sauce - 2 tablespoons
  • sherry - 1 tablespoon
  • sugar - 1/2 - 1 teaspoon
  • cornstarch -1 teaspoon 
  • fish sauce - 1 tablespoon (optional)
  • sesame oil - a few drops (optional)
  • water - 1/3 cup


Stir Fry Shrimp and Vegetables

Frozen shrimp can be tricky to work with. Because each shrimp is coated with ice, it's easy to create a runny, tasteless stir-fry. So take the shrimp out of freezer early and allow it to defrost in its bag at room temperature until you can see the ice separating from the shrimp. When that happens, open the bag and pour the shrimp into a colander and rinse with hot water while shaking the colander. I also like to wrap the shrimp in paper towels to draw out any more water.

I cook the shrimp ahead of time to make sure they are done well. I also use a little butter in order get some browning on the outside.

In a wok or large skillet, heat a high-smoke oil (peanut, grape seed, canola, etc.) and an equal amount of butter. Add some minced garlic and then add the shrimp. Season with salt and pepper. Squeeze in some lemon juice. Cook shrimp until done with some browning on the outside. Set aside.

The vegetables are next and you should prepare them well ahead of time. You can use any vegetables of your choice. But the following are some of the basics:
  • celery - sliced on the diagonal
  • carrots - sliced
  • broccoli - florets
  • mushrooms - sliced
  • bell pepper - sliced
  • bok choy - quartered
On this particular evening I was using up some Brussels sprouts and broccoli.

Add your prepared vegetables to a hot skillet or wok and stir constantly over high heat. As they approach being done, add back in the cooked shrimp and stir to mix. 

Give the sauce another stir because the cornstarch has likely resettled to the bottom. Break up the gooey base by stirring to mix. 

Add the sauce to the stir fry and mix constantly spreading the sauce to allow it to coat everything. 

Feel free to add some peanuts or cashews at this point. 

As you stir, the sauce should add a glisten to everything once it has coated the stir fry. If it seems too gummy, add a bit of water and mix it in. 

Serve as is or over rice.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Butternut Squash Hummus

Because I'm always looking for ways to use up the plentiful butternut squash that come in our box, I had saved this recipe from the Whole Food website. It seemed like an interesting take on hummus--which we enjoy quite frequently.

The results were quite tasty. I adapted the original recipe by adding more garlic and a splurge of hot sauce. Other interesting ethnic spices could be added as well. This is a great starting point and you can make it your own by trying out different ingredients.

Chickpea hummus can leave you feeling bloated after you eat enough of it. Not so with this butternut squash. This hummus is lighter with the butternut squash adding a slight sweetness. But the tahini keeps it creamy.

Butternut Squash Hummus

Ingredients:

  • 1 small cooked butternut squash - you want about 3 cups
  • juice of one small lemon
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 8 pitted olive, roughly chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 nice splurge of your favorite hot sauce. I used Crystal.
Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Cut the squash in half and clean out the seeds
  • Rub the inside of the squash with a bit of olive oil
  • Sprinkle with salt and pepper
  • Place squash in a casserole dish and cook until done (about an hour)
  • Add all other ingredients to a food processor
  • Remove squash when done and let cool
  • Scoop squash out of peel into the food processor
  • Puree all ingredients, adding 1 or 2 tablespoon water, if needed
Serve as an appetizer with assorted vegetables (celery, carrots, radishes, etc.) or with crackers.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sausage, Butternut Squash, and Kale Minestrone

I have been making a fair amount of soup and soup stock these days just because all the right ingredients are arriving in the box (leeks, potatoes, carrots, onions). I've made a few batches of Leek and Potato soup loving the way that the potato can add that creaminess but without the heaviness.

Recently, I adapted a soup recipe that was included in the box. We had most of the ingredients on hand through recent deliveries. Then the other ingredients were just regular items that we keep in our pantry (squash, beans, and cans of diced tomatoes).

Now, as for the sausage. We don't eat meat but you can use your favorite meat sausage if you do. We have been enjoying the vegetarian Field Roast Italian Sausage in some dishes recently (they also have a blog). The sausage has a nice consistency with fennel seeds giving the sausage an authentic taste. It's nice to brown it in another skillet and add it to the soup during the last 15 minutes of cooking.

The way I adapted this recipe was to make it into a larger batch. The original recipe only called for 3 cups of broth but I've upped the carrots and celery and broth. It's the kind of soup that you can make without a timeline and you can tweak or improvise the ingredients. Start working on it on a weekend afternoon and just keep the heat down low. You will be able to enjoy this tasty soup for days (lunch for work or weeknight leftovers).


Sausage, Butternut Squash, and Kale Minestrone

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 3-4 stalks of celery, sliced
  • 3-4 carrots, sliced
  • 1 Tbsp. herb blend - like Italian or Fines Herbes
  • 28 oz. can diced tomatoes (preferably with seasoning)
  • 1 quart broth (veggie preferred)
  • 1 small or 1/2 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed (potato can be a substitute)
  • 1 19 oz. can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 19 oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 bunch kale (Lacinato or Dino kale preferred), stemmed and chopped
  • 2-4 sausages, sliced and browned in a skillet
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parmesan cheese (optional)

Directions:

  • Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the diced onion and cook until softened and beginning to get translucent (about 10-15 minutes).
  • Add celery and carrots and cook another 5-10 minutes.
  • Add the herb blend, diced tomatoes, broth, and squash cubes. Cover with a lid and cook over low for at least 30 minutes to soften the squash.
  • Add the kale and let it cook down.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add the beans and browned sausage during the last 15-30 minutes.