Thursday, July 31, 2008

Primordial Slime Dip

The mother of all dips. Here in CA we are able to get a steady supply of fresh, unbruised perfectly ripe avocados. The rest of you get those hard as rock or beat to a pulp rotted ones...or worse frozen dip at the warehouse stores. Ugga.

So what else do you do with them but make the original better than store bought guac, you make the Ultimate Primordial Slime Dip. Don't exactly remember where I got the name from a bajillion years ago when I moved to LA but I still use it. The name raises eyebrows and is some outright tasty stuff.
Primordial Slime Dip
  • 4 medium ripe avocados
  • 2 limes
  • 2 green onions
  • 1/2 c salsa fresca
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 5-10 drops Tabasco
  • 1/4 c fresh chopped cilantro
  • salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste.
Cut the avocados into halves and scoop out the flesh, make certain to clean out the skin of all the darker green goodness. Juice the limes over the avocado and mash with a potato masher to your desired consistency...I like chunks not fine puree. Thinly slice the green onion and add to the avocado mixture. Add the salsa fresca, garlic, Tabasco and cilantro. Fold in gently. Salt and Pepper to taste. It can be eaten right away but is best if you lay plastic wrap directly on the dip and then put on a tight lid and let the flavors blend for an hour or so. The plastic wrap directly on the dip will prevent it from turning dark. Store unused portions the same way.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Braised Beef Short Ribs Provencal

Some days I just want something beefy. Something really hardy. Beef Short Ribs are a good way to go on the cheap. It is a tougher cut of meat that needs a long slow cooking, either stewing or braising to make it fork tender.

Beef Short Ribs are a good cut to work with. Bone-in when you can get them as that adds even more flavor to the final dish. The added boner to the deal, pun intended is that if you like the marrow you have a nice bit in each bone.

This recipe is a combination of a couple of Beef Burgundy recipes. French food isn't always about pissy saucing and fancy prep taking hours. A large majority I have found to be very simple for both categories. Provence is in the southern part of France where they can grow citrus and you find it in a lot of their cooking. Ditto things like tarragon and thyme.

The end result is a dish very close to what I had for lunch one day in Paris last year. The only thing I have not been able to duplicate or find a recipe for is the lentil stew that the Mono Prix Cafe served along side their braised beef short ribs. Someday maybe?

Braised Beef Short Ribs Provencal

  • 4 - 4 1/2 lbs Beef Short Ribs
  • 1 c all purpose flour
  • 1/4 c Montreal Brand Steak Seasoning
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 c carrot
  • 1T chopped garlic
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1 T tarragon
  • 1 T Thyme
  • 1 T parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 can beef broth (12 oz)
  • 2 c +/- red wine
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 6T butter
  • olive oil

Mix flour and steak seasoning. Dredge beef short rib through flour and coat well. In fry pan over medium-high heat add a couple of tablespoons olive oil and 2T butter. (Oil keeps butter from burning). Add beef short ribs to hot pan. Sear each side well. Do in batchs so the ribs get a good seared crust.

Put seared short ribs on platter while cooking up the others. Reserve the unused flour mixture. When done with the searing deglaze pan with 1C wine. Scrape up all the bits from the bottom.
Set pan and all the bits aside.

While searing the beef in heavy large dutch oven heat over medium flame. Coarse chop onion. Cut carrots into 1/2" thick cubes. Add 2T oil and 2 T butter. Add carrots and onion. Add tarragon, thyme and parsley. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir often until soft and onion is beginning to caramelize., about 10-15 minutes. Add garlic, orange zest and cook 1 minute, being careful to not burn the garlic. Deglaze pan with the beef broth, scraping up the brown bits.

Add the reserved beef ribs to the dutch oven include any juices that collected on the bottom of the bowl. Add the wine from the deglazed skillet. Add another cup of so of wine to the dutch oven to just cover the beef short ribs. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning as needed.

Bring to a boil then cover with the lid. Reduce heat to simmer and 1 1/2-2 hours. (Or put in 300F oven for same time period).

At end of cooking period take 2T of the reserved flour seasoning mixture and 2T butter. Cut butter into the flour with a fork to make a beurre manie'. Add the beurre manie in little bits and stir in well to make a thick gravy.

Serve with small boiled herbed potato or mashed potato on the side.

Use just enough oil to coat the vegies and stir often so they cook evenly. Salt at this stage helps the vegies sweat out their liquid and caramelize faster.

It is really important to get a good sear and crust on the ribs as that color is flavor.

You get the idea...damn new camera phone is extra sensitive to jiggles but you get the idea.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mixed Berry Cobbler

Everyone has their favorite dessert type. Mine is fruit pies, cobblers and crisps. There is something special about that warm syrupy fruit with a pastry...topped with iced cream or whipped cream that just ends the day perfectly.

For me I do not have a "pastry hand". I can't do pie dough to save my freaking life. Many a dough tossed before those premade crusts showed up on the market.

My all time favorite still is a Cobbler I learned to make in High School. Never failed me but there are a couple of tricks to it. The key is timing...depending on the fruit and its moisture content your baking time can vary widely. With really moist fruit it has taken me nearly 30 minutes longer than the "recommended time" to get the dough portion to set. Trust me, when done right it is a rich caramelly chewy and crunchy topping perfect foil to the warm soft fruit. Worth the frustration until you nail it. I'll probably toss of other variations with other fruit as time goes so you get the idea on how versatile this really is.

Mixed Berry Cobbler
  • 2 12 oz frozen mixed berry
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 T corn starch
  • 1 C all purpose flour
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 egg - beaten
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/4 t baking powder
  • 1 stick butter melted.

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly toss fruit sugar and corn starch. Put into 8X8 glass baking pan.

Add sugar, flour, salt and baking powder to mixing bowl. Toss lightly to distribute. Add whisk attachment to mixer and set at medium speed. Slowly pour in the egg mixture. Mix about 3 - 5 minutes until the dough resembles coarse sand.

Sprinkle the dough mixture evenly over the berry mixture. Pour melted butter evenly over the dough mix.

Bake 60-75 minutes. It could be longer depending on the wetness of the berry mixture. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

It is entertaining to watch the whisk spin in the bowl...

Perfect example of the dough mixture at the right texture.

Stooopid easy dinner

I love to eat. I love to cook. Somedays one just hasn't got the time, energy for doing up a big meal. Enter Fresh & Easy, a new market idea in the LA Area. Am a fan, but then again I knew they were coming for a couple of years before the first store opened near me in Arcadia.

Fresh & Easy is owned by the UK Giant Tesco. This is the small neighborhood market with a huge selection of ready to cook dinners. A life saver when live just grinds you too tired to be productive. Between it and Costco I rarely go to a regular grocery store anymore.

Doctoring is the key to making the store bought stuff better and "your own". I started with their nifty Pork Medallions with Chipotle Cream Sauce. Garnish was easy...topped it with F&E Roast Peppers after I browned them off then poured on the Chipotle Cream.

I served it over my "latin rice" which is a easy toss together with staples I always have on hand. In this case salsa and canned roasted peppers. Add in the F&E Cheesey Brocolli and dinner is done in 8 minutes.

Easy Latin Rice

  • 1 can chicken broth
  • 1 can Minute Rice
  • 1 T dried chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 C salsa fresca
  • 1/4 c coarse chopped roasted pepper.

Add broth, rice and cilantro to Microwave proof bowl. Heat on HIGH for 5 minutes until it comes to a simmer. Let sit covered 5 minutes. Just before serving add salsa fresca and roasted pepper. Toss with fork and it is ready to go.

There you go a stupid easy dinner that looks and tastes like you busted your hump getting it out in 10 minutes.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Strawberry Lemonade Fruit Spread

As a little kid we lived in the UP of Michigan, yes, I am born a "yooper" and quite proud of it. Every summer at the end of July into early August the strawberry's ripened on the farms north of us along Lake Superior around Calument, Houghton over to Ontanogon. My grandparents living in Minnesota would come for a short visit and it ended with strawberry picking. We'd fill the trunk of his old Galaxy Sedan with Berry's, we'd fill the back of our old Country Squire Wagon with berry's and head home. Other than a picnic lunch along Lake Superior we'd just pick berry's for what seemed an eternity (I was 5 at the time so who remembers how long we really were there).

Even after we moved to MO my grandparents for years made the drive to the UP for berry picking. When I was in high school I went along for the ride one day. From Ely to Houghton was some 8 hours of driving, 328 Miles. My grandparents were in their 70's at the time and I had just started driving, I was sent to go along in case Grandpa got tired and needed help driving back. Didn't happen. We left at 1AM and got to town for breakfast around 9. By 10 we were in the fields and started picking berry's. Breaking long enough to enjoy sandwiches Grams packed then back to the picking. By 3 PM we were on the road home and back by 10PM that night. Grandpa drove the whole thing, which was fun as his ancient 68 Galaxy had neither power steering nor power brakes and I don't think I was up to manhandling a car like that then (I was still a runt at 16).

Enough of the diversions and back to the point of this post. Fresh Strawberry Jams were always a big deal growing up. My Mom and Grandmother would make dozens of jars of jam from all those flats. Some would be simply sliced and frozen for shortcake right way, others would be frozen for shortcake in the winter.

Both of my Grandmothers were always cooking up small batches of jam. Living in Northern Minnesota they always were out in the woods picking little batches of berries for eating fresh, baking pies or simply making small batches of spreads. You haven't lived until you have had real wild strawberry, raspberry or blueberry fruit spreads. Nothing comes close in the store to the intense flavor they have.

In So Cal by the time July rolls around we are a few months past peak berry season. The stores have cheap flats of strawberry that are so ripe if you don't use in a day or so they start getting mushy and soft. Those over-ripe berries according to my Mom is what is perfect for making jam and spreads.

I didn't have enough for a full batch today, but I do remember watching my Grandmothers make small batches and it is really easy to do. If you can boil water you can make your own fruit spread, it is that easy. I use lemon juice for small batches as it contains the natural jelling agent pectin to help it set. I also use the peel to up the lemon quotient...more like strawberry lemonade than plain strawberry jam.

Strawberry Lemonade Fruit Spread

1 1/2 lb strawberry, halved
1/2 c sugar
1/4 corn syrup
2 T water
1 small lemon - zested and juiced.

Put the first four ingredients into a heavy, wide sauce pot. It must be heavy to prevent scorching and wide enough to evaporate off the moisture. Zest the lemon with a rasp and add to the strawberry mixture. Slowly bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir occasionally. Reduce heat to low simmer for 5 minutes. Use a potato masher or similar to mash down the berry's to the consistency you like, I use very light mashing as I like to see big chunks of fruit in the spread.

Simmer for 15-20 minutes until the berry mixture is reduced by 1/3 - 1/2 and starting to thicken. Add lemon juice and stir in well. Using a spoon carefully skim off as much of the foam as possible.

Pour the fruit spread into a sterilized jar and seal lid. When lid "pops" you know it is sealed and you can put away into fridge to let it set at least 24 hours before using . This makes about 2 cups which is a nice use for left over fruit.

Slow simmer to reduce, stir carefully so you don't coat the sides and have scorching.
For gawds the foam, that fruit scum is great on wonder bread!
Everything needs to be sterile for storing. Boil the funnel, jar, lid and ring for at least 5 minutes before filling. Everything needs to be hot when being filled to prevent contamination.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ravioli in Alfredo Sauce with Fresh Tomato and Basil

Some days its about doing it stupid easy. In my house Ravioli, the Costco Kirkland Brand frozen 4 cheese is a hit. Some like marinara which is a lot healthier as it is lower in fat. Others like it in Alfredo only. Being the lazy cook in the summer I look for short cuts with as much pre-made stuff and tart it up with fresh herb and veg.

Last nights dinner was just that. A jarred Alfredo served as a base. It is really too thick and pasty for my taste though one of my picky eaters is a total fuss budget and likes it that way. For her I pour off about 2/3 c of the sauce and heat it separately for her. The rest I thin with non-fat milk then I move on to bringing it up a notch via doctoring with the fresh herb and veg for the rest of us.

Ravioli in Alfredo Sauce with Fresh Tomato and Basil
  • 1 12 oz 4 Brothers Alfredo Sauce
  • 1/2 c non-fat milk
  • 1/2 c julienned basil
  • 1 c halved grape tomato
  • 24 Kirkland 4 cheese Ravioli'
  • Parmesan for garnish
Thaw the ravioli and bring them to room temp under a damp towel to prevent drying. Doing this they cook faster with less chance of overcooking or puffing up and leaking filling.

Mix the Alfredo sauce, 1/4 c fresh basil. Warm gently, do not boil as it will curdle. Cook pasta in boiling well salted water. Add to Alfredo sauce, toss in the tomatoes about a minute before serving to allow them to just warm through and get their juices into the sauce.

Serve up 6 ravioli per person with sauce and tomatoes. Garnish with about 1T julienned basil from the reserved basil. Add grated Parmesan, I prefer it thin sliced for nicer bites but you can do a fine grated.

For gawds sake use the real deal Parmesano Reggiano not that canned powder stuff, there is a huge difference and fresh when bought in a big enough chunk is the better value.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Salmon Patties part II

I like to eat healthy when I can. Certainly I'm not fanatical about it so I work on the moderation principle a lot. A staple in our house is seafood. Costco has big bags of frozen Salmon (farm raised) and true wild caught Cod Filets. I think the latter should worry me because I'm not certain of the sustainability issues. But damn it all Jim (star trek reference people, Star Trek), the stuff tastes good so I splurge on occassions.

I'm a huge fan of crab cakes. Salmon cakes or salmon patties are made on the same principle and WAY cheaper. This I came up with a little experimentation. It isn't exactly low fat, but it does have a lot of the omega3 fatty acids from the salmon so there is at least some balance. Serve with a salad dressed with the same dressing on the Salmon Patties and its a done deal all tied nicely together.

Salmon Patties

  • 1 1/2 lb salmon filets (about 4 thin costco frozen)
  • 1 t Old Bay Seasoning
  • Sea Salt to taste
  • cracked black pepper to taste
  • 3 green onions -finely sliced, separating the white and green tops.
  • 1 celery stalk - finely diced
  • 1 medium carrot - finely diced
  • 1/3 c canned roasted pepper - coarse chopped
  • 1 T chopped garlic
  • 2 T butter
  • 1/2 sea salt
  • 1 C panko bread crumbs + additional for breading
  • 1 t Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1 t Colemans Dry Mustard
  • 1 t dried dill weed
  • 2 T mayo
  • 1 egg
  • Fresh lettuce greens and salad dressing (I use honey mustard)

Thaw and pat dry the salmon filets. Sprinkle salt, pepper and Old Bay over the filets. I micro roast them in an 8X8 pyrex pan tightly sealed with plastic wrap over them. The steam gently in their own juices and the carry over cooking finishes them off nicely. I use a 1500 Micro so you may need to alter the time a bit to match your power level. I cook full power 3 minutes, then cook 4 minutes at 30% power. Let stand 7 minutes covered tightly. As the dish cools the plastic wrap will draw tight around the salmon sealing in its juices.

Coarsely chop and flake the salmon filets and stick in fridge to cool them down.

Chop vegetables. In a small sautee pan add butter, white onion parts, Old Bay and salt. Cook until translucent. Add dry mustard, dill weed, celery and carrot, cook 5 minutes until the carrot starts to soften. Add chopped roasted peppers and garlic, cook only 1 minute so you don't burn the garlic. Remove from heat.

Bring salmon out of fridge, add veg the reserved green onion tops and toss lightly. Add 1 Cup panko crumbs and toss lightly. Do not stir hard or you will just get fine crumbled salmon instead of nice big identifiable chunks. Beat egg and mayo. Pour over the salmon and fold lightly. Let rest a couple of minutes.

Get a large non-stick baking sheet. Form the salmon mixture into 8 patties about the size of a large hamburger if using as a meal. Make smaller - 24 pieces if using as little cocktail appetizers.

Place the patties on the sheet. cover lightly with foil or plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes to up to 2 hours. This step is really important. If you do not chill and let them rest to tighten up they will just fall part when you cook them.

Preheat non-stick griddle over medium heat. Either spray with light cooking oil or brush on ghee (I use the latter for better browning). Put about 1 c panko into a bowl for breading your patties. Put a patty in the panko and tap lightly into the crumbs. Gently turn the patty over and repeat with the other side. Repeat for each patty. Place patty on griddle and cook about 2 minutes until golden brown on the bottom, flip the patty and cook the other side.

Serve hot like I did tonight with a drizzle of the same dressing I used on the salad greens. Perfect summer dinner that even my picky eaters will enjoy.

Lightly chop across the grain so you have large pieces of salmon that are lightly flaked

Sautee the vegies until translucent to release the natural sugars

Cook each side until lightly browned and heated through, serve hot.

Monday, July 14, 2008

July is Schnitza Month

It is pronounced: sch -NEET- za, also known as "french toast" or "eggy bread". Yup, all us mutts have a different name for the same food. Growing up I first knew it as Schnitza as that is what my grandmother called it. Hey...she was first generation Slovene-American and who am I to argue with grandma when she's cooking.

Every July when I was a kid we spent a few weeks in Ely MN visiting my grandparents and other family. Every year on the morning we left Ely for the drive home Grandma made a big breakfast for us. That breakfast for us kids ALWAYS included schnitza. It never deviated. (She did include these huge cinnamon carmel rolls that she made for the many years she worked at Vertin's Cafe, but that would be another post for another time).

When I was really little the hot schnitza was simply sprinkled with good old fashioned table sugar. Later years we started adding maple syrup which just takes it one step sweeter.

My grandmother was among many who taught me to cook and bake as a kid. My kids enjoy cooking and you can't start them too early. This morning my youngest decided he had to make "schnitza" for breakfast and we went at it. Enjoy the recipe and toss a salute schnitza makers everywhere!


2 slices bread, cut on diagonal
1 egg
1 T milk
1/4 t vanilla

sugar and maple syrup.

Preheat griddle over medium heat. Beat egg, milk and vanilla. Add bread one slice at time, turning to coat. Stack bread in the bowl and let it soak up all the egg mixture. Grease your griddle and add your slices. Cook until brown (1-2 minutes) then flip and cook the other side until it is brown. Serve hot. Sprinkle on sugar and add syrup if desired.

Coat each side of the bread well...
make sure the bread soaks up all the liquid...
fry up on a medium hot well greased griddle...

Sprinkle with sugar, only sugar for the authentic schnitza taste and look...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Shrimp Chowder...semi-light version

I'm generally not a big "chowder" fan. It is usually too rich or too pasty to really sit down and enjoy a big bowl of the stuff. I suspect the former is from recipes that call for heavy cream at the end and the latter for too much flour used to thicken that just doesn't get cooked well. Regardless not many really get me going.

I was watching food TV earlier this year and so many shows were doing chowders and the many variations. One of the episodes, I suspect it was Barefoot Contessa, that had a seafood chowder and recommended using a shrimp stock. It was interesting as it was made from the left over shells and stuff after the raw shrimp was used for something else. Around that time I had a shrimp recipe that called for peeled and deveined shrimp and I decide to use those remnants to make some stock and then just can it for future use.

Last night I got the bug to do shrimp chowder and figured out how to make it somewhat lighter than the traditional recipes I kept seeing. I eliminated the cream/half & half/whole milk and increased my stock and used instant mashed potatoes to thicken and give the soup more body. I worked. I got a lower fat per serving and still had a nice thick soup that wasn't pasty.

Shrimp Chowder
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 large yellow onion
  • 2 large carrots
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 2 large russet potatoes
  • 1 t Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1 t sea salt
  • 1 whole bay leaf
  • 1 t fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 t cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 c chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 6 c shrimp stock
  • 1/2 - 3/4 c instant mashed potato
  • 1 1/2 pound peeled/deveined raw or previously cooked shrimp

Melt butter in large stock pot. Finely dice onion and add to pot, cook about 5 minutes. Finely dice celery and carrot, add to pot. Add salt and black pepper. Cook 10 minutes until onion is translucent and very soft. Cut potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes add to pot with cayenne, Old Bay, bay leaf and shrimp stock. Bring to boil then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes covered.

Remove lid and add 1/2 c mashed potato and stir well until dissolved and soup begins to thicken. Depending on brand you may need to add additional instant mashed potato to get the right consistency. Add the additional amounts 1 tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.

Add shrimp to soup. If using raw cook until they are pink, 3-5 minutes. If using previously cooked add to pot and cook 1-2 minutes until heated through. Stir in chopped parsley.

Shrimp stock:
6 cups water
1/2 large onion rough chopped
1 large carrot chopped
1 large stalk celery chopped
1 bay leaf
1 T Old Bay
shrimp shells from 1 1/2 - 2 pounds of raw shrimp.

Add onion, carrot, celery and spices to water in large stock pot. Bring to boil and simmer until onion is clear. Add shrimp shells and cook 5 minutes. Strain well. Pour stock into freezer container and freeze until ready to use. OR you may bring strained stock to a boil then pour into sterile canning jars and sealing with "pop" lids and refrigerate up to 4 weeks. I prefer the latter option as it tastes fresher that way.

It is fun to serve in small sourdough bread bowls but those tend to be hard to find. I opted to use sourdough mini-loafs which were just fine, just not the same pissy presentation you get in the usual bread bowl.

This does make a big batch of soup and the butter winds up being pretty nominal when divided into 8 big servings.