Tacos with Grilled Poblano & Corn Salad

tacos with grilled poblano salsa

Over the weekend I received the best kind of email. It not only came from an individual, living, real person, but also from a friend. She had written to tell me about her new favorite thing to eat, a salad of marinated fennel, burrata, and mint. She also casually mentioned she had made a grilled poblano, corn-off-the-cob and cotija cheese salad to serve aside some grilled New York Strips.

I still haven’t made the fennel, which sounds utterly delicious, but I can’t find enough uses for this grilled poblano salad. On its own, as my friend made it, sprinkled with cotija cheese, the sweet, smokey, charred vegetables combine to make a wonderful summer salad.

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Pan-Seared Lamb Chops with Toasted Bread Crumb Salsa

lamb chop with bread salsa

For years, all of my favorite cookbooks have been urging me to seek out salt-packed anchovies, that I won’t be disappointed once I find them, that their superior quality is worth the effort of soaking and filleting them, that once I get my hands on them I will want to sneak them into everything from herb butters to pizza toppings to sauces and salsas.

So when I read once again in my latest cookbook purchase, April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Pig, about their umami properties, I decided it was time to bite the bullet on a tin. To my computer I marched, to the rescue came Amazon, to my door two days later for a grand total of $24 arrived a kilo of salt-packed Italian anchovies. It may have been the beautiful tin; it may have been the sight of something other than diapers and Desitin; it may have been the snow on the ground; but opening that package felt like Christmas in March.

The arrival of the anchovies coincided with the arrival of my parents, who would take part in the little fishies’ induction to my kitchen whether they knew it or not. Let me explain. My stepfather believes he dislikes anchovies. Because of this, I would have to be strategic, as my mother always is, about preparing them, first with the rinsing and filleting, next when adding them to the bread crumb salsa, their ultimate destination that evening. When Chip escaped for an afternoon walk, my mother, Auntie and I began scrambling. All evidence of anchovies — the tin, the backbones, the scent — had to be removed before Chip returned lest he suspect their presence and in turn ruin his dinner.

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Green Olive, Walnut & Pomegranate Salad; Thanksgiving Day Recap

green olive, walnut and pomegranate salad

Tired of cooking? Me too. But I have one more teensy tiny recipe to share with you before I disappear into I-don’t-feel-like-cooking-anything mode. And it’s a good one. You HAVE to make this. Not immediately, but soon and definitely before the end of the year, because nothing will look more festive on your holiday table and nothing will taste more restorative in the season of endless feasting.

The recipe comes from the book Turquoise by Greg and Lucy Malouf, which my aunt introduced to the family last winter when she served this stunning salad at a dinner party. The myriad textures and sweet-salty-hot dressing make this salad irresistible. Continue reading

Before Winter Ends, A Yummy Salsa + A Bebeka

Orange Salsa

Orange Salsa

Bebeka, you ask? Well, Bebeka means baby in Greek, and about a month ago I had one. For as long as I can remember, my mother addressed me and my siblings as “bebeka” or “bebeka mou” (my baby), and today I find myself most often addressing my little Ella as bebeka. Anyway, the reason I have been MIA this past month (months … yikes) is because a bebeka is more work than I ever imagined. I don’t know where the day goes.

So, I have been meaning to post this entry since the beginning of February when I last made it. It’s a yummy winter salsa, perhaps a nice accompaniment to those bean and cheese burritos? Something fresh like this is actually just what those burritos are missing.

I don’t really have a recipe here but if you know how to make a tomato salsa, you know how to make an orange salsa: Dice an orange, a red onion and a jalapeno (or other hot pepper); roughly chop some cilantro (or mint or basil or whatever); toss it all together with some salt and freshly squeezed lime juice and voila, you have an orange salsa. You can make a salsa with anything in fact — cucumbers, peaches, jicama, pineapple, etc. I was disappointed the fall came and passed without allowing me to make a persimmon salsa. I think that would be particularly nice.

Anyway, I hope this post finds you all well and I hope to get back on the blogging track soon. Here’s a picture of the bebeka:

Ella

Salsa Ingredients:
Salsa Ingredients

And here’s a video on how to cut an orange for salsa. I mean, you can cut an orange however you like, but if you feel like making it pretty, here’s a little guide. (Note: Try to watch the video on the 720p or HD setting otherwise it looks blurry.)

Grilled Corn and Cherry Tomato Salsa

Cornsalsa

I haven’t quite nailed down this whole gardening thing yet. My cherry tomato plant grew so tall that most of its branches, weighed down by the bundles of fruit at the ends, ended up snapping in two. In an effort to alleviate some of the stress on the rest of the plant, I pruned the broken branches and lay them over the railing outside my apartment.

Amazingly, in just a few days, the little green teardrops turned bright red. And now, I have more cherry tomatoes on my hands than I know what to do with. This salsa has helped deplete the supply somewhat, but I’m going to have to get a little more creative if I want to enjoy these sweet treats before they shrivel on the vine and fall to their death in our carport.

I served this tonight over a piece of pan-seared cod. Yum. And, I ended up eating the salsa more as a side dish than a condiment. This salsa almost could be served as a salad itself. Or, tossed with some bulgur or quinoa or any grain really, it could be made into a meal.

I have about a cup of it left which I am going to stir into some scrambled eggs manana. I cannot wait.


Grilled Corn and Cherry Tomato Salsa
Yields enough for two people. Serve with pan-seared fish or chicken

2 ears corn, shucked
2 cups cherry tomatoes
½ red onion
fresh basil
1-2 hot peppers, such as Thai bird chilies, jalapenos or serranos
kosher salt
olive oil
½ a lemon or lime

1. Preheat the grill to high. When ready, grill the corn very briefly on each side, just enough to leave a few kernels charred. Remove corn from grill and let cool briefly. Cut kernels from cob and place in a mixing bowl. (Note: The corn will taste very crunchy still. The grilling is just to add a nice, smoky flavor.)

2. Meanwhile halve the cherry tomatoes through the stem and place in the mixing bowl. Peel and finely dice the onion to yield a scant half-cup. Add to the bowl. Tear basil leaves into the bowl. Finely dice the chilies, seeds and all, and add to the bowl. (Obviously, add according to what heat-scale you prefer.)

3.Season the mixture with a pinch of kosher salt. Drizzle about a tablespoon of olive (maybe more, maybe less) over the mixture. Juice the half lemon or lime over the mixture. Toss gently with a large spoon. Taste, adjust seasoning as necessary, and leave at room temperature until ready to serve.

This salsa is particularly delicious served over a pan-seared filet of fish such as cod, halibut, trout, striped bass, etc.


Broken branches of cherry tomatoes ripening in the sun on my railing.

Melon & Cucumber Salad with Mint Vinaigrette


melon

So, I sort of have this habit. I tend to add cheese to every salad I make. In large quantities. And often nuts, too. And maybe dried fruit if I don’t have any fresh on hand. I tend to turn salads into mini meals themselves, even when, as I often am, just serving them on the side.

For whatever reason, I refrained from adding more than what was prescribed in this recipe: melon, cucumber, lettuce and a mint vinaigrette. And I’m so glad I did. This salad does not need anything else. It is light, refreshing, summery — perfect as is. Thank you Sarah Cain at the Fair Food Farmstand 2,378 miles away in Philadelphia for supplying such a wonderful recipe in the weekly “At the Farmstand” email.

Now, for my friends out there looking for simple recipes, this one is for you. If you can chop up a melon and a cucumber, you can make this dish. The dressing is made right in the jar, which means no whisking and minimal cleaning. I love it, and you will too.

The dressing for this salad is made right in the jar: Equal parts vinegar and oil along with a pinch of sugar and salt, a dab of mustard and tons of mint and parsley combine to make a bright and flavorful dressing.


Cucumber And Melon Salad with Mint Vinaigrette

Recipe Courtesy of Sarah Cain, Supervisor of the Fair Food Farmstand in Philadelphia
Great with a grilled meat, especially lamb.
Serves 4

½ cup of extra virgin olive oil

½ cup of best white wine vinegar (I used rice vinegar and loved it.)
½ teaspoon of dijon style mustard

3 tablespoons of finely minced fresh mint

1 tablespoon of finely minced parsley

big pinch of sugar

big pinch of salt

2-3 cups mixed honeydew, cantaloupe and watermelon, peeled, seeded and diced

2 cups mixed greens

1 English cucumber, diced

1. In a jar with a tight fitting lid, combine the dressing ingredients.
 Shake like crazy. Let stand a room temp for 40 minutes to meld the flavors.


2. Meanwhile, combine the melon, greens and cucumber in a large bowl. (I also added some more mint and parsley (roughly chopped) to the salad.)

3. Shake the dressing vigorously before pouring just enough to moisten the chunks of melon, greens and cucumbers.

4. Serve.

Fish Tacos, Whisk n’ Ladle, Mango-Jicama Slaw, MSC-Certified Halibut & Reamers

MangoJicama

I’m feeling sort of overwhelmed by everything I want to fit into this post. Bullet points, I hope, will help my cause.

• So, after a week of feasting, I considered, for the first time ever, making tofu for dinner. As I passed down the freezer aisle of Ralph’s, however, a blue-and-white label caught my eye. Much to my surprise (and delight), that label marked an MSC-certified package of halibut steaks. Unlike many labels today, an MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) label truly means something — it is a guarantee for consumers that the purchase of the product will not contribute to the social and environmental problems of overfishing. It also guarantees that the fishermen receive a fair price for their catch. Holding the world’s most rigorous sustainability standard, the MSC has awarded their coveted eco-label to only 31 fisheries worldwide. (You might recall that American Tuna also bears the MSC label.)

• With my discovery, I took the opportunity to make a dish I have been meaning to make since dining with my cyber friend, Melanie Lytle, of Livin La Vida Local at Whisk n’ Ladle in La Jolla. This restaurant strives to use all local ingredients and makes nearly everything in house, including the delectable scone — pistachio-orange, if I recall correctly — with which I began this memorable brunch. (Incidentally, Melanie has just completed a year of eating locally: Read her Long-Winded Summary To a Year of Eating Locally here.)

• Last night, I discovered that the mango-jicama slaw served with the tilapia fish tacos at WnL is surprisingly easy to recreate. Please don’t be frightened or turned off by the idea of julienning or using a mandoline. Dicing the fruit would be just as tasty and effective. In diced form, in fact, the mixture becomes even more versatile — it could be served with tortilla chips or toasted baguette slices for a nice appetizer. Really, this slaw could not be simpler to prepare — you just mix everything together and season with salt and fresh lime juice according to taste. It could be served with chicken, beef, maybe even tofu.

• Last night I also got over the idea that fish should never be frozen. These frozen halibut steaks fried up beautifully, and once wrapped in the tortilla, spread with a dab of sriracha-sour cream and topped with this tasty slaw, the fish becomes a second-string player. Fresh fish, in a way, is better used for simpler preparations, with lemon and herbs, for example, where the flavors of the fish can really shine.

• Lastly, a word about reamers: There is no better tool, I profess, for extracting juice from citrus fruit than a wooden reamer. This one from Sur La Table is fantastic.


Fish Tacos with Mango-Jicama Slaw
Inspired by tacos recently savored at Whisk n’ Ladle restaurant in La Jolla. This recipe calls for julienning the jicama and mangoes, but dicing the fruit will work, too. In fact, this mixture, in diced form, would be yummy served with chips.

For the Slaw:
1 jicama, peeled
2 mangoes, not too ripe, peeled
1 small red onion, peeled, diced to yield about ¾ cup
1-2 chili peppers such as Thai bird or jalapeno or Serrano, finely diced
cilantro to taste, washed and chopped
kosher salt
1-2 limes

1. Using a mandoline, julienne the jicama to yield about 2 cups. Place in a large bowl. Julienne the mangoes (to yield about 2 cups as well) and add to the bowl. (Alternatively, just dice the fruit.) Add the onions, peppers and cilantro to the bowl. Season with a big pinch of salt. Juice one lime over top of the mixture. (A reemer is a great tool for this step.) Toss gently, then taste. Adjust with more lime juice or salt. Set aside until ready to serve. Note: Can be made ahead, but not too far ahead — no more than an hour is ideal.

Sriracha-Sour Cream
Whisk n’ Ladle spread some sort of creamy, tomato salsa across their tortillas. It definitely was something more substantial than sriracha sauce, but this combination served the purpose quite nicely.

1. Mix sriracha with sour cream according to taste.

Assemble the tacos:

fish: Any white fish — halibut, tilapia, cod, sea bass, etc. — works really nicely in fish tacos. I found MSC-certified halibut steaks in my Ralph’s freezer section.
small, white flour tortillas

1. Heat the oven to about 450ºF. Wrap as many tortillas you want in foil and place in the oven to keep warm. Make sure the tortillas are hot and pliable before serving.

2. Season the fish lightly with kosher salt. Pan-fry or grill the fish until done.

3. To assemble, spread a small amount of the sriracha-sour cream on the bottom of the taco. Top with the fish. Top with the slaw. Repeat.

When you see this blue-and-white eco-label, you can be confident your purchase has not contributed to overfishing or the harming of marine ecosystems. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a global, nonprofit organization devoted to promoting the best environmental choice in seafood.

A dab (or a dousing) of sriracha mixed with sour cream adds a nice kick to fish tacos.

Pica Peppers

Newbottles

It began with a dare. Challenged by a friend to make a sauce “too hot to handle,” James Jean-Louis set to work. Before heading to the kitchen to toast and roast habaneros, however, he hit the books, researching peppers and their affects on the human body.

And the more he learned about peppers, the more interested in making hot sauce he became. Seeing little point in enduring the pain inflicted by a fiery sauce that lacks flavor, Jean-Louis experimented until he created something that offered as much taste as heat. In the end, Jean-Louis won the bet and pursued his new passion by making a variety of other sauces.

This saucier first tested his creations on his co-workers at Deutsche Bank. Jean-Louis kept a stash on his desk, and at lunchtime, those seeking to jazz up their rice and beans or beef and veggie stir-fries could help themselves to a splash of the cilantro sauce or a drizzle of the “dark roast.” To say the least, the sauces were well received: Some colleagues described them as the Grey Poupon of hot sauce; others admitted to picking a sauce first and then the food to match it. Today, Jean-Louis keeps these bottles locked up — they had been mysteriously disappearing — but fortunately, the lock has deterred no one: The die-hards still stop by every day.

In response to high demand, Jean-Louis partnered with Marven Wamwright and created Pica Peppers.Though the Web site is still under construction, Pica Pepper sauces can be purchased by contacting Jean-Louis at james@picapeppers.com.

Yesterday, I topped a poached egg with the Pica Pepper “Picalese,” a condiment inspired by a spicy Haitian slaw, picoese, Jean-Louis’ mother used to make with shredded cabbage and carrots. Jean-Louis has improvised a bit, preparing his picalese with julienned habaneros and garlic. And boy, does a little go a long way! This sauce puts Dave’s Insanity Hot Sauce to shame. That said, never have I experienced such intense heat coupled with such vibrant flavors. Anyone who prides themselves on temperature-tolerance must give the picalese a try … and I can think of two people off-hand that won’t refuse this challenge.

Four years ago, my friend Amy Koch, known for eating hot salsa out of the jar until she breaks a sweat, participated in a “hot-off” with friend Peter Shanley. The competition continued for hours. When both competitors began munching on raw jalapenos, bystanders feared not what it would take to end, but that it might not ever end. And ultimately, this extremist duel concluded with a draw: To the horror of all witnesses, before accepting a title as co-champions, both Koch and Shanley snorted lamb vindaloo.

Below are the four flavors I have in my possession, three of which I still need to try. From left to right: Original, Lemon Pepper, Cilantro, and Dark Roast

Lemon Pepper
Bright citrus flavors distinguish the Lemon Pepper variety from any traditional hot sauce. Jean-Louis combines freshly squeezed lemon juice, hand-picked habeneros and garlic to make this dynamic sauce, an accompaniament designed for shell fish such as oysters, mussels and clams, but widely enjoyed on chicken, steaks and hamburgers.

The Perfect Poached Egg

My grandmother says my husband makes the best poached eggs, so I’ll describe his method: Fill a shallow saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add a spoonfull of vinegar (a light-colored vinegar such as white or apple cider or rice). Reduce heat to very low so that only the tiniest bubbles dance on the surface of the water. Crack an egg into a ramekin. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, swirl water to create a mini whirlpool. Slowly slide the egg inside and let cook for about 2 minutes. Adjust heat if necessary to maintain the gentle bubble: If you add more than one egg, likely you’ll need to increase the heat.With a slotted spoon, lift the egg from the water, jiggle spoon to test doneness of the yolk. If too soft, return to water. If just right, place on top of toasted bread and serve with salt and freshly cracked pepper, or one of Pica Peppers tasty hot sauces.

Though I still haven’t tasted all of the sauces, I have finally broken each one of the seals. It was hard – the bottles are just too pretty. Much to my surprise, however, the bottles, fitted with an elegant cork stopper, retain their beauty even without their wrapping.

Food Blogging Class In NYC

salsa toppings

I just returned from a short trip to New York City where I attended a two-hour food blogging class in the Bowery Culinary Center at Whole Foods Market. Matt Armendariz, the teacher and author of the amazing blog mattbites, guided the class through the “ins and outs of food blogging,” imparting along the way some invaluable insights and tricks regarding food photography. The photos on his blog — visit a recent post entitled “Sunday and The Perfect Lunch” — and on his new site mattphotographs are stunning.

Mango Pico de Gallo

Mango

Before the summer tomatoes reach the farm stands, ripe for fresh pico de gallo, try making one with mangoes, which are currently in season. From now until September, bright yellow champagne mangoes are at the market, and from May until August, the reddish-green Florida variety will be available.

Flavored with traditional salsa seasonings — lime juice, cilantro and jalapeños — this mango pico de gallo makes a refreshing appetizer. Serve with pappadums for a nice change from tortilla chips.

Mango Pico de Gallo
Yield = 3 cups

1 red bell pepper
1 jalapeño
2 mangoes
½ medium red onion
½ cup roughly chopped cilantro
¼ cup fresh squeezed lime juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon sugar

store-bought pappadums (Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s) or tortilla chips

1. Cut the red pepper in half, core and remove stem and seeds. With a knife, remove the white interior membranes, then finely dice the pepper (to yield about ¾ cup). Place in a large bowl. Repeat with the jalapeño.

2. Peel the mangoes, then slice fruit from the pit. Finely dice the fruit and add to the bowl (about 1¾ cup). Finely dice the onion (about ½ cup) and add to the bowl with the cilantro, lime juice, salt and sugar.

3. With a large spoon gently toss the ingredients together, being careful not to bruise the fruit. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary with more salt or lime juice.

4. Serve with pappadums or tortilla chips.