Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Springtime foods bring fresh flavors!!!!.... try something new.....

Welcome to Spring. Our weather has been nearly perfect the last few days (in between the strong winds that sometime pass through..), with daytime highs around 73 degrees and nighttime temperatures of about 45. Sunny, clear & blue skies..... Very nice! Perfect weather for convertibles which you see more and more on the Strip during this time of year.....

Everything is in bloom here and while this means lovely green leaves and new flowers springing up, it also means heavy duty pollen counts all over the valley which has Ricardo and Rene locked up inside and under air conditioning to try and minimize exposure and suffering. I'm not allergic so it doesn't bother me and so I can take advantage of the lovely weather and sunny skies during my frequent errands around town.

Spring also means the start of the several Farmer's Markets being held in different areas of town. There is also a movement in the northern part of the city which is associated with the local college and displays while teaching environmentally responsible ways to grow quality produce under our very extreme climate. I was thinking of signing up for the seminar yet without some land to grow plants on it wouldn't exactly let me practice my new knowledge. Local culinary professionals are also very interested in the Slow Food Movement which I follow and firmly believe that it will bring improved health and welfare to all and while it might mean more work, the results are definitely worth the effort. Now if they could just incorporate it into the school system.....

With all this in mind, I've tried to change our menu's a bit to "go with the flow" and present seasonal ingredients into our menu. There's nothing like fresh, quality ingredients for better health and all around improved outlook. Plus it just tastes better too! Yum!.....

Here are some great ideas you might consider for Spring:

Ham, Swiss Cheese and Pear Salad with a Mustard-Caraway Vinaigrette.- Doesn't this sound tasty? Quick to prepare and low in calories too..... plus lots of taste!

12 oz Swiss cheese cut in thin slices
12 oz Ham cut in thin slices
1 lb firm pears (about 3 med pears), peeled and cored, cut in small wedges
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the dressing:
5 tbl Dijon mustard (you can use coarse ground mustard too)
8 tbl white wine vinegar (you can use Mirin too if you like)
5 tbl vegetable oil (like canola, you can also change it)
4-8 tbl water
1 tsp caraway seeds
4 tsp parsley leaves, very finely minced

In a large salad bowl, toss together Swiss cheese, ham and pears, mixing well. Mix in pepper to taste.

For the dressing, place the mustard in a separate mixing bowl. Whisk in white wine vinegar in a thin stream; this should thin it some. Whisk in oil in a thin stream; the dressing should be thick and creamy. Slowly add the water, between 4-8 tsp, to thin the dressing out; be careful not to add too much or the dressing might separate. Remember that vinaigrette is thinner and lighter than regular salad dressing. Add caraway seeds and parsley. Mix well. Add the dressing to the salad, mixing thoroughly. Season to taste with salt. Serve.
NOTE: You could also make the vinaigrette and put the ham & pears in a glass dish with some of the dressing to "marinate" for a little while and finally add the rest of the ingredients once you're ready to serve. You could also add walnuts, raisins, apples, baby greens, beets, croutons, etc. to this salad if you like.

Here's an easy Balsamic Vinaigrette to make. You can use this dressing for almost anything! It has wonderful taste....

5 tbl olive oil
2 tbl balsamic vinegar
2 tbl shallots, minced
1/2 tbl garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

In small bowl mix all ingredients well, preferably with a whisk. Enjoy.

Lamb with Spicy Tomatillo Sauce.- This is a wonderful dish, traditionally served in Oaxaca and made with Lamb but you could use short ribs or pork if you like.

1/2 oz dried avocado leaves
4 lb beef short ribs, pork or lamb shanks
2 oz dried costeño rojo chiles, wiped clean (you can use Guajillo Chilies too)
2 1/4 lb fresh tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1/2 onion, cut in quarters
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 1/2 cups chopped cilantro
2 tbl vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 300°F. Put avocado leaves in bottom of a heavy medium pot with a tight-fitting lid. Sprinkle short ribs all over with 2 tsp salt and arrange in pot (it doesn’t have to be in 1 layer). Roast, covered, until meat is very tender, about 3 hours. Meat will release some juices.

Meanwhile, slit chiles lengthwise, then stem, seed, and devein. In a dry, hot pan, toast chilies until fragrant, first on one side then the other, don't burn, about 1-2 min. Tear chiles into 1" pieces (about 1 1/2 cups). Transfer to a bowl. (Chiles will crisp as they cool.) Cover the chilies with hot water and allow to rest for at least 30min so they will get soft.

Cover tomatillos with water in a medium saucepan and simmer, uncovered, until tender, about 10 min or they change color (they will turn a dull green). Drain well, then purée with chiles, onion, garlic, cilantro, and 1 1/2 tsp salt in a blender (in batches if necessary) until chiles are ground to small flecks. You can run through a sieve if you don't want small chile pieces in the sauce or leave as is. Transfer short ribs to a cutting board to cool. Strain meat juices remaining in pot into a glass measuring cup. Let fat rise to top and skim off. Coarsely chop or shred meat, discarding bones. (you could leave it whole if you like or turn it into a "pulled" meat.

Heat oil in a heavy medium pot over med-high heat until it shimmers, then cook one fourth of tomatillo sauce (it will spatter), stirring, until slightly thickened, about 2 min. Add remaining sauce and meat juices and simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 min. Add meat. Thin sauce with water if necessary. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 4 min.

Meat can be roasted and shredded 3 days ahead and chilled. Chill juices separately; discard solidified fat. Meat in sauce can be made 2 days ahead and chilled (covered once cool).
NOTE: You can also add small corn cobs, zucchini, carrot, etc. and turn it into a heartier and more complete dish if you like or use as pulled meat with sauce.

Southern Buttermilk Pudding Cake.- A very easy cake that you make in no time and everyone will love! We love buttermilk....

3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs
3/4 cup whole or low-fat buttermilk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
9 tbl plus 1 tsp sugar
4 tbl (1/2 stick) butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
Nonstick cooking spray
2 cups (8 oz) fresh raspberries or your choice
Whipped cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 425 F with rack positioned in the top third of the oven. Sift together flour and baking powder in a large bowl. In another large bowl beat eggs until creamy and yellow. Whisk in buttermilk, vanilla, 5 tbl plus 1 tsp sugar, and butter (mixture will look curdled and broken). Slowly add flour and whisk until batter is smooth and combined.

Spray 8 standard-size (3 oz) nonstick muffin pan cups with nonstick cooking spray. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin pan cups, filling about two-thirds full. Transfer to oven and bake until sides of cakes are evenly browned (check by inserting a knife tip between the rim of cake and muffin cup, pulling gently to expose side of cake), about 9 min. If cakes are not evenly browned, they will not hold together when inverted. Continue baking, checking every minute, until evenly browned.

Meanwhile, place raspberries in a medium bowl; add remaining 4 tbl sugar and gently toss to coat. Invert cakes onto eight individual plates. Place berries on top and alongside cakes; serve with whipped cream, if desired.

Old Fashioned Chocolate Pudding Icebox Cake.- Remember these? Easy to make and no baking! What a great idea for warmer days.....

3 3/4 cups milk
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise and scraped, or 1 tbl vanilla extract
8 large egg yolks
1/3 cup Dutch-processed unsweetened cocoa powder
4 1/2 tbl cornstarch
9 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 tbl cold butter, cut into pieces
15 whole rectangular graham crackers
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbl powdered sugar

In a large saucepan, combine 3 cups milk, half-and-half, 1/2 cup plus 2 tbl sugar, salt, and vanilla bean and seeds, if using. Place saucepan over med-high heat and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, in a large heat-proof bowl, whisk together egg yolks, remaining 1/2 cup plus 2 tbl sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and remaining 3/4 cup milk. Whisking constantly, gradually pour the hot milk mixture into the egg yolk mixture. Set a fine-mesh sieve over saucepan and strain custard mixture back into saucepan. Bring to a boil over med heat, whisking constantly. Boil, whisking, until mixture thickens to a pudding like consistency, about 10 seconds. Remove vanilla bean, if using, and discard.

Transfer custard mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add chocolate and beat on med speed until chocolate is melted and mixture has cooled slightly, 2 to 3 min. Beat in vanilla extract, if using. Beat in butter, a little at a time, and continue beating until chocolate is entirely melted and mixture is cool, 5 to 10 min more.

Layer the bottom of an 8-inch-square baking dish with 1/3 of the graham crackers, breaking up crackers as needed to create a snug, even layer. Spoon 1/3 of the pudding mixture on top; smooth top. Repeat process twice using remaining graham crackers and pudding, to create a total of 3 layers of each. Transfer to refrigerator; refrigerate until chilled, 2 to 3 hours. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together heavy cream and powdered sugar until medium peaks form. Spread whipped cream over chilled cake and serve.
NOTE: This is a pudding cake, ok? This means lots of eggs for a rich, creamy pudding and lots of taste. It's wonderful.....

Okay guys, I'm off because I'm making the Buttermilk Cakes for my family. I've already started preparing the Oaxacan Tomatillo Meat dish, but I'm using short ribs and leaving them whole (we like them like this), the meat is started and I've got some rice cooking on the stove with corn and peas, we'll have a salad on the side too. Oh, almost forgot to mention that I'm cooking the meat in my trusty old "pressure cooker" and will finish it there too. Such a time saver! Makes long cooking dishes an everyday possibility! I'm working on some recipes to use in the pressure cooker and will be sharing these soon.

Hope everyone has a lovely Spring day..... talk soon!

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