Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Three great ways to use Cilantro

These recipes are for my best friend Carson. The flavors in these simple recipes remind me of her, with their bright clean flavors, beautiful colors and endless possibilities. All three recipes are perfect for spring and summer and can be made in advance, in large quantities for parties. Or just for you paired with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc on a Sunday afternoon.

Cilantro is a great herb and can be used to kick up a lot of classic recipes. Since I buy cilantro in large bunches I often have enough for several recipes. Here are a few I have played with lately, including my hand hacked guacamole.

Hand Hacked Guacamole

3 medium ripe avocadoes
1 medium onion chopped
1 small tomato (I like to use romanos)
Juice of one lime
1-2 serrano chiles
3 tbl chopped cilantro
3 cloves garlic chopped
sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste

1. Cut the avocados in half, and remove the pits with a spoon, scoop out the green flesh into a medium bowl.
2. Using two forks and a cross “hacking” motion mash the avocadoes into large chunks.
3. Mix in the chopped onion, garlic, cilantro, and chilies. Do not include the seeds from the chilies and remember that chili peppers can vary greatly in their hotness. Add a little at a time until you reach the desired level of heat and then thoroughly wash your hands and the cutting surfaces. Do not touch your face or other sensitive areas for a few hours. 4. Add the lime juice and season with salt and pepper.
5. Add the chopped tomatoes just before serving.

Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole to prevent oxidation and browning of the avocado. Guacamole is all about what you like so feel free to get creative; I like to throw in a little fat free cottage cheese on occasion. I am also a fan of serving guac with celery and grilled pita points.

Cilantro Pesto Pasta

12 oz whole wheat pasta
2 c. fresh cilantro
½ c. pine nuts
½ half head of garlic
2 tbl white wine vinegar
drizzle olive oil *you could also use avocado oil
sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste
*optional crushed red pepper

1. In a blender or food processor pulse the cilantro, pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil and white wine vinegar until it forms a smooth paste.
2. Boil Pasta until firm and drain, toss with herb paste.
3. Season with salt and pepper to taste, you can also season with crushed red pepper for a little spicy kick.

The flavors in this pasta sauce are strong and bright and pair best with fresh lightly steamed veggies. Serve this pasta with fresh tomatoes, a little steamed asparagus or rapini, grilled chicken or shrimp. This dish can also be served chilled as a pasta salad.

Cilantro Yogurt Sauce

1 1/2c. Greek style yogurt
1 lemon zest and juice
½ small onion finely chopped
¾ c. chopped cilantro
3-4 chopped cloves garlic
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt to taste

Combine all ingredients, cover and refrigerate. Let the flavors blend for a few hours or over night. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.

This can also be made with sour cream in place of the yogurt and lime instead of the lemon for a slightly more Latino taste. I have also used Cajun seasoning in place of the cayenne or just simple salt and pepper, all are great. I usually serve this alongside grilled shrimp or chicken. It is especially good in a pita pocket stuffed with chicken, tomatoes, and baby spinach.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Wine Words

I am struggling with one of my goals this year and that is to incorporate more wine reviews in my writing and culinary adventures. I would really like to be one of those foodies who can hold their own with the wine crowd. That is not to say that I don't know what I like, I do, which I have been told is half the battle. Now I am working on communicating why I like a certain wine and why I would suggest pairing it with a specific dish. I am going to be going through a little exercise in the next few weeks, since my new kitchen is tiny and still somewhat disorganized from the move. I am going to be writing some short posts about the wines that have recently caught my attention. I will tell you now that I like to keep the price point under $20 and if you have any questions I will be happy to try and answer them! I hope you enjoy this little foray into the wine world and will have pictures of the bottles so you can go looking at your local vino supplier.

Best Wishes,

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pecan Pie made by Girls from California

My Dad's family is from the Deep South, Louisiana and Mississippi mostly. My Mom's family is from Out West, California and Utah mostly. Of course growing up my family moved all over the world so we are not really from any one place in particular. This diverse background made for some very interesting dinner table and holiday "staples" at my house. My Dad who is a great cook in his own rite can make some mean Gumbo and Red Beans and Rice. However, over the years it seems my Mom did most of the cooking even when it came to the Southern favorites. She would use the River Roads cookbooks and put her own twist (often a lot less butter and bacon fat) on the cuisine of the south my family loved so much.

Pecan Pie is one such favorite. Holidays at my house are not complete without pecan pie. Now my mother is of the opinion that "traditional" pecan pie is often sickeningly sweet and the ratio of goop to nuts is simply unacceptable. Therefore she often doubled the nuts used and split the goop between two pie shells. What she ended up with was more of a pecan tart with just enough goop to hold everything together which was a little less cloyingly sweet. Now this may enrage some of the traditionalists out there who love their pecan pie with lost of sweet smooth filling and just a crust of pecans caramelized on top. This recipe, call it an interpretation of a classic, is simply not for you.

I of course make even more changes to the family recipe by serving it with a whole wheat crust, not using any Karo Syrup, and mixing in two other types of nuts. I of course love this version of a classic any time day or night, warm or cold, alamode or solo, especially with a cup of coffee or tea. (Yogi Tea's Tahitian Vanilla Hazelnut is especially good at night before bed because it does not have any caffeine).

Whole Wheat Pastry Crust

1 ½ c. whole wheat pastry flour
1 stick chilled unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk *reserve the white for filling
3 tbl ice water
1 tbl honey *You could also use agave or maple syrup
½ tsp salt
*optional dash of cinnamon

1. Mix Dry ingredients in a food processor. Cut the chilled butter into small cubes or slices and add to the processor hit pulse a few times until the dough resembles small pebbles and sand.
2. Whisk the egg yolk, honey and ice water in small bow.
3. Add wet mix to the processor and combine until moist clumps form, if it looks to dry or add a little more ice water a few spoonfuls at a time.
3. Roll the dough into ball and then flatten into disk, wrap in plastic and chill for about 1 hour. This crust can be made up to 2 days in advance just keep it refrigerated and when you want to use it let the dough soften slightly at room temperature before you roll it out.
4. Roll out crust dough on lightly floured surface until it is about 13-inches around, if the dough is sticky or hard to work with rub with flour and chill a little longer.
5. Fold the circle of dough in half, and half again to transfer to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish (unfold). Trim dough and crimp using fingers or a fork to form a high-standing rim.
6. Freeze crust until firm (about 20 minutes)

You can also prebake this pastry crust if you like, and it works with so many recipes not just pie (think quiche). If prebaking :
Prick bottom of crust with fork a few times to prevent bubbling.Bake at 450º for eight minutes or until edges are golden, remove, cool, fill, and bake according to filling recipe.

My Personalized Pecan Pie Filling

1 1/2 c. pecan halves
1 c. finely chopped almonds and walnuts
3/4 c. pure maple syrup
1/3 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 c. agave syrup
1/2 stick unsalted butter
3 eggs *plus I use the one white from above
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
*Optional sometimes I like a darker flavor and I add 1 tbl of black molasses.
* I have also been known to throw a little bourbon in the syrup mixture when it's on the stove, just let it bubble a minute and it should lose any alcoholic bite.

Preheat oven to 350º.
1. Over medium heat combine syrups, sugar and butter in a saucepan stirring until sugar dissolves and mixture bubbles. Remove from heat and let cool until lukewarm.
2. If using whole almond and walnuts (you could also use more pecans or another nut combination of your choice) combine nuts in food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles tiny pebbles.
3. Whisk eggs, vanilla and salt in a bowl to combine and gradually add the cooled syrup mixture.
4. Remove the pie crust from the freezer and fill with finely chopped nut mixture, layering the pecan half's on top. Pour filling over nuts; don't be afraid to use it all!
5. Bake pie until filling is slightly puffed around edges and center is set, about 40-60 minutes. Ovens can vary a lot so check on the pie every now and again to make sure your crust is not burning or the nuts are not getting to dark, if you think your are getting to much color you can tent the pie with a little foil. Allow pie to cool before you cut it, if you like yours warm (I know I do) you can throw it in the microwave for 15 seconds before serving.