Friday, July 29, 2011

Delicious Sea Scallop Ceviche


Little too muggy out there? I think so.

Even though I get to come home and cool off in some nice strong A/C, sometimes I don't feel like cooking. Maybe I'm feeling lazy, or just need a refreshing meal that goes with an ice cold beer.

Ceviche is one of my favorite summer foods. You "cook" the fish in citrus juice by just letting it sit together. I've never made it at home before a few weeks ago. I started with a recipe from the New York Times which has turned out excellent twice now. I tried it with monkfish, which I found tough, but it's exceptional with scallops.

Tender, juicy scallops with tomatoes and herbs
Sea scallops become tender, juicy, meaty bites of cold refreshing citrus tang. Also, there's little chance of bacteria with scallops, as opposed to fish - which you would want to be exceptionally fresh. Good scallops are much easier to find, and much more manageable to slice. This is one of my favorite easy meals this summer!

Next time you're craving ceviche, try making it at home using this solid-tried-and-true recipe for scallops. To be honest, I skipped all the peppers, and used shallots instead of onions to make it slightly milder for my stomach, and it was still excellent. Make sure you only marinate it 30 minutes, tops, assembling the components only when you know you'll eat in half an hour. Don't worry, I've served it to a few people and no one got sick. It's safe, because the lime juice kills any bacteria.

Desert Pepper Roasted Tomato Chipotle Corn Salsa is delicious, and you feel like you're actually eating your veggies.
Chips & Salsa are no-fuss companions to ceviche. Try plantain chips, also, they're even better.
Pair ceviche with chips & salsa for a super easy, lazy meal (also great for a party). Both go nicely with something cold and fizzy, like a beer or dry sparkling wine.

If you're feeling like you might be able to muster the energy to chop some more herbs, blend something and possibly boil some pasta - this ceviche goes nicely alongside simple pesto-pasta. That's another one of my favorite summer recipes, and still very little cooking involved.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Amazing First Date with Bittman

Salmon with Cilantro-Basil Chutney, Golden Beet Salad with Fennel and Wild Rice with Curried Walnuts
What an exciting day it was, coming home to a box full of food books from Barnes & Noble. I cashed in on some credit card bonus points to order a bunch of titles from my wishlist. Two of those items are Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything, and How To Cook Everything Vegetarian.

My first impression was surprise at how thick they were - about 1,000 pages each! Holy crap this guy has lots of material. I was a slight bit disappointed to find that none of these pages wasted any space on photographs. And I can tell you after tonight, there could be some pretty friggin' sexy photos of these recipes.

Knowing I planned to make salmon for dinner, and probably some simple chard, or maybe fennel (no major projects), I checked both new books for recipes. I realized that they are less recipes, but more about simple techniques for different foods and a handful of suggested flavor variations. Kind of like my college textbook Better Homes Illustrated Cookbook, but much more in-depth.

So I ended up choosing to make four recipes from How To Cook Everything. Tonight. Four. What was I thinking? A whole lotta effort for one girl to eat and clean up alone. But no, it was sooo worth it, because I was on a date, a first date, with my new Bittman book. And let me tell you... it's love.

Wild Rice with Curried Walnuts
First, I started the Wild Rice with Curried Nuts. A little oil, a little curry powder, some chopped walnuts, toasted. Remove, add rice and vegetable stock, and a bit of salt. Cook. Add nuts. 1 hour, easy, done. Beautiful, flavorful, wild rice with crunchy nuts. Anyone would like this, even if they hate brown rice.

Golden Beet Salad with Fennel
As the rice cooked, I put together the Raw Beet Salad with Fennel. I grated some small, local, golden beets. Then there's shaved fennel, shallots, lemon, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bittman's recipe calls for Taragon and Parsley, but I was in an Eastern mood, so I used cilantro and Thai basil. What a pretty yellow salad to balance out some thick rice and juicy salmon. The fennel stands out the most - you'd never know there were beets in there, unless you use red. I hate cooking with raw red beets because the juice always ends up on my ceiling somehow. Don't ask.

Cilantro-Thai Basil Chutney
I set the salad in the fridge to chill, the rice still cooking away. Any fat salmon fillet needs a condiment in my eyes, so I decided to try a variation of Bittman's Cilantro Chutney. Like I said, feeling East today, so I used Thai basil here too. I'm not real sure what qualifies this as a chutney. Maybe peppers? I didn't use peppers, just a few red pepper flakes since the raw garlic alone will have me taking Zantac later! It was a very flavorful topping for salmon - I've always been a fan of this Chimichurri sauce sort of concoction, although this one is chunkier. A little goes a long way.

Perfect Pan-Cooked Salmon Fillet
Finally, I followed Bittman's directions for Pan-Cooked Salmon. I avoid grilling, baking, broiling or frying salmon because the smell drives me insane for days. But he made it sound so simple and fast, I gave it a try. It was the best damn salmon I've ever cooked. Golden crust on top, flaking and cooked medium at the center. I may have acclimated to the smell for the night, but I have a feeling it reeks in here. Oh well! 
Salmon with Cilantro-Thai Basil Chutney
I am thoroughly impressed that I chose four recipes on a whim to try from this book and all were excellent. And they looked beautiful. And they were easy. Delicious. Worthy of serving guests. 2000 pages of new recipes... what will I try next?





Monday, July 25, 2011

Midsummer Balancing Act

Cocktails at Toloache
I'm starting to think of July kind of like a Wednesday. You can have some good times, but it's still kind of like the "hump-day" of the year.

I was on a roll with fitness and food since sometime last fall. I made it to the gym a decent amount, stepped my Bikram schedule up to 2 days a week, remembered to take my vitamins, and continued to reduce meat from my diet. Even with all this I was somehow punished with some cold virus for about 3-1/2 months, including being sick in India. Good or bad, I was on my way to a more pleasing weight, at least!

But, with my Libra balancing tendencies, what goes up must come back down, and what goes down must eventually go back up. Nobody said constant balance-seeking was a gift. In fact, sometimes it feels like I struggle against myself. Pushing and pulling. Winning and losing at the same time.

July found me at both a high and low point - much like going out on a Wednesday night for cocktails (which I did plenty of in the past weeks). It feels like it's going to make the week pass quicker, but Thursday morning kinda sucks. One low was the fat July 4th hot dog that lured me down a slippery slope towards steaks and chops. I tried to balance that by hitting Bikram class more and more. Yet, my motivation receded as my waistline did, and I began to go less and less. Especially because my summer social life was peaking, and suddenly became more important than self-control and will-power.

Then there was restaurant week. One big two-week-long excuse to pig out. Which is really why you haven't heard from me in a while. I only cooked once or twice, because I had little time in between social engagements this month - not to mention the "low-point" in my cooking game. The stuff I've made just hasn't been terribly noteworthy.
Kittichai
For restaurant week, I hit Kittichai for awesome cocktails, yummy shrimp salad, juicy curry steak and (of course) wines. Plural. Snobby bartenders, but otherwise totally cool.

Fabio Piccolo Fiore
Inside Fabio Piccolo Fiore
There was also a gluttonous (non-restaurant-week) night out at our fave Italian restaurant, Fabio, where we're treated like family and the wine flows oh-so-freely! And did I mention the perfectly cooked salmon that I've never been able to recreate at home? Outstanding.

Trio of Guacamoles at Toloache
And then I had another (giant) steak at Toloache chased with ice cold Pacifico, fruit guacamole and various desserts. And only two days later, Asia De Cuba, with (several) lovely Latin cocktails, a killer calamari green-salad and a disappointingly boring and improperly accompanied barbecue chicken.

Inside Asia de Cuba
Asia de Cuba food and lounge
I was just trying to get through hump month. Can you blame a girl?

It's not all bad to let go sometimes, throw caution to the wind, enjoy several cocktails, nosh on something naughty and take a break from being healthy. But when you let it go on for a month, you might need to rebalance, reset, and rethink the next one.

In August: eat better, stay social, exercise more, be balanced.




Monday, July 11, 2011

Za’atar Grilled Chicken Tenders with Yogurt Sauce



...and yet the experimentation with  Za'atar continues... 

This time I was thinking Middle-Eastern traveling due North (once again) to Greece. How about seasoning some chicken very simply with za'atar for just a hint of seasoning? And why not serve it with some tzatziki-style yogurt.


Grilled chicken and yogurt is a no-brainer. Both healthy. Both tasty. Together, a simple and refreshing summer dinner.

Za’atar Grilled Chicken Tenders with Yogurt Sauce
3-4 servings
For the chicken:
1 lb boneless Chicken Tenders
2 T olive oil
¼ C fresh lemon juice
Sea Salt & Pepper
2 T – 3 T Za’atar seasoning

Cucumber yogurt sauce:
6-8 oz plain Greek yogurt
¼ C diced English (seedless) cucumber
1 T chopped fresh mint
1 T fresh lemon juice
Salt & Pepper to taste

Combine chicken tenders with oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and za’atar in a large Ziploc bag. Marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Meanwhile, mix together the yogurt sauce ingredients. Cover and chill.

Let chicken rest at room temperature at least 10 minutes while the grill or grill pan heats up. Grill on each side until cooked through, about 5-6 minutes per side.

Serve hot grilled chicken with a bowl yogurt sauce on the side.

Friday, July 8, 2011

What To Do With Fresh Corn


Corn season is upon us!

There's so much you can do with fresh corn. Here are some of my favorites:

Parmesan Baked Corn 
Leftover boiled corn cobs dotted with butter, sprinkled with salt, pepper, parmesan cheese and paprika. Baked on tinfoil (any temp) until cheese melts.



Use corn in enchiladas - like this Refried Bean Enchilada




What's your favorite way to eat fresh summer corn?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Strawberry Gingerale


Have you ever gotten a pint of strawberries home from the store, only to find that all the ones hidden in the middle are half-rotten? It's quite irritating.

Instead of throwing them out, or just letting them sit in there while you eat the others, save them by rinsing and trimming off all the bad parts. Remove the leaves and slice them up into a container. Sprinkle with a little sugar and honey, stir them up, and put them in the fridge for later.


The sugar-marinated strawberries become a sweet, syrupy, treat overnight. You can use them on yogurt, ice cream, over toast or waffles, or blended up in drinks.


Yesterday, I had just such a half-rotten pint of strawberries arrive with my groceries. There was stupid red juice all over the counter. I was pissed. Until I realized I had already bought strawberries the day before, and now I have 2 pints. So I took all the bad ones, a few extra, and sliced them up with sugar and some really good honey from India. Today I made them into mind-blowingly delicious strawberry gingerale!

Strawberry Gingerale
1-1/2 C sliced strawberries
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp honey
3/4 C Gingerale
Mix strawberries, sugar and honey. Cover and chill overnight. 

With a blender or hand-held blender, puree the strawberry mixture. Pour into a glass and top with gingerale. Mix, and drink immediately.

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