In Memory of Guillermo Castro: Picadillo Taquitos con Salsa Fresca

This blog post is dedicated to a dear man who left us too soon on July 18th, 2011.  Guillermo Castro, a Birmingham restauranteur and all around amazing guy changed the face of Latin cuisine in the city with the opening of his restaurant, Sol y Luna in 1998.  He continued to innovate by opening Los Angeles, a restaurant that included influences from Latin and Caribbean cultures, and later, Cantina Tortilla Grill, which celebrates street food.  Guillermo was also integral to the Dia De Los Muertos festival, a non-profit festival held in Downtown Birmingham as well as a multitude of other local community and charity events.  The list of his vast accomplishments goes on and on.  He was someone who left an indelible impression on the city–he was someone who we fondly called a friend.  *(featured image courtesy of al.com)

I started going to Sol y Luna when it first opened.  I was barely twenty and it seemed exotic and glamorous to me at the time (it still does).  More often than not, my just about life-long friend, April and I would go together.  Her parents were very close to Guillermo and introduced us to him.  We’ve celebrated just about every birthday at Sol y Luna or Cantina, countless girls nights and dates, engagement celebrations, baby showers, New Years Eve Celebrations and Cinco de Mayo.  My husband and I even had our rehearsal dinner at Cantina because, well, we couldn’t imagine having it anywhere else.  And Guillermo was always a there with a hug, a kiss on each cheek, and a kind word (okay, and maybe a shot or two of tequila).  I can’t imagine him not being there.

April's Birthday at Sol y Luna
Our Rehearsal Dinner at Cantina

When Guillermo and I were looking over the menu for our rehearsal dinner, I asked him for a recommendation of where to go for our honeymoon.  We knew we wanted to go to Mexico and Guillermo, being a native of Guadalajara had some savvy recommendations.  We went to all of the wonderful places he spoke to me about and made priceless memories.  It is his influence on our special trip that helped me choose just what to cook for this “In Memory” post.

While on the Puerto Vallarta leg of our honeymoon journey, we enjoyed a dish called, Chiles en Nogada–poblano peppers roasted, then stuffed with picadillo, served chilled with a sweet, creamy walnut sauce.  When I recreated the dish for our one-year anniversary, I was inspired to use the leftover filling to make taquitos, and boy am I glad that I did!  Simply delicious!  I think Guillermo would approve.

Taquito Ingredients

How to fill and fry


The finished taquitos

Picadillo Taquitos

Makes 12-15 taquitos

This could easily be a vegetarian dish.  Just double your vegetables.  Leftover picadillo freezes well and is great in stuffed peppers too!

Filling:

3/4 pound ground beef or pork

1 cup of chicken, beef, or vegetable broth

1 stick of cinnamon and 1 bay leaf tied together with kitchen twine

1 teaspoon dried oregano (Mexican oregano if you can find it)

1 medium onion, diced

1 medium tomato, seeded and diced

1 large carrot, shredded

1 zucchini, shredded

1 sweet potato, shredded

1 cup of shredded cabbage

1/2 cup Giardiniera or pickled mixed vegetables, finely chopped

4 ounces of blanched almonds, finely chopped

1/4 cup golden raisins

Optional: 1/4 cup spanish olives, chopped

2 Tablespoons of  honey

1/2 lemon, sliced paper thin

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

In a small sauce pan, dissolve 1/2 cup of sugar in 1/2 cup of water by stirring over medium heat.  When sugar is dissolved, add lemon slices.  Turn heat down to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes.  Drain lemon slices and finely chop.  The remaining syrup is great in cocktails, over ice cream, or mixed with sparkling water.  Meanwhile, Cook the ground beef/pork in a large saute pan on medium heat in 1 cup of broth with cinnamon stick/bay leaf and oregano (a bullion cube and some water would work here too) until browned, about 10 minutes, breaking the meat up with a spoon as it cooks.  Add the chopped onion, shredded potato, carrot, zucchini, tomato, cabbage, chopped lemon, and giardiniera.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  Add almonds, raisins, olives (if using) and honey and simmer for 10 more minutes.  Remove cinnamon stick/bay leaf.  Remove from heat and cool.

Taquitos:

Cooked Filling (see above)

1 Package of small corn tortillas

1 egg, beaten

vegetable oil

Dampen a kitchen towel and wrap the tortillas in the towel.  Microwave the wrapped tortillas for 1 minute.  Check to see if tortillas are warm and pliable.  If not, microwave for 30 more seconds.  You might have to do this a couple of times as you assemble the taquitos if the tortillas cool and start to tear.  Keep them wrapped in the warm towel as you work.  Using a slotted spoon, place about 2 tablespoons of the picadillo in the center of the tortilla.  Brush the edges with beaten egg.  Tightly roll the tortilla and filling into a cigar shape, making sure the outer edge is sealed (see picture above).  You want to make and fry these in batches.  If they sit around for too long, the moisture in the filling will make the tortillas tear.  To fry: heat about 2 inches of oil in a large sauce pan or skillet with high sides over medium high until it reaches about 350 degrees.  The oil is ready when a small piece of tortilla instantly bubbles when you put it in the oil.  Place a taquito on a slotted spoon and gently dunk into the oil.  Don’t overcrowd the pan.  Fry on the first side 1-2 minutes, or until golden then gently flip each taquito and fry for 1 more minute.  Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove and drain on a paper towel lined plate or, if you are making a lot of these and want to keep them warm, Preheat oven to 200 degrees and place a cookie sheet with a wire rack on top in the oven.  Place cooked taquitos in the oven on the wire rack.  Serve with Salsa Fresca (recipe below).  Some queso fresco would be wonderful crumbled over this dish as well.

Salsa Fresca

Salsa Fresca

Makes 3 cups–this is literally one of the easiest things in the world to make

1 1/2 pounds tomatoes (about 3 medium), seeded and roughly chopped

1/2 – 1 jalapeno (depending on how hot you like it), seeded, de-veined, and roughly chopped

a small handful of cilantro (about 1/2 c)

1 small clove garlic, roughly chopped

juice of 2 limes (about 4 tablespoons)

1 small onion, roughly chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Dump all of the ingredients in the food processor.  Process until it looks like the salsa you get at the Mexican restaurant.  You want it more saucy than chunky for this recipe–although if you are making it just for the heck of it, make it as chunky as you want.

Cheers, Guillermo!  We miss you!

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Thai Corn Bisque, or Chowder…Chowisque, Bisquder?

Thai Corn Chowder

I have a secret ingredient…  Well, it surely isn’t secret to someone because it is a marketed, purchasable ingredient buuuut it is one that I had not ever heard of until that fateful day when  Nigella Lawson introduced it on her show, Nigella Bites.  I remember first seeing the show years ago at my parents house on some cable channel that I didn’t have (they spring for the good cable, not the basic, bare plan that I have).  She was absolutely fabulous!  I fell instantly in love with the way she describes food.  She was (and still is) a lusty, curvy wordsmith who cooks with an off-the-cuff abandon that makes it all seem so easy, so fun, so…sexy.  The particular show where she introduced THE secret ingredient was one on virtuous foods that are naturally low in calories and fat.  Her philosophy is, instead of using low-fat this and that, when you want to keep things on the light side, choose dishes that are healthy in and of themselves.   When you want to splurge and eat cheese or bacon or cream, go for it and eat the real thing.  Just don’t eat it every day.  I’ll have to say that this is a philosophy that I can get behind.

On the virtuous food episode, Nigella makes a brothy Thai Hot and Sour soup with shrimp.  Simple, flavorful, aromatic, light, and dead simple.  I’ve made it numerous times and it is fabulous.  The key ingredient is this…wait for it, wait for it…It may change your life:

Tom Yum Paste

This is Tom Yum Paste.  You can get it in some grocery stores or at your local Asian market.  To find an Asian market in your area, click here.  Tom Yum paste is quite a time/ingredient saver.  It has all of the seasoning ingredients that are in the Thai coconut soup that you love so much in a paste.  Now normally, I’m a from scratch kind of girl but sometimes I don’t want to hunt down galangal root, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, shrimp paste, etc., bring it home, chop it up, and infuse a broth with it.  Sometimes I just want my soup now!  With this, all you need is some broth, a couple of scoops of Tom Yum Paste, a can of coconut milk, some mushrooms and whatever protein you like and in about 10 minutes, you have some Thai Hot and Sour.  A whole pot full for around 5-10 bucks.  Yes, please!

I decided to use my special little ingredient to take a classic and throw it in a different direction.  This time of year in Alabama, we have an abundance of corn.  Corn is sweet and delicious.  It gets along swimmingly with lots of different cuisines.  I think Corn would get along just fine with Tom Yum, oh yes indeed.

Infusing Broth
Dice potatoes into 1/2" pieces.

Thai Corn Chowderish

Serves 6-8

At the beginning of the recipe, I’ve chosen to infuse the broth with the corn cobs and some sliced ginger in addition to the Tom Yum Paste.  I think it adds some nice flavor but the soup won’t fail if you are in a rush and want to skip this step.  Just mix the paste and other ingredients directly into the broth and let it simmer until the potatoes are tender (see below).  With the potatoes, you can leave the peel on or remove it–it is up to you.

4 ears of corn, shucked, kernels removed and cobs reserved

4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock

1, 1-inch piece of ginger, roughly sliced

3 heaping Tablespoons of Tom Yum paste

1 can of coconut milk (lite coconut milk works fine here)

1 pound of Yucon Gold potatoes (I used baby ones but regular sized ones are fine), diced into 1/2-inch pieces

2 Tablespoons of fish sauce (you can use soy sauce in a pinch)

1 Tablespoon of sugar, honey, agave nectar, or maple syrup

Juice of 1 lime

Garnishes: jalapenos, Thai basil, cilantro, green onion, Sriracha, lime wedges, etc.

Place reserved corn cobs, broth, Tom Yum Paste, and ginger into a stock pot or large sauce pan.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove corn cobs and chunks of ginger and discard.  Add coconut milk, potatoes, corn, fish sauce, and sugar to the pot.  Simmer for 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender.  Scoop 3 cups of the soup into your blender or food processor and puree (be careful when you do this–make sure you lid is on tight).  Add pureed soup back to the pot and stir.  Add lime juice and season soup with salt and pepper.  Garnish with toppings of your choice.


4th of July Recipes–An Appetizer and a Side!

Heirloom Tomato and Melon Bruscetta

Okay, I know this is the very last-minute for a 4th of July post.  I am a very bad blogger.  I chose to go canoeing with my husband and dog instead of blogging, and I’m not sorry.  It’s early yet though and these recipes come together pretty quickly.  Because we are running on a tight schedule, I’ll not blather on with some witty story about the food.  Let’s cut to the chase and get to the recipes!

The first recipe is an intriguing version of bruscetta that I stumbled upon in the Tartine Bread cookbook.  I’m off for the summer and have been trying to get my bread baking just right while I have the time.  The cookbook from Tartine is a well-thought-out yet daunting aid in bread endeavors.  It is a recipe for melon and heirloom tomato bruscetta.  My mom and aunt always sprinkle salt and pepper on melon, which I always thought was odd when I was little but it opened me up to the possibility of  melon in savory dishes.

Lemon Herb Vinaigrette
Squeezing Seeds from Tomato
Garlic Rub

Heirloom Tomato and Melon Bruscetta

Adapted from the Tartine Bread cookbook.  Serves 6.

You can play around with quantities here and with different kinds of tomatoes or melons as well.  I have a friend who cringes at cantaloupe but loves honeydew so if I were making it for her, I would definitely use the latter.  You can use more tomatoes and less melon or vice versa as well. You can also use either all basil or all mint if you would like.

Lemon Herb Vinaigrette:

Zest and juice of 2 lemons

1 shallot, minced

1 teaspoon of honey

1 small handful of mint, chopped

1 small handful of basil, chopped

1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Bruscetta:

1 jalapeno, minced

3 heirloom tomatoes, seeded and diced into 1/2 inch chunks

1/2 ripe melon (I used cantaloupe) diced into 1/2 inch chunks

6 slices of country bread (such as ciabatta) or 12 slices of baguette

1-2 Tablespoons olive oil for brushing the bread

1 clove of garlic

salt and pepper to taste

To make the vinaigrette, stir all ingredients except for olive oil together.  Whisking, slowly drizzle the olive oil in until the dressing is emulsified.  If it doesn’t do this, don’t freak out, it’s cool–you’re going to dump it all on top of the tomato/melon mixture anyway so just be sure you give it a good stir before you do so.

Brush the bread with olive oil and grill or toast both sides.  Cut the clove of garlic in half and rub the cut end of the clove back and forth over the bread, anointing it with garlicky goodness.

Toss together the jalapeno, tomatoes and melon.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add about half of the vinaigrette and stir to distribute evenly.  Just before serving, top the grilled bread with the tomato/melon mixture.  Drizzle with extra vinaigrette.  If you are making this in advance, keep the bread and the topping separate until right before you are going to eat.

Field Pea Salad

The second recipe is for a delicious side from Chris Hastings’ Hot and Hot Fish Club Cookbook.  We served it at our wedding just over a year ago and people are still talking about it.  It’s a brilliant recipe that I’ve adapted for what I have on hand.

Pink Eye Peas
Seasonings for the Field Peas
My New Favorite Ingredient!

Field Pea Salad

Adapted from Chris Hastings’ Hot and Hot Fish Club cookbook.  Makes 5 cups, which is plenty for a potluck or for 10-12 people.

I’ve taken some definite liberties with this recipe even though it is perfect as written.  The recipe calls for Aioli in the dressing which I am all about but since I’m serving it to people in the pregnant/elderly/small child category I chose to substitute mayonnaise mixed with a minced clove of garlic.  Chef Hastings also calls for Tarragon and Tarragon Vinegar in the dressing.  I didn’t have Tarragon and was not inclined to go to the store so I substituted basil and lemon because they were well within reach.  Use what you have.  Mint would even work in this recipe.  So would regular wine vinegar instead of lemon juice.  I used Pink-Eyed peas because that’s what looked good at the farmers market.  Lady Peas are my absolute favorite and any field pea such as Black-Eyed Peas, Crowder Peas, Pink-Eyed Peas, or Lady Peas will do.  There is another notable substitution that I must detail.  I inserted my new favorite ingredient, Mexican Crema into the recipe instead of Creme Friache.  It is cheaper and easier to find.  I believe they carry it at Wal-Mart even, but I made the trip to our awesome local Hispanic Market to get it.  It is rich and mildly sour and can be used in place of heavy cream in soups (just don’t boil it or it will separate) and anywhere you use sour cream.  Slather it all over your grilled corn, I dare you!

Dressing:

1/3 cup of mayonnaise

1 clove of garlic, minced

1/3 cup of Mexican Crema or Creme Fraiche (or sour cream in a pinch)

zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 Tablespoon of chopped basil (or tarragon, or mint)

1 Tablespoon of chopped parsley

1 Tablespoon of chives

1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon of pepper (I used white pepper)

For the Cooked Field Peas:

2 cups of field peas, rinsed and picked through for any shells

2 sprigs of thyme

1/2 onion or 3 shallots, diced

1 clove of garlic, smashed and peeled

something smokey (2 pieces of bacon, diced, some smoked ham, a ham hock, a smoked turkey leg, a few splashes of liquid smoke and a teaspoon of smoked paprika, a smoked chicken wing, etc.  You get the idea)

4 cups of water

For the Salad:

2 cups of cooked field peas

1 cup of finely diced zucchini

1 cup of finely diced yellow squash

1 cup of cooked corn, shaved off the cob (about 2 large ears)

1 cup of chopped green onion (about 5-6)

To cook the Field Peas:

If you are using bacon, cook bacon in a large saucepan or dutch oven until light brown, then add the onion, bay leaf, thyme and garlic and saute on medium heat until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.  If you are using any of the other smokey things, just put whatever you are using in with the onion and herbs and cook for the 5 minutes.  Add the field peas and water.  Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer (about medium low/low) and cook for 15-20 minutes until tender.  Drain, remove garlic, smoky thing (unless you used chopped bacon), thyme sprigs, and bay leaf.  Season with salt and pepper

For the dressing:

Mix all dressing ingredients together.  Refrigerate until salad is ready to assemble.

For the Salad:

Combine field peas, zucchini, squash, corn and green onions in a large bowl, Toss with dressing and season with salt and pepper.

Porkarific–24 Hour Roasted Pork with Asian Flavors and What to do With it!

I know, I know.  It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  We’ve been on what a close friend dubbed, “A World Tour”.  While we didn’t literally travel around the world, we did keep our suitcases at the ready for a good two weeks with travels with friends, to visit family, and to work/celebrate the marriage of wonderful friends.  As soon as we returned home, it was time to celebrate a joint birthday (my friend, Tammy and I), our first anniversary, and father’s day.  I cooked this delicious pork for our shared birthday and as it is an outstanding  recipe for any sort of gathering, no matter the weather, I thought you might want to try it.  I also realized that I haven’t posted any meat recipes yet.  We don’t eat a lot of meat around our house but when we do, we like to go big!

This Pork Shoulder is definitely not what you would call, “lean and mean” but tender, juicy, and succulent with crisp bits of rendered fat and chewy, flavorful bark.  When it cooks, it fills your house with an aroma so inviting, so tempting, so mouth-watering that you find yourself inadvertently drooling.  It drove my poor dog, Lucy nuts.  She circled the oven for the full 24 hours, casting longing looks at the stove.  On a sidenote, some of you may be thinking to yourself, “24 hours, that sure does seem like a lot of work”!  Au contraire, my friends–you only have to invest about 30 minutes of active time in this beauty of a roast.  I’ve also included two, yes two sauces and a slaw that compliment the pork and make for adventurous and diverse leftovers.

Roasted Pork with Asian Flavors

Serves 12 (at least)

There is a bit of flexibility when it comes to cooking times with this recipe.  I’ve cooked a shoulder overnight (for about 12 hours) and for the full 24 hours, both with beautiful results.  Cooking it for the full time gives you more crispy bark on the outside of the meat and really crisps up the cracklin’, which some would argue is the best part of the whole thing!  This recipe is adapted from a recipe in Nigella Bites by Nigella Lawson for Slow-Roasted Aromatic Shoulder of Pork.  One thing that I find perplexing about this recipe is that you cook the shoulder for the majority of the time skin/fat side down.  One would think that the fat should be on top in order to permeate the meat with fatty, juicy goodness, however cooking it skin side down allows the fat to render from the craklin, creating crispy, yummy goodness.  If you want to try cooking it skin side up the whole time, let it rip.  You really have to try hard to mess this up.

1 Bone-in Pork Shoulder (about 12-14 pounds–mine was 17 and it cooked beautifully)

1 head of garlic, peeled and grated on a microplane (my favorite kitchen gadget) or minced then mashed to a paste with the flat of your knife.

1 1-inch piece of ginger, minced

2 Tablespoons of Sambal Oelek or 1 Tablespoon of red pepper flakes

1/4 cup of soy sauce

1 Tablespoon of toasted sesame oil

1/4 cup of neutral oil (I used grape seed, canola or any vegetable oil would be fine but extra virgin olive oil wouldn’t really work here)

1/2 cup rice vinegar (brown rice or rice wine)

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.  You should probably turn your exhaust fan on too.

Mix all ingredients except for the pork together in a bowl.

Score the skin of the shoulder diagonally across about every inch (see picture below), then crisscross the scores, making diamond shapes on the skin much like one of those old-school hams with cloves poked into the diamonds.  Using a forklift, pulley system, or well-developed biceps, lug the darn thing to a rack in a roasting pan and nestle it in there. 

Pour half of the ginger/garlic mixture over the pork, massaging the goodness into all of the scored crevices.  This is the Pork Spa.

With your large biceps or pulley system/hand trucks, etc., again lug the roasting pan with the shoulder in it over to the oven and hoist it in.  Cook at 500 degrees for 30 minutes.  Remove the shoulder from the oven, turn it over so it is skin side down.  Nigella recommends using your oven mitts to do this, then throwing them in the wash.  Those silicone heat-proof gloves that come with turkey fryers work well too, or you can form a team and attack it with barbeque forks and tongs. Pour the remainder of the ginger/garlic mixture over the pork.

Turn the oven down to 225 degrees and put the pork back in for its 24 hour nap.  When you are ready to serve, remove the pork and flip it skin side up using whatever method you deem best.  Turn the oven back up to 500 degrees and cook the pork for 30 final minutes, crisping everything up.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.  Shred the pork using two forks to pull the strands apart, or if cool enough, use (clean) hands.

The Sauces:

Below are recipes for two different sauces that go beautifully with the pork (or really with just about anything).  The first is an Asian Barbeque sauce that I cannot take credit for.  I adapted it from Charles Davidson’s recipe.  I met Charles when I briefly lived in Missoula, Montana.  He owned a restaurant called (I think–it’s been a while) the Blue Heron.  It was a wonderful restaurant and Charles and his restaurant partner, Adam let me help out around the kitchen (I was thinking of becoming a chef).  They used this sauce on an amazing pizza with shrimp, red onion, and tomato.  It also makes a phenomenal sauce for wings or a tennis shoe, or just about anything.  By the way, you might want to saddle up and visit your local Asian Grocer to buy the ingredients.  It is cheaper than getting them at the regular grocer and you can find everything in one place.  Except for the ketchup, but you probably already have that.

Asian Barbeque Sauce 

(adapted from Charles Davidson’s recipe)  Makes 2 1/2 cups

1/4 cup oil (again, I used grape seed)

3 small shallots, finely diced

1 head of garlic, minced

2 jalapeno, seeded, deveined, and minced

3-inch piece of ginger, minced (about 1/3 cup)

1 cup soy sauce

1 cup of cider or rice wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon of white pepper

1Tablespoon of black pepper

1 cup of hoisin sauce

2 Tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce

1 cup of ketchup

1 Tablespoon Sambal Oelek or red pepper flakes

2 Tablespoons of Sriracha

1/3 cup of sweet red chile sauce

3/4 cup of brown sugar

1/4 cup of orange juice

4 Tablespoons of toasted sesame oil

Heat 1/4 cup of oil on medium heat in a sauce pan.  Add shallot, garlic, jalapeno, and ginger and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add soy sauce through orange juice to the pan.  Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat for 30 minutes until thickened.  Remove from heat and add sesame oil.  Puree with an immersion blender or allow to cool and puree in a blender or food processor.

Chile Water

Makes 2 cups

I thought this would do well with the pork because it references, very distantly the vinegar based sauces from North Carolina, Asian style.  My mom brought me back a bottle of this from a recent trip to Hawaii and begged me to replicate it.  They served it as a dipping sauce for foccacia, which would be awesome!

1 cup of rice vinegar (I used brown rice vinegar, but rice wine vinegar will work too)

1 cup of water

1/3 cup of mirin

2/3 cup of sugar

2 cloves of garlic, grated with a microplane or minced to a paste.

1 Tablespoon of Sambal Oelek

1 t salt

Heat vinegar, water, mirin, salt, and sugar over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Add garlic and Sambal Oelek and cook over low heat for 5 minutes.

What do I do with this pork if I don’t want to just serve it straight up?

Below is a fantastic slaw that goes really well with the pork.  We took the leftovers and made our own version of the very trendy Korean Taco.  We also took the slaw and cooked it with an egg and the chopped, leftover pork, slathered some Mandarin Pancakes with the Asian Barbeque sauce and made our own version of Moo Shu Pork.  The possibilities are endless.

Kind of Kimchi Slaw

Makes 12 servings (at least)

This recipe is not Kimchi, nor is it trying to be.  I just wanted to reference the feel of Kimchi, if that makes sense.

Slaw:

1/2 large or 1 small head of green cabbage, sliced as thin as you can

1 red bell pepper, julienned

2 carrots, grated

1 daikon radish, grated

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

Dressing:

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1-inch piece of ginger, minced

2 teaspoons Sriracha

2 Tablespoons of soy sauce

3 Tablespoons of sugar or honey

1/2 cup of rice vinegar

2 teaspoons of salt

Combine dressing ingredients together and toss with slaw.  Cover and let marinate in the fridge for at least 3 hours before serving.

*To make the tacos, toss the pork with the Asian Barbeque Sauce, grab a corn (or flour if you wish) tortilla, stuff with pork and slaw.  Eat.  Yum.

Calçots (a.k.a. Charred Green Onion Deliciousness) and Romesco

 

Ahhhh, calçots–I didn’t know that word until about 5 minutes ago when I Googled it.  The event that inspired said Googling is the memory of that slow-motion moment when Bourdain (Anthony Bourdain of No Reservations) donned a kitschy red checked bib, slipped the blistered skin from a green onion, dunked it in romesco and feasted!  He was at a calçotada, a Spanish party where you grill masses of the tender green and white beauties and swill wine from a porró.  I thought to myself, “Now this is a party I could really get behind!” Grilling, check!  Drinking obscene amounts of wine from what looks like a blown glass neti pot, check!  Jaunty red-checked bibs, check (I spill things on myself–a lot–it’s hereditary and I can’t help it)!  From what I witnessed on the show, it seems to be perfectly acceptable, possibly even encouraged to spill wine on yourself at a calçotada.  I would fit in beautifully.

Since travel to Spain is not probable in the foreseeable future, I decided to create my own version–Southern style!  Spring onions are a fixture this time of year in our CSA deliveries and this is an interesting and entertaining way to highlight their delicate flavor–although, you could probably dip a tennis shoe in romesco and it would taste good.  I had the main ingredient, the onions,  and just happened to know of a few friends that were looking for a good excuse to grill.  Southerners will grill at any time for any reason, so this is not surprising.  The only possible kink in my plan were the forecasted “scattered thunderstorms” for that evening.  I wasn’t worried, much.

The thunderstorms held off and the onions grilled up beautifully.  We had two kinds of Spring onions–long, thin ones that resemble either small leeks or large green onions and several that were more bulbous and onion-like at the bottom.  For this recipe, I recommend the long, thin ones.  They grilled more evenly and were easier to stuff in your mouth–which is what everyone did once we brought out the romesco.  Oh my, the romesco.  It was slathered, spooned, and smeared on just about everything we ate–asparagus, bread, chicken…One guest even mentioned thinning it with broth and serving it as a soup, which you could absolutely do.  Add in a tomato and a cucumber, and you have a scorching rendition of gazpacho.  So good!  It really stole the show.

Calçots

Serves 4

Cooking time varies greatly depending on the size of your onions, so keep an eye on them–just grab a cocktail and some tongs and park yourself in front of the grill.

2 bunches of spring onions

2 Tablespoons of olive oil

Salt and Pepper

Newspaper

An empty cooler

Trim the root ends off of the onions.  Drizzle onions with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Grill onions on a charcoal grill with a medium-hot fire or a gas grill, heated to medium-high.  Continue to turn onions as each side blackens.  When onions are blackened on all sides, remove from grill and wrap in newspaper.  Place onions in an empty cooler for 30-45 minutes to steam.

To eat:  Grasp the onions at the top of the light green part (just before the onion branches out into separate green stalks).  Twist this part of the onion and pull the blackened part off, leaving you with a clean, white column of onion.  Dunk unabashedly in romesco, tilt your head back, and wind into your happy, waiting mouth.  Alternately, dip in romesco and place on a slice of crusty bread. 

Romesco

Makes 2 1/2 cups

This romesco is an amazing sauce.  If you have leftovers, it is great tossed with pasta, spooned over any vegetable or meat, poured over an omelette, etc.  I used pistachios here but feel free to substitute toasted almonds.

2 cups of jarred roasted red peppers, drained

1/2 cup of shelled roasted pistachios

1 chipotle in adobo

1 slice of bread, crusts removed (I like to use sourdough)

2 cloves of garlic, smashed with the flat of a knife

1 teaspoon of smoked paprika

3 Tablespoons of  sherry vinegar

1 Tablespoon of honey

1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Put everything except olive oil in the bowl of a food processor.  Turn the food processor on and slowly drizzle in olive oil.  Continue processing for 1 more minute.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Put on everything.

We’ve Got Fava Beans!

 

I’ve always thought of fava beans as an exciting ingredient.  I know it may seem odd to get excited about a bean, but this particular bean was something that, for years I read about in many an Italian recipe but, for the life of me, could never find at the market.  I built those recipes up in my head as great mysteries that I must, must solve!  For a while, they seemed completely unreachable.  One triumphant day, I was browsing through a local gourmet market, V. Richards, and I saw them, encircled by a glowing, golden halo.  I thought, “Could it be!?! After all of this time!?!  After all of the dreaming, all of the hoping!?!”  Yes, my friends, yes.

The thing about fava beans is, they are a pain in the butt to prepare.  I say this, in hopes that you will still go out and get some but I don’t want to mislead you.  You will spend, depending on how many people you are feeding, a good 15 minutes shelling, parboiling, then shelling again the neon green beans.  There’s something nostalgic about this process to me that makes the work worth it.  When I first snap open the flesh of the fava beans, I swear it sends me right back in time to my grandmothers front porch, shucking peas, snapping beans and listening to the chirp of crickets.  It’s the smell, and the process that remind me of those heaps of beans.

To begin, remove the fava beans from the pods.  I do this by snapping the end off and running my fingers along the seam, then plucking the beans out.  Prepare a bowl of ice water.  Throw the shelled beans into boiling water for a minute, then remove to the ice water.  The remainder of the shelling process is explained below:

  1. (Top Left) Take your fingernail and make a tiny slit in the white skin at one end of the bean.
  2. (Bottom Left) Squeeze the end opposite the slit.  The bean should squeeze right out!
  3. (Top Right) Fava and peel.

You can enjoy your meticulously shelled favas in a multitude of different recipes.  They are great in soups or stews accented by other spring vegetables–greens, artichokes, asparagus, spring onion, etc.  I chose to toss them with pasta and top them with crunchy, garlicky, breadcrumbs.  Yum, yum!

 

Pasta with Fava Beans and Garlic Breadcrumbs

Serves 4

I call for brown rice pasta here because that’s what we like to use.  You can use any kind of pasta that you want–long, eggy strands of pappardelle would be delicious.  Feel free to play around with add-ins.  Roasted peppers, artichokes, and asparagus would be great here!

2 Tablespoons + 2 Tablespoons of olive oil

1 1/2 pounds unshelled fava beans (or 1/2 pound shelled)

1 pint of cherry tomatoes, quartered

4 cloves of garlic, 3 of them sliced and 1 of them minced

1 spring onion (white and light green parts), thinly sliced

1/4 cup Calamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped

pinch red pepper flakes

1/2 cup vegetable or chicken stock

1/2 cup dry white wine

10 ounces brown rice pasta, cooked according to package directions

a small handful of basil, chopped

1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs

Shell the fava beans (see process above) and reserve.  I usually just throw the pasta into the same pan that I’ve just blanched the favas in. 

Heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet.  Add the clove of minced garlic, half of the basil, the pinch of red pepper flakes and the breadcrumbs.  Cook over medium heat, stirring often until golden.  Set aside.

In the same skillet, heat the remaining 2 Tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat, add the sliced onion, garlic, and a pinch of salt and cook for 2 minutes, or until the garlic just begins to color.  Add wine and vegetable stock, stirring to loosen any brown bits on the bottom of the skillet.  Simmer for 3 minutes.  Add the fava beans, tomatoes, olives, rice pasta, and remaining basil and cook, stirring for 30 seconds until the pasta soaks up some of the liquid and the vegetables are evenly distributed.

Serve in bowls, topped with the toasted breadcrumb mixture.  I sometimes like to finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Whole Grain Pancakes with Strawberries

I awoke Sunday morning, thinking in the brilliant hues of red.  Weird, right but I assure you that there is a perfectly sound reason for the hues of fire-engine, cherry, and vermilion that blazed through my mind early this weekend day.

Saturday night, my husband and I went to Paint the Town Red, an artsy fundraiser benefiting the American Red Cross.  Local Artists submitted digital works that were projected onto downtown buildings, bathing the streets in a transparent light more reminiscent of a famous district in Amsterdam than Birmingham.

The gauzy hues turned my mind toward the plump, red berries sitting in our refrigerator, lovingly tucked into a Tupperware by my husband on, “CSA Day.”

Thursdays are CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Delivery days, when my husband and I get our weekly share of fruits and vegetables from Snow’s Bend Farm.

They send out a distribution email every Wednesday, detailing the produce of the week.  We eagerly await those emails because they always lead to delicious moments– pockets of time where we create something from what was so lovingly grown and share them with each other, our family, and friends.  And Sunday, with that lovely inspiration in my mind, was a day for sharing with family.

We woke up earlier than usual that morning and decided to take Lucy, our treasured black and white Pointeresque pound puppy for a walk.  We have an amazing dog park near our townhouse and in the mornings and early evenings, the sunlight slants through the trees, bathing them in gilded light.  The morning was crisp enough to warrant something filling and comforting for breakfast–something like pancakes.

I could just see those juicy red jewels gleaming on top of a pile of hot, buttery, fluffy, (how many more adjectives can I use) pancakes as we trekked home (or in Lucy’s case, trotted, tongue lolling to the side like a red flag).  I hope you will try them on your next leisurely morning.  Make them for someone…or heck, make a big stack for yourself!

Whole Grain Pancakes

Recipe makes 6 6″ pancakes or 2 generous servings

For the whole grain flour, I use a mixture of millet, barley, rye, and oat flours.  You can substitute whole wheat flour or just use all white wheat or white flour if you would like.  Feel free to play with different combinations of flours here.

1/2 cup whole grain flour

1/2 cup white wheat flour (I like King Arthur brand)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

a pinch of salt

1 egg, beaten

1 cup of almond (or other) milk

2 Tablespoons melted butter, plus 2 Tablespoons for greasing the skillet

2 Tablespoons of agave nectar or honey

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix the dry ingredients together.  In a separate bowl, mix wet ingredients together.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir.  Do not over mix the batter.  It is okay if it has small lumps.

Heat a griddle to 375 or a skillet (preferably cast iron) on medium-high heat.  When a drop of water sizzles instantly when dropped on the surface, your griddle/skillet is ready.

Preheat oven to 200 and place an ovenproof plate or platter in the oven.  Grease the griddle/skillet with butter.  Using a 1/2 cup ladle, pour the batter into the skillet.  When bubbles form on the surface of the pancake and the edges look barely set, flip the pancake and cook for a minute more.  Place the finished pancake on the plate in the warm oven.  Continue with the remainder of the batter, adding butter to the griddle/skillet between each pancake.  You may have to turn your cook top down to medium if the skillet is too hot.

Top the finished pancakes with Orange Scented Strawberries (see below) or your favorite fruit, jam, or syrup.

Orange Scented Strawberries

1 cup of sliced strawberries

2 Tablespoons of agave nectar or honey (you may use more or less depending on the sweetness of your strawberries)

2 Tablespoons of orange juice

Mix the ingredients together and allow to sit while you make the pancakes.

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