April 27, 2009

Grilled Tuna with Pineapple Salsa

Every now and then I hit one out of the park.

Scanning the fridge yesterday, I found ingredients that came together for a dinner winner. Of course, you can't go too far wrong with excellent frozen Yellowfin Tuna, but on a whim, I created some pineapple salsa with remnants of fresh ingredients from earlier in the week. Although I've never made it before, pineapple just seemed to be perfect for the first tuna of the grilling season. Our generous nextdoor neighbors supplied fresh asparagus from their garden and I roasted little red potatoes, prepared from a recipe (coming soon!) I had worked on recently for an article on honey . . . and voila!

Dinner looked so beautiful on the plate that I couldn't help myself. Like a good blogger, I grabbed my new camera to snap a few pics before digging in. Always the gentleman, MFH tried to wait, and I tried to hurry the photo shoot, but he was sending compliments my way before I could master the settings to accommodate the low light in the kitchen. Just think of it as dinner by the warm, soft glow of candlelight and forget that we were sitting at the counter in the kitchen, watching the dvr'd episode of In Plain Sight. And yes, Photoshop is on my list to learn, along with the new camera!

Maybe it was the long day of gardening in unseasonal and extremely windy 85-degree weather, the skipped lunch, and the martini enjoyed with neighbors at the end of a beautiful dry, mosquito-less day, but we absolutely enjoyed dinner. And the last thing MFH said, as he drifted off to sleep last night, was "great dinner" . . .

FRESH PINEAPPLE SALSA
1 cup fresh pineapple, finely diced
1/2 cup red bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 cup chopped green onion
1 teaspoon fresh jalapeno, finely minced (or choose another mild or hot pepper)
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (or less for me - sorry Kalyn!)
3 tablespoons light olive oil
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
dash cumin, to taste
dash of hot pepper sauce (Cholula is my favorite!)

Blend all ingredients in a bowl and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving with fish, chicken or pork.

I used Anaheim pepper in place of the jalapeno, since that’s what I had on hand. I like a little more cumin and a nice amount of Cholula too. Also added some of the pineapple juice. Delicious!
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GRILLED YELLOWFIN TUNA
1-inch thick tuna steaks
olive oil
soy sauce
brown sugar
freshly ground black pepper

Mix olive oil, soy sauce and a little brown sugar in a ziploc bag or dish large enough for tuna pieces to sit in marinade. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Heat grill and cook tuna to your liking. A couple of minutes per side will leave it very rare in the center, longer if you like it less rare. We cooked ours about 4 minutes per side, because they were at least 1-inch thick.

April 20, 2009

Homemade Tortillas for Cinco de Mayo Fiesta

I have always wanted to make my own homemade tortillas, so a couple of weeks ago I finally ordered a tortilla press and bought some masa. Turns out that's all you need to make delicious homemade tortillas. You don't even need a lot of time. In fact, in less time than it would take me to drive to the nearest grocery store, buy them and drive home, I had read the instructions, mixed the dough, pressed them, and cooked sixteen beautiful and delicious tortillas. Why did I wait so long to try this at home?

Most bags of masa harina, a flour made from corn, have a recipe or two on the back instructing you how to make tortillas for tacos, tostadas, or gorditas. I used the proportions below for the stack shown in the picture. Then I heated them in a cast iron skillet and stored them to be used for tacos and burritos. Wrapped tightly in a zip bag, they will keep a few days in the refrigerator and longer in the freezer. But they are so good, you'll want to eat them, not save them!

Cinco de Mayo is just around the corner. Making tortillas would be a great way to celebrate -- especially with a make-your-own taco or burrito bar. You provide the masa, the tortilla press and the skillet. Have your guests bring chopped and prepared ingredients to fill the tacos or burritos. Add some cervezas and margaritas and it's fiesta time!


Homemade Tortillas
2 c. masa harina
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. water

Mix all ingredients for about 2 minutes, until a soft dough is formed. More water can be added, if dough feels too dry and will not stick together. Divide dough into sixteen balls and cover with a damp cloth. Line the tortilla press with two sheets of heavy plastic wrap (I just used two pieces of waxed paper cut to fit between both the flat sides of the press and the dough ball), so that the dough will not stick to the press. Press and carefully peel the tortilla off plastic wrap or waxed paper. To cook, preheat and ungreased griddle or skillet on medium heat. Cook tortilla on one side for 30 seconds, flip and cook for one minute, flip again and cook for another 20 seconds. Cover with a soft cloth to keep the tortillas warm and pliable. After cooling, tortillas may be fried for making other Mexican favorites such as hard tacos, tostadas, or quesadillas.

April 14, 2009

Confessions of a Would-Be Gardener

SEASON TO TASTE
(My monthly column for Heartland Women)
April 2009

I just love the idea of having my own garden. In a perfect springtime world, I would jump out of bed in the morning, grab my wide-brimmed straw hat, crisp cotton smock, gardening gloves and wellies and head straight for my own little patch of earth. There I would spend my day blissfully turning soil, planting, watering, mulching, pinching, pruning, fertilizing and weeding. At the end of the day, I would gather my harvest in my trusty trug and return to my kitchen to create delicious meals from my homegrown produce. I would smile with satisfaction as my dinner companions sang my praises as earth mother of the prairie.

Here's the problem. My ideal temperature “range” is 72. Any temperature above that makes my face turn beet-red - a good color for beets, not so much for me. Most of my skin predates sunscreen and it shows. The sun is not my friend. I don’t tan, E-V-E-R. But I do turn bright red and develop spots that require surgical removal. I hate humidity, especially when it touches me. I don’t even like moisturizer because of its name. Sweating . . . excuse me . . . perspiring makes my face sting and break out and it makes my clothes fuse to my body in the most unflattering places. And extreme temperatures are not always required to elicit this response, as I am now equipped with my personal furnace. All flying and biting insects are naturally drawn to me, but the feeling is not mutual. My right knee no longer functions as a true hinge, or much of a support system, if I try to squat. My knee’s favorite angle is 180 degrees – in either a vertical or horizontal plane.

Research based on the annals of weather from the Farmer’s Almanac, shows there are about six days every year when atmospheric conditions converge in support of my desire to be a gardener. Even I know that is not enough time to bring a garden to fruition. Why, six days is barely enough time to find the ideal straw hat, perfect gloves, and size 9.5 wellies! To do a job right, one must always have the essential tools and dress the part.

I guess I am a dreamer. I’ll never be much of a gardener. Undaunted, I persevere. I am an herb gardener, and it suits me perfectly.



Garden Notes
My herb garden is in a raised bed that is easy on my knees. Herbs are easy to plant in the cool spring and simple to maintain during a long growing season.

Herb gardens are great for beginning gardeners, especially children. Growing what you eat is a natural way to learn about good food, self-sufficiency, responsibility and life.

Their requirements are few, so herbs are probably the easiest food/plants to grow organically and without chemical pesticides – another plus for young gardeners.

Herb gardens need 6-8 hours of sun daily and well-drained soil. A little sand or compost worked in will help our clay-like soil.

Most herbs prefer full sun and are heat and drought tolerant, so with a little mulch around the base, they’re happy with infrequent rain or watering.

Pruning requirements are also minimal. Keep the flowers removed from the tops as soon as they appear, and the plants will grow healthy, happy leaves – that’s the part you want – not the flowers.

Harvesting is done early in the day, after the dew dries, but before it gets too hot. Cut down a few inches from the top of the stem to keep the plant from getting too spindly or taller than it is wide – except for taller herbs like dill and rosemary.

Most herbs will grow to a height of 1 to 2 feet and should also be planted 1 to 2 feet apart. In our climate zone, some herbs are perennials and others biennials, giving you a very good return on your investment.

When the ground gets too warm and too dry, the plants become stressed and produce more flowers and fewer leaves, also called “bolting.” Mulch spread around the plants keeps the ground cooler.

Pinch off the tops of the plant stems to create a fuller, rounder plant. Cut off any flowers on the stems as soon as they appear to keep the leaves from turning bitter.

Many gardeners grow herbs in pots, especially if space or sunlight is at a premium. Use clay pots placed directly on the ground to keep the plants cool from the soil below. On a sunny deck or patio, ceramic or plastic pots will help keep the moisture from evaporating where the surface temperature is hotter.

Herb gardens are also known as kitchen gardens. Whether you plant them in a garden bed or in pots, keep the location close to your kitchen so you will have easy access. Herbs should be picked close to the time they will be used.

Fresh and dried herbs have become very expensive at the market. For the price of one package of fresh herbs (about $3) or one jar of dried herbs ($3-$10!), just one herb plant from the nursery will give you a season full of flavorful foods. And you will have plenty left at the end of the season for freezing or drying to use until next spring – when the cycle begins again.

And remember, some of those herb plants will be waiting patiently in your garden, probably under a pile of leaf mulch, when you wake from your garden dream next spring.
Remember dried herbs have a concentrated flavor, so when substituting fresh for dried herbs in recipes, use two to three times more fresh herbs than dried.

Cooking With Herbs
Here are some suggestions to help you choose herbs to grow, based on different cuisines you may enjoy:
Asian – cilantro, lemon grass
French – tarragon, chervil, thyme, marjoram, fennel,
lavender, rosemary
Greek/Mediterranean - oregano, mint, basil, dill, thyme,
fennel
Italian – basil, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano
Mexican – cilantro, oregano
Teas – chamomile, spearmint, peppermint
Misc. – dill, chives

Now, I can’t guarantee a completely heat-free, sun-free, bug-free, sweat-free, work-free, squat-free gardening experience if you plant an herb garden this year – that’s my dream, not yours. But I can promise lots of good flavors from your kitchen and your grill, lots of smiles, and lots of compliments – especially if you get a pretty straw hat with matching gloves and wellies!


CHIMICHURRI SAUCE FOR GRILLED MEATS

Adapted from Epicurious.com
3/4 c. olive oil
3 tbsp. Sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 medium shallots, peeled, quartered
1 tsp. fine sea salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. dried crushed red pepper
3 c. (packed) stemmed fresh parsley
2 c. (packed) stemmed fresh cilantro
1 c. (packed) stemmed fresh mint

Combine first 8 ingredients in blender; blend until almost smooth. Add 1/4 of parsley, 1/4 of cilantro, and 1/4 of mint; blend until incorporated. Add remaining herbs in 3 more additions, pureeing until almost smooth after each addition.
Can be made 3 hours ahead. Cover; chill. Serve with grilled steak, chicken or fish.

CLASSIC PIZZA MARGHERITA
pizza dough divided for 4 small pizzas
corn meal
1 14-oz. can peeled whole tomatoes, drained
1 1/2 tsp. fresh oregano, minced
1/4 c. plus 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 lbs. fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
32 large basil leaves, torn into pieces

Place a pizza stone in the oven on the lowest rack and preheat the oven to 500°, allowing at least 45 minutes for the stone to heat. In a food processor, pulse tomatoes until coarsely chopped. Stir in the oregano and 1 tbsp. of the olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.
On a lightly floured surface, stretch one ball of dough into a 13-inch round and transfer to a corn meal coated pizza peel. Spread 1/4 c. of the tomato sauce over the dough to within 1 in. of the edge. Spread one-fourth of the cheese over the pizza and drizzle with 1 tbsp. of oil. Season with sea salt and pepper and slide the pizza onto the stone. Bake until the bottom is charred and the cheese is melted, about 5-8 minutes. Scatter one-fourth of the basil on top and let stand for 3 mins. before serving. Repeat with the remaining dough and toppings.

HONEY TARRAGON DRESSING OR MARINADE
2 tbsp. honey
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tbsp. chopped tarragon
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
6 tbsp. olive oil

In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine honey, vinegar, tarragon, salt and pepper. Shake well. Add oil and shake vigorously. Let stand 1 hour. Can be used as a salad dressing or as a marinade for chicken. Makes 1 cup.

ROASTED NEW POTATOES WITH SPRING HERB PESTO

Adapted from Epicurious.com
3/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
1/3 c. chopped fresh chives
3 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 lbs. red-skinned new potatoes, halved lengthwise

Blend parsley, chives, rosemary, 1 tbsp. olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, lemon peel, and 1/2 tsp. salt in processor to coarse puree. Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss potatoes and remaining 2 tbsp. oil in large bowl. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Arrange potatoes, cut side down, on rimmed baking sheet. Roast until potatoes are golden brown and tender, about 40 mins. Using spatula, transfer potatoes to large bowl. Add pesto and toss to coat. Serve warm or room temperature.

ROSEMARY FOCACCIA

1 pkg. active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
2 to 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. olive oil, divided
1 tbsp. minced rosemary
2 tsp. coarse salt

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in 3/4 c. warm water. Stir in sugar. Set aside for 5 mins. or until frothy. In a medium bowl, stir together 2 c. flour and salt. Pour in yeast and 2 tbsp. oil. Stir until moistened. Turn out onto a floured board and knead, adding flour as needed for 5 mins. - or until dough is smooth, but still soft. Oil bowl, place dough in and turn once to cover with oil. Let rise for 30 mins. Turn out onto a floured board and roll out to fit into a 10-in. x 15-in. baking sheet. Oil sheet pan and place dough on it. Cover and let rise 15 mins. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Press fingertips into dough to leave small indentations, brush with oil, sprinkle with rosemary and salt. Bake 12 to 15 mins. - or until golden brown.

PASTA PRIMAVERA WITH ASPARAGUS AND PEAS

Adapted from about.com
16 oz. box bowtie pasta
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. chicken broth
1 c. half and half
1 large bunch asparagus, cut diagonally in 2-in. pieces
1 c. fresh or frozen green peas
1 lemon, zest and juice separate
1/4 c. chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions. Prepare sauce while pasta is cooking. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-low heat; add garlic. Cook garlic for 30 seconds – do not brown! Add the stock, half and half, lemon zest and turn heat to high. When mixture begins to boil, add the asparagus and peas and cook until asparagus is tender-crisp – about 3 mins. Turn off heat. Drain the pasta, but do not rinse; return pasta to pot. Pour the sauce mixture over the pasta and toss to coat evenly. Add lemon juice, basil, Parmesan and salt and pepper. Toss again and serve immediately.

SCARBOROUGH FAIR SHORTBREAD

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. plus 1/2 tablespoon superfine granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
2 tsp. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp. each finely chopped fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme
1 stick (1/2 c.) unsalted butter, softened

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F.
Stir together flour, 1/4 c. sugar, salt, and chopped herbs in a bowl, then add butter and stir with a fork until mixture forms dough – do not over mix. Divide dough in half and pat each half into a 6 1/2 to 7-in. round on an ungreased baking sheet. Crimp edges of rounds and cut each into 8 wedges with a sharp knife. Bake until golden, 15 to 17 minutes. Recut wedges while shortbread is hot, then cool completely on baking sheet placed on a rack.

April 5, 2009

Morel Season - The Hunt Is On To Eat Locally!



I got a call from my neighbor today. She and her husband were out foraging for morels and wanted to look for them in our woods. A little while later, she showed up at my door with pockets full of the highly sought after culinary delights. My picture is not the best, but they really were beautiful specimens. Phyllis reports these morels actually were found in some nearby woods, so all you morel hunting maniacs who know where I live don't need to waste your time traipsing around my woods.

Phyllis says to prepare her morels she coats them in flour, salt and pepper, and then fries them in butter. So simple! Apparently, the hunt is a lot more involved and demanding than the preparation. A little Internet research shows that some cooks coat the morels in cracker crumbs, most fry them slowly in butter, and many recommend a cast iron skillet for cooking. Beyond this simple preparation though, there are more elaborate recipes for using morels in soups, sauces, and as a complement to all varieties of meats and seafood.

I've never had fresh foraged morels, and I probably never will since I'm not a huge fan of their taste or texture. My morel-loving brother says he has given them up after having unpleasant reactions from eating them in recent years, and that's all I need to know. We have similar issues with reactions to certain foods, so now I'm reluctant to try them. For Christmas one year though, the same mushroom brother gave me a log for growing my own shitake mushrooms and that was a big success. Guess I just like my mushrooms more on the tame and mild side. But don't let that stop you from experiencing freshly foraged morels! Just be sure you know what you're doing before you eat stuff you find in the woods!

The dedication of mushroom foragers who know what they're doing is enthusiastic and contagious. Several of my neighbors have taken mushroom-hunting classes and are experienced foragers of mushrooms and other wild foods (see earlier posts on autumn olives, persimmons and nuts.) I was excited to be involved with their hunt today, even in a small way, and to see and photograph their morels. I truly admire their knowledge and commitment to eating locally!

Now that morels are here, can asparagus be far behind? That is some local eating I can dig into--and I know right where to look! I'll be stalking asparagus in some nearby gardens very soon. Have I told you lately how much I love my food-loving neighborhood?

April 1, 2009

We Will Publish No Post Before Its Time . . . Again!

Note to self . . . When working on a post to be published at a future date there are two choices, but only one makes sense. Compose posts offline and copy to blog posting page only when completed and proofed. It is far too easy to click the "publish post" button instead of the "save now" button and create a premature post when writing drafts online.

Excuse the premature post on "Easy Collards With Country Ham." It has been refiled under "Live and Learn."