Friday, May 28, 2010

0 Recipe #117: Grilled Marinated Vegetables

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Tonight, we made chicken and vegetables on the grill, and drank Virgin Marys, as described in an earlier post. We had a great time and everyone really enjoyed the meal! :)

I made the Virgin Mary mix the night before, chilling it in a large pitcher in the refrigerator until it was ready to be served. And then, about an hour before dinner, I made the vegetables on the grill. About half-way through, my mother joined me on the deck and grilled the chicken on the other half of the grill. The chicken was prepared very simply -- with some rosemary, thyme, onion and garlic powders, and some paprika -- and while it was cooking on the grill, I drizzled the chicken with some of the remaining lemon juice I'd used to make the marinated vegetables. :) The grilled chicken was really good!

Below is the recipe for the grilled, marinated vegetables. This dish is perfect for those lazy summer evenings, when all you want to do is make the food as quickly as possible & just get down to the eating part. :) The veggies cook very quickly, and so, it's just simply a matter of timing the preparation & cooking in conjunction with the preparation of the other meal accompaniments and also with one's dinner time. :)

Our family has also been known to grill all year 'round; we'll often bundle up & grill in the dead of winter. What can I say, we native Pennsylvanians are a hearty bunch. :)

Word to the wise, this dish is best made in batches, unless you have a gigantic grill & can fit everything onto it at once. :) As for cooking utensils, I recommend using metal tongs. A grill spatula, while serviceability, isn't really the best tool for the job, as you'll need to grasp some of the vegetables and place them strategically on one side or the other, (especially for the vegetable wedges), or, in case of the red peppers, spread the ends out so that they cook/char evenly. Also, you'll want to bring 2 large, heat-resistant serving bowls with you to the grilling area. The first bowl is used for the raw marinated vegetables, and the second, for the cooked vegetables after they come off the grill. Since you'll most likely be cooking them in batches, it'll be a challenge to use a single bowl for both phases of the preparation. ;) Also, it's a good idea to immediately ferret the grilled vegetables back to the dinner table, so that family members &/or other diners can dig in right away while the vegetables are still warm. This requires that you time the cooking precisely; I would recommend that you start the grilled vegetables before the chicken, as the chicken will be done long before you're done making the vegetables, especially if they need to be made in multiple batches. :)

I also recommend putting a large, rectangular, slotted metal or disposable aluminium pan over the grill, & cooking the veggies on top of this, so that the smaller pieces don't fall through the grill bars into the charcoal. IMHO, cooking a charcoal grill yields much tastier results, although a gas grill is perfectly acceptable. You'll want to crisp the vegetables so that they have a nice crispy, slightly charred appearance.

When I make this recipe, I tend to use whatever's available, & grill the veggies according to their "burn" factor.  In other words, soft veggies that burn quickly go onto the grill last. :)

I like to make this recipe when I come home to visit my parents. For one, we all really enjoy the taste of the marinated vegetables, and secondly, they have a really nice grill that's a pleasure to use. Plus, when the weather's warm enough, we'll eat dinner out on their deck.  It's really fun to do that.


Grilled Marinated Vegetables

Marinade Ingredients:
1 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. dried basil leaves
2 Tbsp. dried oregano leaves
1 Tbsp. dried parsley leaves
1 Tbsp. dried rosemary leaves
1 Tbsp. dried marjoram leaves
1 Tbsp. paprika
1/2 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1/2 Tbsp. ground black pepper

Grill Ingredients:
1 medium-sized eggplant, sliced crosswise into 1/4" rounds
1 large yam &/or sweet potato, sliced into wedges
4 large carrots, peeled & then sliced lengthwise into 1/2" wide spears
1 medium-sized red-skinned potato, sliced into wedges
1 large red onion, sliced into wedges
1 large yellow onion, sliced into wedges
1 medium-sized zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/4 wide "spears"
1 medium-sized yellow squash, sliced into 1/4" wide "spears"
2 large red bell peppers, sliced lengthwise into  1/2" wide spears

Optional Grill Ingredients:
(Can be added to or substituted for any of the above; adjust marinade amounts accordingly.)
beets, sliced crosswise into 1/4" rounds
whole poblano peppers
tomatoes, halved or sliced into rounds
mushrooms, whole or halved
whole asparagus
whole garlic
whole scallions
whole shallots
Belgian endive, halved

Directions: Combine all marinate ingredients in a large serving bowl, stirring thoroughly to ensure uniformity of flavor. Add all vegetables to the serving bowl, and with a large serving spoon, coat all ingredients with the marinade. Turn on the outdoor grill to high. With metal tongs, carefully place the marinated vegetables onto metal/disposable aluminium slotted grill pan, standing back from the flame, and watching carefully for flame "flareups" due to dripping marinade. Cook the ingredients in the order they are listed above; the eggplant will take the longest, followed by the beets, and then the yams, etc. (Every grill will be different, which is why I haven't listed exact cooking times.) Cook vegetables until they are crisp and slightly charred on the outside and soft on the inside. Place in a second serving bowl and serve immediately.

Alternate Serving Suggestions: Make a grilled vegetable sandwich on a rustic bread (like sourdough or ciabatta), adding warm feta or goat cheese. Alternatively, you could grill the bread and make a panini-like sandwich on the grill. Or, you can make vegetable kebabs using long wooden/bamboo or metal skewers.

Yield:  Serves 6-8.

0 Recipe #116: Virgin Mary (Mocktail)

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As most of you surely already know, the Virgin Mary is the non-alcoholic version of the Bloody Mary. :) We'll be eating outdoors on the patio tonight, and so I thought this would be a cool & refreshing accompaniment to the barbecued chicken with grilled vegetables we'll be making on the outdoor grill. Yay! Grilling & eating outdoors is so much fun. :-D It almost feels like a summer picnic. ;)

Virgin Mary (Mocktail)

64 fl. oz. (8 liquid c.) V8 (or tomato) juice, chilled (I prefer V8, more vegetables/nutrition packed in there! :) )
4 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime/lemon juice (about 2 limes or lemons)
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/8 tsp.Tabasco sauce
1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. pure white horseradish
1/4 tsp. celery salt
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
V8, frozen into ice cubes (eliminates the need for extra ice cubes, plus keeps drinks cold without watering them down)
4 large leafy celery stalks, cut in half
lime (or lemon) slices

Alternate Garnish Ideas:
a few stuffed green olives (stuffed with pimentos) (for garnish)
carrot &/or cucumber sticks
sun-dried tomatoes (i.e., the kind that's not packed in oil), julienned
fresh basil leaves
marinated sweet peppers
(sour) dill pickles
artichoke hearts

pearl onions
garlic, minced or crushed (mixed into the drinks)

Directions: Pour the chilled tomato juice into a large pitcher and stir in all other drink ingredients. Mix well. Adjust seasonings to your liking. Serve over ice cubes, adding a celery stick & lime/lemon wedge to each glass.

Serving Suggestions: As a party idea, serve with a shrimp cocktail platter. :)

Yield: Serves 8.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

0 Recipe #115: Lemon-Thyme-Tarragon Vinaigrette on a Bed of Watercress Greens

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My mother and I just had this salad for lunch. It's a nice, light salad that can either be served as a main course or as a side salad. I halved the recipe & made it for two. It was really delicious!

If you're going to make it for lunch, I recommend adding some protein -- perhaps some grilled chicken, feta cheese, or tofu. It would also taste good with some Greek or kalamata olives, and perhaps some julienned sun-dried tomatoes. Enjoy!

Lemon-Thyme-Tarragon Vinaigrette on a Bed of Watercress Greens

Vinaigrette Ingredients:
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/8 c. (2 Tbsp.) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/8 c. (2 Tbsp.) white vinegar (I used white vinegar infused with basil)
1/4 c. light non-dairy creamer OR light plain soy milk
2 Tbsp. garlic
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 c. fresh thyme leaves, densely packed
1 Tbsp. fresh tarragon leaves, densely packed
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. crushed red chili pepper flakes

Salad Ingredients:
8 oz. fresh watercress greens (2 4-oz. packages)
4 c. mushrooms, thinly sliced
4 c. red bell pepper, sliced into 2" long strips (2 large peppers)

Directions: Add all vinaigrette ingredients into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Toss salad and vinaigrette together in a big serving bowl, and serve.

Yield: Serves 4 as a main course, or 8 as a side dish.

0 Recipe #114: Asian Jicama Slaw

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This refreshing jicama slaw is not your usual "slaw" recipe. It's spicy & sweet, and is quite a treat. :) Jicama, also known as the Yambean or Mexican potato, has a crisp, clean flavor with a crunchy texture similar to that of water chestnuts or apples. It's also quite healthy for you: Jicama in rich in fiber, potassium, and Vitamins C & E. It's also low in sodium (only 5 mg. per cup) and contains zero fat & cholesterol. Due to its high-fiber content, it's a very filling selection and is often credited as natural "weight loss" food.

This jicama slaw makes an excellent accompaniment to foods served at a barbecue or picnic -- from juicy burgers and hotdogs to grilled chicken and vegetable kebabsJicama slaw also goes exceptionally well with spicy Mexican dishes like fajitas or burritos, Asian stir-fries, or Mediterranean/Middle Eastern foods.

You can either serve it plain, or add some of the optional ingredients below. It's particularly good mixed with cold noodles.

This is what we're having for dinner tonight. :)

Asian Jicama Slaw

Slaw Ingredients:
2 c. jicama, peeled & then shredded or julienned (about 1 large jicama bulb)
1 c. purple cabbage, shredded
1 c. baby carrots, shredded
1 c. celery, shredded (about 1 large stalk)
1 c. red bell pepper, shredded
1 c. scallions including the green stems, sliced thinly on the bias (about 7-8 large scallions)
1/2 c. toasted almonds, slivered (or crushed toasted peanuts, whichever you prefer)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely minced (optional)

Dressing Ingredients:
1/4 c. sesame oil
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. honey
1/4 c. freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1-1 1/2 large limes)
1/2 Tbsp. lime zest
1 Tbsp. ginger, grated (about 1" piece)
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled and minced (2 cloves)
1/8 tsp. crushed red chili pepper flakes
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Optional Ingredients:
1 c. cooked chow mein noodles, cooled to room temperature
1/2 c. daikon radish, peeled and shredded
1/2 c. cucumber, stripe-peeled and cut into matchsticks/cubes (about 1/2 large cucumber)
1/2 c. avocado, peeled, pitted, and chopped (about 1/2 large avocado)

Directions: To prepare the shredded vegetables, use a food processor with a shredder blade. You can also use the food processor to make the dressing. Thoroughly toss together slaw ingredients and dressing in a large serving bowl. Chill in refrigerator for at least 15-30 minutes before serving, to allow flavors to develop. Serve and enjoy!

Yield: 6 servings as a main course, or 12 servings as a side dish.

Chef's Notes: When buying jicama, look for vegetables with unblemished skin that are relatively dense in weight for their size. Unpeeled jicama will keep in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

0 Upcoming Recipes + Meal Planning For Next Week....

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So far, I've made enough food to span several days. The salad and dressing both lasted for 2 meals, and the tabouleh and hummus pita sandwiches will also last for another few meals. I also made the mushroom risotto, but that only lasted for one meal. :) Also, we still have a lot of apple pie/tart left over (there are only 3 of us around right now -- not counting the dog! -- to eat all of this food), so that'll also make for several future desserts.... It feels good to have eked out a few days worth of meals from just a few dishes. :)

Also, I decided to scrap the earlier blini with caviar and salmon breakfast idea in favor of lighter, simpler breakfasts, and instead, focus most of my cooking efforts on lunches and dinners.

As for the next week's meals, I'm not quite sure if I'll create something new or just draw from the existing recipe archives. Thus far, I've been trying to make things from what my mother already has in the fridge, save a few necessary items I've had to go out & buy. This way, we can keep time spent grocery shopping to a minimum, and use up what we already have. Plus, that way, there's also more time that can be spent hanging out together. :)

Thankfully, the food I made over the past few days will last a bit, which is good timing in general, because I need a few days off from cooking. :)


As for upcoming recipes, I haven't forgotten about the previous backlog of "promised" recipes. Currently remaining in this particular queue are the following:

--Caruru de Camarao com Coentro (Shrimp & Okra with Nuts & Cilantro) (Brazilian dish)
--Jugo de Maracuyá Con Leche (Passion Fruit Smoothie) (Colombian/Latin American drink)
--Panera-style Orange Scones (from the "Make It Healthier" Challenge, promised to @britishbulldog)
--Restaurant-quality General Tso's Chicken (also from the "Make It Healthier" Challenge, promised to @nturnage)
--some lentil dishes (possibly Ethiopian &/or Middle Eastern dishes of some sort) (promised to @JenZenator)
--some kind of recipe with chía (promised to @saltenhaus)

As I'm currently "on vacation," the above recipes will most likely be posted at some point after my return.

Also, there's lots more new content to look forward to reading as well: Currently in the queue are several, additional recipes-in-progress -- about 80 or so at last count! -- as well as several general food-related articles, all in various states of composition. I also frequently add new ideas for both recipes and articles, so that number is bound to fluctuate.

As each recipe must first be tested and approved before it's posted, I can only make and post so many recipes at a time. Also, since I'm trying very hard not to waste food, it's necessary to space each recipe properly over the requisite amount of time. Some recipes make enough for a single meal, while others might last for a few days. :) Not everything can be frozen, so that's another consideration as well.

However, rest assured that I do plan to post it all at various points in the future. There's lots more to share.....

Saturday, May 22, 2010

0 Recipe #113: Creamy Tomato Basil Vinaigrette

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I just concocted this salad dressing tonight, and so, am posting the recipe here. It's a particularly refreshing addition to summer salads. Enjoy!

1/4 c. tomatoes
1/8 c. (2 Tbsp.) sun-dried tomatoes (i.e., the kind that's not packed in oil), julienned
1/8 c. (2 Tbsp.) extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
3/8 c. water
1/4 c. plain, light soy milk
1 Tbsp. lime juice
1/4 tsp. lime zest
1/2 Tbsp. garlic. peeled & minced
1 1/8 tsp. shallot, peeled & minced (about 1 large shallot)
1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 Tbsp. dried basil leaves
1/8 tsp. dried marjoram leaves
3/8 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

Directions: Toss all ingredients into a blender and pulse until smooth. Serve, or refrigerate if not using immediately.

Yield: 8.75 fl. oz. (or 1 c. + 1 1/2 Tbsp.)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

0 The Location Might Change But the Cooking Continues :)

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I've come home to visit my parents for a bit, and have taken over cooking duties while I'm here to give my mom a break. She doesn't seem to mind. :) It's time to give her the week off, and let someone else take care of her for a change, as she usually spends a good deal of her time taking care of others.

My mom has a fantastic kitchen, and every time I come home, I find myself inspired to cook as soon as I step into it. It's not that my kitchen is so bad; it's just that my mom's kitchen is really great. :) First of all, there's lots of space, and second, it's very bright with lots of natural sunlight. Also, the kitchen/dining area, like the family room, is a central place where lots of activity takes place. There's lots of life to be found there -- in both human and canine form :) -- and I always enjoy the energy and overall feeling of this space.

Tonight was no different. I pulled up the recipe blog on the kitchen computer, and then made the Gimesamwata sarada with Japanese ginger salad dressing, which was a huge hit with the family; they gobbled it right up. :) And then for dessert, I made a fruit salad of fresh mangos, strawberries, & blackberries, which they also loved. A nice simple meal. The funny thing was that the ginger dressing actually took the longest to make out of everything, but even that didn't really take all that long. :) It's all relative....

Erik usually is the one who gets to try all of my latest recipe creations, so I thought it'd be fun for my parents to get a chance to sample them as well. I haven't been home in a while, and so, there've been a lot of new recipes posted to the blog since then. Lots of new things for them to sample. :)

It's been nonstop cooking, which didn't stop after tonight's dinner. Right now, it's closing in on midnight, and I just got finished making a healthy apple tart/pie with absolutely zero refined sugar or butter. There are walnuts in the crust, but at least it's a healthier form of fat. I gave my parents a little sample of the crust (before it went into the oven), and they liked it a lot. :) I hope to snap a picture of the dish and post the recipe at some point in the future. It's going to be fairly busy here over the next few days, so I'm not exactly sure when I'll get around to it. Technically, I'm supposed to be taking a bit of a break/vacation while I'm here. :)

As for the next few days' meals, I'm thinking that I might make the mushroom risotto for tomorrow night's dinner, and then maybe some fish and vegetables on the grill the following night. I'd also like my parents to sample the hummus and tabouleh recipes -- perhaps for lunch -- and then maybe the blini with caviar and smoked salmon for breakfast one morning. We shall see. :)



Monday, May 17, 2010

0 Check Out Our New Blog, "Cook. Eat. Drink. Blog. Run."

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Fellow Endurance Athletes,

Do you have a healthy pescetarian recipe that you'd like to share with the running community? If so, please consider joining our recipe collective, Cook. Eat. Drink. Blog. Run.!

I set up this blog so that runner friends would have a place to easily share recipes with one another, instead of the old school ways of writing them down by longhand or having to send them to each other via email, which would very likely get lost amongst piles of paper or inevitably become buried in people's e-mailboxes, respectively. ;) So, from now on, instead of searching through your email or paper piles for a recipe that one of your pals sent you, you can simply go to the blog and find the recipes there. :)  Sure, makes things a heck of a lot easier.

Also, this way, runner pals can simply refer each other to direct recipe links from the blog, versus some of the older and more draconian methods. This is particularly useful in Twitter, due to the 140 char limit. :) However, it's also useful for email and other social media as well.

If you wish to apply for membership, please email the blog administrator with your email address. Upon approval, you'll receive an email invitation via Blogger to become an official recipe contributor and have your name listed as a blog author. Newly inducted contributors or those who wish to apply for membership should read the "Welcome" message, which should answer any potential questions you have about membership details or the site itself.

Of course, anyone can become a reader or subscriber of this blog. Feel free to check out the new blog and let us know what you think of the recipes there by leaving a comment. Thanks and enjoy the site!


0 Where To Find Uncommon Recipe Ingredients - My Sources Finally Revealed!

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A few of the recipes on this blog call for ingredients that some might think of as "unusual." Of course, this depends on one's frame of reference. :) One's cooking & eating experiences, cultural background, and familiarity with various cultures all play into that vantage point. While some people might not typically store these types of food stuffs in their kitchen, other people very well might.

Several of you have asked me where I get some of these recipe ingredients, especially those that are more "uncommon" and hard-to-find. The truth of the matter is that, because I live in a city, I'm able to get most of what I need at local ethnic and/or gourmet markets -- whether specialty shops or chain stores -- versus resorting to online resources.

For those of you who live in the Greater Metropolitan DC area, here's a list of some of my favorite local resources:

Balducci's (DC-MD-VA) - Formerly known as Sutton Place Gourmet. Pricey but good selection. Their food bar/counter is an excellent place to grab lunch. Delicious, fresh, bistro-style meals (soups, salads, sandwiches, etc.). Many menu selections are health-oriented. I don't shop there quite as often as I used to mostly because the locations are no longer as convenient for me as they once were.
Bread and Chocolate (DC-VA) - I have a particular nostalgic fondness for the one in Old Town location in Alexandria, VA location. Erik and I used to go here after our runs together. I am thinking of one particularly memorable 9-mile run (and 3 mile walk) along the gorgeous GW parkway trails. It was a gorgeous, sunny day and if memory serves correctly, we ran all the way from Bellvue/Belle Haven to Mount Vernon, and then doubled back, walking the last bit into Old Town. We might've run or walked a bit longer -- I believe the entire Mount Vernon trail is around 18 miles or so. Anyhow, we stopped into Bread and Chocolate and had the most delicious meal. Food tastes particularly good when you're ravenously hungry, but at this place, even more so. :) As the name implies, they have a particularly wonderful selection of breads and gourmet products. You will find fresh and (mostly) healthy food here. You can check out their menu here.
Dean & DeLuca (Georgetown, Washington DC) - Excellent Italian products, both fresh and packaged.
Chennai Spices/Malabar Indian Mart (Gaithersburg, MD) - Good prices, particularly for bulk spices & fresh produce. Less selection than International House (also in Rockville), but the prices are MUCH better here.
Costco (nationwide) - Particularly excellent for fresh produce and gourmet items.
Firehook Bakery (DC-VA) - Wonderful, fresh breads. I particularly recommend their ciabatta, and apparently, so do many other people. :) They also have a decent selection of sandwiches, which are of course are made daily, using slices of their fresh bread, as well as a small cache of other products.
Giant Food (Mid Atlantic region, i.e., DC-DE-MD-VA) - Certain locations have particularly good gourmet/ethnic/organic fare.
Grand Mart (MD-VA) - If you don't read Korean, you might have some difficulty deciphering the page contents for the link I've just provided, but at least you will be able to make out the locations at the bottom of the page; they are in English. :) Lots of hard-to-find produce here.
International House (MD) - A good resource for spices and South Asian specialty products. A good selection of products.
Marvelous Market (DC-MD-VA) - They are expensive but carry a good variety of cheeses and fresh breads, etc. I particularly recommend their kalamata olive bread, which is much better than Firehook Bakery's. :)
Maxim (Rockville, MD) - Great source for Asian goods and produce. Fresh food, clean store. They have fairly inexpensive Zojirushi rice steamers, which I've gotten as presents for some of my foodie friends. :)
Mediterranean Bakery & Café (Alexandria, VA) - This is my lavender source. :) They also have really good halvah and a huge selection of spices. Good food at their café too.
New Asia Market (Rockville, MD) - I mostly go here for inexpensive kitchenware (steamer baskets, wok pans, chopsticks, etc.). Warning: This place doesn't smell very good (particularly due to the seafood, which is extremely pungent), so you might want to either go to Maxim's instead or bring a clothespin for your nose. Haha! Maxim doesn't smell anything like this place does (it's clean and smells rather nice!), although the location of New Asia Market might be more convenient for some of you.
Safeway (nationwide) -- I particularly love the gourmet Safeway on Lee Highway in Falls Church, VA. Their artisanal breads (i.e., their "Artisan" brand) are surprisingly good too.
Sam's Club (nationwide) - Surprisingly good resource for gourmet items and fresh produce.
Trader Joe's (MD-VA-DC) -- Good source for organic and healthy gourmet foods.
Wegman's (nationwide) - There's one in Fairfax, VA (the most convenient location at present), as well some other VA locations (Leesburg, Sterling) that are a bit too far away for me. :) One is also coming soon to Germantown, MD. Also, there are reports of one possibly coming to Columbia, MD, as well. It seems they are getting 'round to expansion in this area. I wonder when one will come to DC itself.....
Whole Foods Market (nationwide) - Sometimes jokingly referred to by some as "Whole Paycheck." ;) I shop here very rarely, usually only when I've exhausted all other resources for specialty or organic produce. :) In truth, this place really gouges you for many things that, thankfully, can now be found elsewhere. :) However, this place has saved my rear when I've been in dire straits, particularly on one occasion when I needed several fresh apricots to make my apricot clafouti recipe for visiting guests. :) I'd scavenged everywhere for fresh apricots, but at the time, every other place had been sold out. They were in season too. I guess it's because most of the larger chain stores typically only carry a small amount in each store, and they tend to sell out quickly.

There are probably more stores I could add to that list, but these are the ones which most immediately come to mind.  As you can see, some of these stores also offer online shopping options as well. :)

I would encourage food shoppers to frequent the smaller, "niche" grocery markets because not only do they still carry a wider variety of specialty items which are still harder to find at some of the chain stores (particularly hard-to-find fresh goods like jackfruits, lychee, galangal root, kaffir lime and curry leaves, taro root, etc.) but many of them are currently struggling to make a living and need our support if we want to continue to have these invaluable resources available to us. Also, while some of the chains might carry certain more common ethnic/specialty items at a lower price, there are still many products -- spices sold in bulk, for example -- which are a MUCH better buy at local ethnic markets. Furthermore, in many cases, some of these markets are actually closer to certain residents than the larger chain supermarkets.

However, I realize that for many of you, shopping at specialty stores might not be a viable option, either due to access/availability or location, &/or limited free time for grocery shopping scavenger hunts. ;) Of course, if that is the case, online stores provide the perfect solution. Online resources are a perfectly good fall-back, because not only do these outlets provide you with a source for these ingredients, but you can also sometimes get certain ingredients, particularly when bought in bulk, at a much better price than even some of the local resources. (Internet-based companies don't have the same overhead expenses as store front locations; plus, they typically have large warehouses and cheaper forms of transportation which make their prices highly competitive and attractive.) Also, as many of you surely already know, several online retailers will give discounts or free shipping when you reach a certain threshold -- either for the total cost of your purchases or for a wholesale-like deal for large quantities of a particular item or set of items bought in combination.

In the past, I've shared many of these online food shopping resources with you here, via previous posts on this blog (either as information appended to the end of recipe posts or as separate posts dedicated entirely to a discussion of these sources), and have also shared this information through other channels (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) as well. To simplify the process, I've decided that, from now on, I will instead be listing these resources via my Amazon store. For this purpose, I've recently added a new category/section to my store entitled "Favorite Gourmet Groceries." Here, you will find listings for many hard-to-find specialty ingredients like black and white truffle oils, sumac, culinary lavender, semolina flour, Belgian chocolates, chía seeds, flaxseed, epazote, ghee, saffron filaments/threads, hing/asafoetida, tamarind paste, amchur/amchoor (mango) powder, black mustard seeds, curry leaves, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, etc., and many other products.

Additionally, you will also find separate sections for "Favorite Cookbooks" and "Favorite Kitchenware" that I highly recommend.  I hope you will enjoy checking out all of the aforementioned resources and that you find them helpful when you go to shop for some of the ingredients for the recipes on this blog. :)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

1 Recipe #112: Sopa de Plátanos (Colombian-Style Plantain Soup)

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One of my favorite interrnational cuisines, if I had to choose by continent, is, hands down, the food of South America. I am particularly enamored with Brazilian, Peruvian, & Colombian food.

Once you've savored good churrascariasopa de plátanoscholado (especially one made with jugo fresco de maracuyá), or delicious alfajores, it's impossible to remain neutral on this subject. :) At best, the experience is nothing less than transformative. :-D

(For those of you who need a quick translation of the above: sopa de plátanos = plantain soup, cholado = a Colombian fruit-ice-juice-condensed milk concoction, & alfajores = two sweet biscuits typically sprinkled with powdered sugar & sandwiched together with a deliciously sweet and creamy milk caramel concoction known as dulce de leche.)

Today, I found myself reminiscing a bit about Colombian food, in particular the meals we used to eat at this fabulous local area restaurant that made particularly heavenly Colombian fare -- thick, tender, juicy chunks of carne asada straight from the grill, crispy baked plantains with cheese, delicious, freshly made cholado, etc. -- Everything was fresh and made from scratch. Sadly, that restaurant is no more, and has since been replaced with a totally different Colombian restaurant, one which pales in comparison, has completely new management and chefs, and is also unfortunately a greasy spoon. First of all, in great contrast to the previous restaurant, everything on this new restaurant's menu is fried :( -- and I kid you not, the entire menu is nothing but fried food! -- which means that I won't ever be eating there any time soon. :) We once walked into the restaurant right after it was sold to the latest owners, to see what the new place was all about, and just the smell alone of that place was enough to drive me away screaming in a fit of horror. Haha!

[For the record, I'm not saying that I never ever eat fried food, but let's just say that it's a rare occurrence -- the exception rather than the rule -- and when I do eat it, it's got to be something so sensational and extraordinarily delicious that's it's worth working extra hard to burn off the calories. ;)  I'm not so easily baited by fried food, even when ravenously hungry, so it's got to be something truly out-of-this-world delicious. When you work hard to stay fit, the idea of fried food often quickly loses its appeal. ;) ]

Anyhow, as I was saying, I really do miss our favorite, now nonexistent Colombian restaurant and had recently been hankering for a bowl of their sopa de plátanos. As they've since gone out of business and there isn't a decent Colombian restaurant within a 50-mile radius of our home (at least none that I know of!), I knew that the only way I was going to have a bowl of Colombian-style sopa de plátanos -- especially one which closely resembled the one we used to eat in our much-beloved and now non-existent restaurant -- was if I tried to reproduce it in my own kitchen. :-D  So, here's the result of those efforts.

Basically, this is what happens when I have a strong yearning to recreate a culinary experience of days gone by; I usually find myself in the kitchen, channeling that desire into an unparalleled and spirited force of motivation, and then transposing all of that laser-focus and energy into a recipe. This is how food can be a link to our memories, a way of keeping people, places, and experiences alive in our minds.

Sopa de Plátanos (Colombian-Style Plantain Soup)

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 c. yellow onion, diced (about 1/2 onion)
1/4 c. scallions, sliced crosswise into 1/4" rounds
1 Tbsp. garlic, finely minced (about 2 large cloves)
1/2 c. baby carrots, sliced crosswise into 1/4" rounds
1/2 c. celery, diced (about 1 celery stalk, including leafy greens)
1 large bay leaf
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. cumin
4 c. fresh chicken stock (or low-sodium broth) (I used the left-over stock from the chicken tamales dish.)
1 c. red-skinned potato (or yuca, if available), scrubbed, peeled, and cubed
1 c. green (unripe) plantain, peeled and quartered just before being added to the pot (about 1 large plantain)
2 Tbsp. freshly-squeezed lime juice (the juice of about 1 lime)
1/4 c. fresh cilantro, finely minced

Directions: Sauté the onions, scallions, garlic, carrots, celery, & bay leaf in olive oil on low heat in a large soup pot for 3-5 minutes until soft (but not browned). Season with salt, pepper, & cumin, and add chicken stock. Add potato & plantain, & bring to a boil, stirring on occasion. Continue to cook for 15-20 minutes, remove from heat, & let cool. Remove bay leaf. Transfer soup to a blender and purée until smooth. (Or, alternatively, if you like your soup a bit chunkier, like I do, pluck out plantains & reserve, blending together all other ingredients & then adding the plantain pieces back into the blended portion of the soup.) Return soup to pot, turn heat to low, and simmer (uncovered) for an additional 20-25 minutes. Plantains & potatoes should both be very soft. Let cool, transfer to the blender, add the lime juice, & purée one last time. Transfer to bowls, garnish with cilantro, & serve. Other optional toppings include shredded Parmesan cheese, a dash of red chili pepper flakes, low-fat sour cream (or nonfat yoghurt), avocado, & aji. If you like, you can also add a lime wedge to each plate underneath the soup bowl, to allow your guests to add more lime juice to the soup if they so desire.

Yield: Serves 3-4.

Chef's Notes: It's very important that you select green (i.e., unripe) plantains for this soup recipe. Unripe plantains have a chalky texture and a savory taste, resembling that of a potato. Ripe plantains are sweet, and will change the entire flavor of the soup, and not for the better either. ;) Sweet plantains are perfectly fine for many other dishes, but not this one.

To make this recipe vegetarian or vegan, simply substitute low-sodium vegetable stock/broth for the chicken broth/stock.

0 A Word About the Food Photos on This Blog

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As I've mentioned before, sometimes this blog's going to have great, well-composed pictures and other times, well, let's just say that most of the effort went into the cooking. ;)

Like that last recipe. Yeah, I know, the picture is lousy. :) But trust me, the meal was a lot more appetizing than the photo I'd snapped. :) It looked & tasted a whole lot better in person. The evidence is in the empty plates. ;)

So don't judge a recipe by its photographer. Especially if that photographer is a complete amateur and also happens to be the cook. :)

And you know what?! Sometimes it's just not about the photo, people; it's about how the food actually looks & tastes right before it's eaten. :) I regret that I can't always capture that perfect moment and deliver it to you "on a plate"  -- or rather, in the form of a perfect, sigh-inducing picture on this blog. ;) However, if you were over at my place eating this food as my guest, you'd get quite a different impression of these dishes. You'd see that the live, in-person presentation is much better than what I'm often able to capture on film.

Right now, I have a limited amount of time to devote to food photography. As many of you already know, I'm writing a cookbook, and so, my main efforts are going into the writing part, & not into the food photography. In other words, that's where my effort should be going. :)

Put yourself in my shoes for a moment: I don't currently even have a professional food photographer on staff for the cookbook (or this blog) at present. And to be honest, I can't really afford to pay one right now either, nor do I have the time or the inclination to try to fill that role myself. ;)

However, if there are any professional photographers out there in the DC area who would like to volunteer to hop on over here & take free pictures of my food after it's been cooked & made camera-ready, they'll get many free, fresh, healthy gourmet meals out of the deal, as well as full photo credits (i.e., free advertising!) in exchange. And oh yeah, my eternal gratitude. :) If so, please let me know. Otherwise, don't expect me to be the Robert Doisneau of food photography. ;)

People make such a huge freakin' deal about perfect-looking food photos on blogs. This puts a lot of pressure on the average food blogger. I don't know, the whole thing just bugs me sometimes. Sure, I like looking at pretty pictures just as much as the next person, but honestly, I don't always have the time or the patience to perfectly arrange my food & then take pictures of it after I cook. This is real life, people. :) Frankly, most times I just want to dig in after the cooking is finished & could care less about taking photos. Can we say "hungry"? ;)

As far as the topic of bloggers obsessing over food photography is concerned, I honestly think it's gotten a bit out of hand. There are a lot of city restaurants reporting that they are now used to people snapping photos of their meals at their tables. In some ways, I'd compare the activity to talking on one's mobile phone at the dinner table. Is that behavior really necessary? Isn't it a bit disruptive to the other diners in the immediate vicinity? Where's the courtesy? At the very least, please turn off your flash, so you don't blind everyone else around you. ;)

Also, there's another disturbing aspect to this activity: People who are so focused on the recording of these activities often forget to be in the moment and actually enjoy the experience itself. If given the choice, I'd rather be conscious of a wonderful experience versus the being overly concerned with the perfect filmic capture of that experience. Life is short, and while it's certainly nice to have a photo keepsake, sometimes I think that there's too much emphasis on the photo, and not on the experience itself.

Also, the way food is in real life can't always be perfectly captured on camera, or at least not by a cranky chef who's put all of her energy into making the food, and just wants to sit down & eat it, versus taking photos of the darned thing. Haha!

OK, there, I admitted it. I often feel compelled to take these food photos sometimes when I'd rather not have to bother. I'll also admit that sometimes I feel pressured to post a pretty photo, even though there are going to be times when clearly I fall short of these sorts of expectations. ;) Sometimes I just don't have the time to spend several hours editing photos in Photoshop for that "perfect photo composition." And so, yeah, sometimes I resort to stock footage when I'm just not in the mood to bother. And then other times, I'll actually take the time to snap a nice photo.

Also, remember that I have multiple blogs. That means multiple posts & multiple photos, which requires multiple minutes & hours. :)

Lately, I've been posting more original photos of the food I've been cooking, with varying results. ;) Although I've been getting a bit quicker with choosing & editing photos, I just don't really have adequate time or patience to devote to perfecting this activity right now. As I said, I'm not a professional food photographer, nor do I play one on TV. ;) I'm a chef.

Seriously, which would you rather have -- a food blog with pretty, perfect pictures and crap food or one with great food & a mix of great and middling-to-average photos? ;) Wouldn't you rather that I concentrate my efforts on providing you with fantastic, tasty recipes, and leave the food photography up to someone else? ;)

I guess the bottom line is this: Please just take me & this blog as we are. If you want tasty recipes from a real person who can cook, you can come here. If you'd rather eat food that looks like it belongs in a wax museum & most likely tastes like it too, then you probably should visit one of those foo-foo-shi-shi, nouvelle cuisine type blogs that's all about the way food looks in a picture, versus how it looks & tastes in person. :)

And that's a wrap. G'Night!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

0 Recipe #111: Mango Chicken with Grilled Plantains & Spicy Black Bean Salsa

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I haven't forgotten my earlier promise to post the chicken tamale recipe. Although the tamale recipe had been scribbled onto note paper during the cooking process, it's still in the process of transcribed, after first having been deciphered through the splotches -- a casualty of writing & cooking in the same space. ;) It's a long recipe, and so I'm also in the midst of editing it to condense content. :)

In the meantime, please check out the below recipe, which was tonight's dinner. Enjoy!

Mango Chicken with Grilled Plantains & Spicy Black Bean Salsa

Chicken Marinade Ingredients:
2 Tbsp. garlic, finely minced (about 4 cloves)
1 Tbsp. ginger root, peeled & minced (about 1" piece)
1 dried red chili pepper (such as chile de arbol), roughly pounded (about 1-2 tsp. according to taste preferences)
1 tsp. salt
8 oz. boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 mango, peeled, pitted, & diced into 1/2" cubes
1/2 c. orange juice
4 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1 large lime)
1 Tbsp. lime zest (about 1 large lime)
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. dried oregano leaves
2 tsp. cumin powder
2 tsp. paprika
1 large bay leaf
1 Tbsp. jalapeño, sliced crosswise into 1/4" rounds (about 1/2 jalapeño pepper) (or 1/2 Tbsp. for less heat)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (for cooking)
cilantro (for garnish)

Black Bean Salsa Ingredients:
1 1/2 c. black beans (pre-cooked, from a can)
1 medium-sized, ripe Haas avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced
1/2 c. red bell pepper, diced
1 Tbsp. garlic (about 2 large cloves)
1/4 c. red onion, diced
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano leaves
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, finely minced
4 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1 large lime)
1/2 Tbsp. jalapeño, finely minced (about 1/4 jalapeño pepper)

Grilled Plantain Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 ripe plantains, peeled & sliced crosswise into 1/2" rounds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. paprika
1 dash salt, or to taste
1 dash ground black pepper, or to taste
1 dash ground cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 dash ground cinnamon

Directions: Crush ginger, garlic, & dried red chili pepper, & salt -- with either a mortar & pestle or a food processor -- until completely mashed & blended together. In a large resealable Ziploc bag, combine all chicken marinade ingredients except for cilantro & olive oil. Seal bag & combine ingredients by massaging spices & other ingredients into the chicken from the outside of the bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2-3 hours (or up to a day) before cooking.

Next, make black bean salsa, combining all ingredients in a bowl and refrigerating until serving time.

Heat the oil in a large nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the cumin, put a mesh pan cover on top to keep hot oil from splattering, & cook for about 30 seconds, or until cumin seeds start to crackle & pop. Next, turn heat down to medium-low, quickly add the plantains & the remaining spices (for the plantain dish), & sauté until golden brown. Transfer grilled plantains onto 2 plates.

Next, cook chicken marinade ingredients & jalapeños for about 4 minutes per side, or until meat has cooked through (& is no longer pink or fleshy) but is still juicy & tender. Discard bay leaf. Divide chicken into equal portions, transfer to the 2 plates containing the grilled plantains, & garnish each portion of chicken with cilantro. Add two equal portions of black bean salsa to each plate, & serve.

Alternate Preparation Ideas: This dish would also taste delicious served on a bed of jasmine/basmati rice. If you are going to add rice, halve the grilled plantains recipe to compensate for this addition. This recipe could also be made with grilled fish  (i.e., red snapper, etc.), instead of chicken.

Yield: Serves 2.

Monday, May 10, 2010

2 Recipe #110: Tabouleh

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As this recipe shows, parsley isn't just used for decoration. :) This often under-appreciated herb can be used in some highly creative ways. It can be featured as a central ingredient -- as it is in dishes like tabouleh -- or it can be used as a flavorful accent for soups, sauces, and salads, etc.

It's also very nutritious as well: Did you know that parsley contains three times as much vitamin C as an orange by weight, and twice as much iron as spinach? It's also a good source of iodine, copper, & manganese, and contains many flavanoid phytochemicals & volatile oils known to have anticarcinogenic properties. And, in one study published in the scientific journal, Nature, researchers showed that vegetable consumption, particularly parsley & onions, had a positive effect on bone density. Additionally, there've been positive indications from scientific studies that parsley might very well have blood-sugar stabilizing effects and also protect the body against diabetes-related damage.

Other interesting facts: Parsley is a natural breath freshener and digestive aid. So, it's probably highly fortunate that parsley appears in a tabouleh recipe, which also contains onions and scallions. Haha!

There are several other ingredients in tabouleh, which are extremely healthy for you. Bulghur, a whole grain, is not only a great source of fiber but also contains several important vitamins, minerals, and hundreds of unique phytochemicals, which, as research suggests, may collectively work together to reduce one's risk of certain chronic diseases and (gastrointestinal) cancers.

And lastly, a word about tabouleh itself: I just want to set the record straight. Traditional tabouleh usually bulghur wheat grains. NOT couscous or quinoa. Also, although many Western versions add garlic as an ingredient, traditional Middle Eastern tabouleh NEVER contains garlic. Just had to get that off my chest. :)

Of course, what goes better with hummus than tabouleh. Add a pita, falafel, a dab of tahini, and you're all set!

And now for the tabouleh recipe. A traditional one, but of course. :)


1 c. bulghur (medium grade)
2 c. cold water
3 c. flat leaf parsley, finely minced (about 2 large bunches)
1 c. fresh mint, finely minced
1 1/2 c. red onion, diced (about 1 small red onion)
1 1/2 c. scallions, sliced crosswise into small rounds (about 8 scallions)
2 c. cucumber, peeled into alternating vertical stripes and diced
2 c. vine-ripened tomatoes, diced (about 3 medium-sized tomatoes)
1/4 c. olive oil
3/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 1/2 - 3 lemons)
1 Tbsp. sumac
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper

Directions: Soak bulghur in cold water for 2 hours until soft. Drain and then squeeze excess water from bulghur using hands or paper towel. Combine all ingredients and thoroughly mix together. Let marinate in the fridge at least 30 minutes before serving.

Alternate Preparation Ideas: If you'd like to go the non-traditional route, feta, sliced/pitted kalamata olives, and avocado would all taste good mixed into the tabouleh. Another idea is to add pomegranate seeds or syrup. Or, instead of bulghur, try (cooked) quinoa and couscous. For a nice presentation, you can also serve the tabouleh on a bed of romaine lettuce.

Also another idea is to add other spices to the mix: Tabouleh also tastes wonderful with the following combination of complementary ground spices -- cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, &/or clove. I'd suggest using these spices sparingly, and in descending amounts corresponding to their order as shown here. In other words, try adding 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. allspice, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, and 1/8 tsp. clove. Taste first, and then see if you need to add more. :) Lebanese versions of tabouleh often contain cinnamon and allspice.

Paprika and cumin are other spices which would work well together in tabouleh as a combination separate from the above suggestions.

Yield: 2.3 qts. (About 8-10 servings as a small side, or 4-6 as a main course.)

Friday, May 7, 2010

2 Recipe #109: Hummus

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I was thinking about posting the chicken tamales recipe tonight, but since it's really long, I just don't have the patience right now to type it all out. Instead, here's a much shorter recipe, which I'm posting at the request of a friend. It's one of my favorite snack foods -- hummus. It tastes great with toasted pita chips, carrots, babaganoush, &/or stuffed grape leaves. It can be eaten as a snack, appetizer, or as the main course of a meal. It's traditionally served as part of a mezze, (a small selection of dishes eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner throughout the Levant region, the Mediterranean, and elsewhere) or piled into a pita, along with tabouleh and falafel, and topped with a small drizzle of tahini. However, you can also take the non-traditional route as well: spread it onto a slice of toast topped with Kalamata olives or use it as sandwich filling between two slices of multi-grain bread, tomato and cucumber slices, and some alfalfa sprouts.

Most of the recipes on this blog are recent creations. However, this particular recipe is one that's been in my (offline) recipe archives for quite a while; it has just never been posted until now. :) In my early to mid twenties, I kept a notebook filled with original recipes that I'd jotted down by longhand, on plain or lined, college ruled paper. This is one of the recipes from that notebook. There are a whole bunch of recipes in there that I have yet to post from this notebook, but I'm slowly making my way through the list. :)

Anyhow, hope you will enjoy this recipe!


1 16 oz. (15.5 oz.) can or 2 c. chickpeas/garbanzo beans, drained
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled & finely minced (about 2 large garlic cloves)
3 Tbsp. tahini (For the best results, use a pure ground sesame tahini, like Joyva Sesame Tahini.)
1/4 c. nonfat yoghurt
3 Tbsp. lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
1 Tbsp. lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
1 Tbsp. paprika
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
3-4 mint leaves (optional)

Garnish Ingredients:
fresh parsley, finely minced
a few sprinkles of paprika
a small amount of extra virgin olive oil, drizzled on top
kalamata olives
marinated sweet peppers (optional)
baked/toasted pita chips, lavash, or lavash crackers (try Lavosh Hawaii or Ak-Mak) (optional)

Directions: Stir tahini first before measuring; the oil usually rises to the top, so you'll need to thoroughly blend it. In a food processor, toss all ingredients in a food processor & purée until smooth. (If you like your hummus a bit chunkier, simply don't blend for as long.) Using a spatula, scoop out hummus into a lidded, non-reactive container, and refrigerate until ready to serve. When ready to serve, spread out hummus onto a plate, and lightly sprinkle with paprika. Create a shallow well, and pour a very small amount (1/2 - 1 Tbsp.) of olive oil into the well. Or, alternatively, just drizzle olive oil around in a spiral. Garnish with fresh parsley, place optional condiments on side of the plate, and serve.

Chef's Notes:  Homemade hummus can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, and can be kept in the freezer for up to one month. After defrosting or removing from refrigerator, add a little olive oil or water if it appears to be too dry.

For a spicier hummus, add a dash of ground cayenne pepper.

0 My Six-Hour Tamale Project, or Why There Can Never Be Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen at Once :)

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There's a fabulous local area Mexican restaurant we go to called Rio Grande (a.k.a. Uncle Julio's). It's authentic Mexican cuisine, as in Mexican-owned and operated :), and is one of the better Mexican restaurants in the Greater DC area. [They also have a small handful of restaurants in Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, & Boca Raton, but it's by no means your "typical" restaurant chain. In other words, we aren't talking Mickey D's here. :) More like Legal Seafood, or its equivalent. In other words, high quality, fresh food.] Quite frankly, it puts the competition -- i.e., Chevy's, Guapos, Anita's, etc. -- to complete & utter shame. :-D

One of the dishes I like to order there is the chicken tamales. They come out of the kitchen, piping hot, and smelling absolutely divine. :) They arrive in perfect little rectangular bundles -- neatly-wrapped, moist & tender packets that have been steamed in corn husks to heavenly perfection and then topped off with a delectably tangy combination of salsa verde and drizzled sour cream.  So, are you drooling yet? ;)

For some reason, when we go to this restaurant, we always seem to be ravenously hungry. Part of that is that sometimes there can be a long wait and after 45 minutes to well over an hour, our stomachs are grumbling quite loudly by that point. :) So, when we sit down to eat, we have only one thought on our minds -- digging into our meals. :) So it's best to keep all limbs tucked away safely. Haha!

However, at no point during those previous restaurant visits did I ever think, "Hmmm, well maybe I could try making these tamales at home."  I was usually so hungry by the time the food arrived that I was just focused on devouring them!

I'll admit that when I went to this restaurant, there were dishes that I was so contented with that I thought, "Why should I bother to try making them at home when I can come here instead?" ;) Making fajitas al carbon or camarones a la parilla is one thing, but tamales?! Oh my goodness. They are so involved and time-consuming that you've really either got to be part of a team of chefs in a Mexican restaurant who can quickly pump 'em out in assembly-line fashion, or if you've got enlist a whole army of friends and family to help you in the kitchen. :) [I'd originally considered naming this post, "Tamales: A Project Best Attempted with 40 Family & Friends." ;)] They are a huge all-day undertaking, and for people who make them by hand, it's a real labor of love. :)

And needless to say, after yesterday's tamale-making experience, I now have complete and utter respect for anyone who makes tamales on a regular basis. :)


The thing is that, even though I'm a fearless explorer when it comes to eating & cooking all sorts of cuisines and dishes, there are some dishes that I've just never thought about cooking before. It's not so much that I'm not up for it, but rather, the thought just hadn't crossed my mind. That is, until now. :)

I think it had something to do with Cinco de Mayo.  I'd created a recipe in honor of the holiday, and then began to think about all sorts of Mexican dishes that I enjoy. One thought led to another, and I realized that, even though this blog already contained a multitude of Mexican recipes, I'd never posted a tamales recipe before. And it seemed like this was a grave omission.

OK, let's face it. Until just yesterday, I'd never made tamales before in my life, let alone posted a recipe for them. :)  I guess I'd just never had the occasion to do so before.

I would sometimes hear friends talk about their tamale-making parties, and while they sounded like a great deal of fun, I wasn't exactly going to intrude on their family gatherings and invite myself over. :)

But as I've become more and more adventurous in my cooking over the years, I thought, "Hey, waitaminnit, I think I can do that." Sure, why not. :) I'd read a bit about tamale-making, and most sites describing the tamale-making experience as "easy, fun, and oh yeah, you might want to take the afternoon off." LOL.

So last night I made chicken tamales. Or rather, I did everything except the last step, i.e., steaming the tamales, which I'm going to do tonight an hour or two before dinner. :) And thanks to a Mexican-American friend of mine, who gave me a whole slew of useful insights and advice on tamale-making methodology, I was able to accomplish the task without too much hair-tearing. :)

Making tamales as a solo effort could probably best be compared to running a marathon.  It takes many hours to complete, and there are times when one might be thinking, "What have I gotten myself into?" but even despite the inevitable exhaustion, you're going to feel an amazing sense of accomplishment when it's all over. :)


P.S.  Be on the lookout for the tamale recipe. It will hopefully be posted either later today or tomorrow. :) But who knows exactly, because at present, I am still recovering from my tamale-making marathon. ;)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

0 Recipe #108: Sopa de Cinco de Mayo (Cinco de Mayo Soup)

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Happy Cinco de Mayo, everybody!

Cinco de Mayo commerates the Mexican victory over the French at Puebla in 1962. It's considered to be a relatively minor holiday in Mexico -- a regional celebration limited primarily to the state of Puebla, although in America it's a much bigger deal. Mexicans in Puebla celebrate Cinco de Mayo by reenacting the Battle of Puebla in a day-long dramatization that includes acting and speeches.

Here in the States, it's a celebration of Mexican heritage and culture. People of Mexican descent celebrate by having parades, mariachi music, dancing, and other festivities, although you don't have to be Mexican-American to celebrate the holiday. Cinco de Mayo is observed by many Americans regardless of ethnic origin, in much the same way as holidays like St. Patrick's Day, Oktoberfest, and the Chinese New Year are celebrated here in the States. To many Americans, it's simply become a good excuse to party. :) Dos cervezas, por favor, and some Mexican food to go along with it. ;)

Cinco de Mayo Soup

I created this soup recipe in honor of Cinco de Mayo. Although this recipe does contain traditional Mexican ingredients, I just want to make it clear that it's not actually a traditional soup that's eaten by Mexicans on Cinco de Mayo. ;) However, if people want to adopt it as part of their Cinco de Mayo meal, that's perfectly fine by me. :-D

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 c. yellow onions, diced (about 2 small onions)
4 Tbsp. garlic, finely minced (about 8 large cloves)
1/4 c. celery, chopped into 1/z" pieces
8 large vine-ripened tomatoes, diced
4 Tbsp. tomato paste
8 Tbsp. fresh (Mexican) basil, finely minced (about 20-24 gigantic basil leaves)
1/2 tsp. ground clove
2 tsp. dried (Mexican) oregano
1 Tbsp. mild Mexican chili powder (or if you like it very mild, add only 1/2 Tbsp. instead)
4 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 c. fresh cilantro, tightly packed & finely minced
8 c. water (or vegetable broth)
juice of 2 limes
2 large ears of fresh corn, shucked, cleaned, and rinsed

Garnish Ingredients:
low-fat cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (about 1 Tbsp. per person)
nonfat yoghurt or low-fat sour cream (optional)
fresh cilantro, finely minced
baked tortilla chips

Directions: In a large soup pot, sautté onions, garlic, and celery over low heat. The way I get away with using such little oil is to take 1 onion, half the garlic, and all of the celery, and sauté that first, and then combine the rest with 1 cup of water and continue to cook. The oil is there primarily to add a bit of flavor, but if you'd like you can leave it out altogether, by cooking the celery, garlic, & onions in 1 c. of water until soft. Then add all other ingredients into the pot (including the remaining cups of water/broth), except for the cilantro. After about 2-3 minutes, remove corn cobs from pot. Test corn with a fork/knife for tenderness. (If it's not fully cooked, place back into the pot until it is. Using a corn cob holder, stab each corn cob at one end and then slice off corn kernels with a knife. Place kernels into a bowl, and set aside. Then add corn cobs back into the pot. (Cooking whole corn cobs in the soup gives it a richer flavor.) Keep heat on low and simmer, covered, for approximately 1 1/2 - 2 hours, checking occasionally to make sure it hasn't cooked down too far.  You don't want the ingredients to stick to the bottom of the pan and burn, so be sure to stir on occasion as well. Stir in corn kernels to reheat them a bit, then let soup cool for several minutes. Discard cobs. Ladle soup into bowls, top each with shredded cheese, fresh cilantro, (yoghurt/sour cream, if using), and crumbled tortilla chips.

Chef's Notes: To grow your own fresh Mexican basil (from seed), check out this link. Dried Mexican oregano can be purchased online at Penzeys Spices.

Yield: Serves 4-6 as a main course, or 6-8 as an appetizer.

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