Monday, April 27, 2009

Salt-Roasted Shrimp: A Fabulous Tasting and Looking Appetizer

Well, I must admit that I was seduced by this recipe not only because it sounded good, but because the final presentation was stunning on a bed of rock salt. And, it was so easy to make, I would recommend it for any gathering!

This recipe was from this month's Bon Appetit and can be found online here. The shrimp is cooked and served on rock salt along with a wine, butter, garlic, and Italian parsley sauce.

The sauce is easy to prepare and doesn't need a lot of attention. A mixture of white wine, lemon juice and garlic is reduced. Butter is melted in and fresh Italian parsley is sprinkled on top.

After you have prepared the sauce, you can roast the raw, unpeeled shrimp on a bed of rock salt (we bought ours at the grocery store- make sure yours is food grade).

The shrimp only takes 6-7 minutes to cook at 500 degrees. Once cooked, the salt and shrimp can be transferred to a dish for a lovely display. We found the flavor of the shrimp to be clean and delicious and well-complemented by the buttery sauce. It was a big success at our family dinner and will be at yours as well!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Four Ingredients = One Delicious Honey Lace Cookie

You may have had this cookie in a fancy bakery- as a crispy sandwich filled with chocolate or wrapped into a cone and filled with pastry cream. But, this cookie is actually very simple! It has only four ingredients and many possibilities!

This delicate lacy cookie has a beautifully crisp texture. The recipe can be found here from Martha Stewart's Cookie book and it is so simple!

You measure out 2 Tbsp of brown sugar, 2 Tbsp of butter and 1.5 Tbsp of honey into a sauce pan and melt it. Once melted, whisk in 2 Tbsp of flour until smooth.

Then drop 1/2 tsp of the batter onto a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 6 min at 375. The batter spreads and bubbles into these beautiful cookies.

Once they have set enough to transfer, you can pick them up with your fingers and move them to a cooling rack to cool until thin and crispy or...

you can shape them! We used a frosting tip to create a little cone! This shape reminded us of the famous French Laundry Coronets, which we have yet to try but have heard a lot about!

This really excited us and we filled them with blue cheese because I love honey drizzled on blue cheese. It was a bit sticky in the tooth but interesting! We do think these tiny cones could be great with gelato or ice cream. I would really like to try making a little edible ice cream dish out of this honey lace cookie. Imagine the possibilities!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunday Brunch: Strawberry Balsamic Waffles

Weekend mornings are one of our favorite times to make a decadent breakfast. After seeing some great strawberries and blackberries at our Whole Foods (California-grown), we were inspired to make these strawberry-balsamic waffles with candied pecans.

The recipe was pretty simple; we followed the basic waffle recipe from the Joy of Cooking, choosing to use 8 Tbsp of butter. They have three levels of butter for the recipe: 4 Tbsp("for a reduced fat waffle"), 8 Tbsp ("for a classic light and fluffy waffle) and 16 Tbsp ("for the crunchiest, most delicious waffle imaginable.") I can't believe we didn't make the 16 Tbsp waffle, really I can't. Actually since there is an exponential increase in the deliciousness with butter usage, Justin wondered what 32 Tbsp of butter could do for a waffle?

For the candied pecans, we used evaporated cane juice sugar and heated it in a pan. When it started to melt, we added the pecans until toasted and coated in carmelized goodness. These are also great on salads.

As for the strawberry-balsamic sauce, we added 2 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar and 2 Tbsp of evaporated cane juice (sugar) and a few diced strawberries. After letting it cook a bit, we tossed it into a blender and blended it a bit on low. We cooked it down- perhaps even a bit too much because it thickened upon cooling.

And the waffles were delicious! Topped with the fresh strawberries, candied walnuts and the strawberry-balsamic sauce, we enjoyed these on the patio under the California sunshine.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

In-Flight Signature Cocktails--Hooray!

We often travel to Minnesota to see family and friends and recently, Delta Airlines bought Northwest, our trusty airline carrier. While sad to see NWA phase out, I must confess I was delighted by Delta’s new offering of signature cocktails from Rande Gerber. While I love wine, I also love a good cocktail and I am not above using a quality mix in certain constrained situations. So, I had to see what a $7 “mile high” mojito was like! Delta (and now NWA) offers a mojito or a margarita. They are pretty upfront about the mix, from Stirrings, and the mojito is composed of the Stirrings Mix, Bacardi Rum and club soda.

So how was it?

Well, first of all for $7 it actually fits into two drink cups with ice so I felt like I got my money’s worth. Two, I saw the tiny bottle of Stirrings and the flight attendant mentioned that she needed to get the shaker in the back and make it. I liked knowing it was shaken! I wished she would have made it in front of me (and the ceremony might actually promote the new drink to other passengers!) but that’s okay. I think it was her first one! It came with lime instead of fresh mint but frankly, I wasn’t expecting fresh mint and I’ll take a lime. I’m pretty forgiving back here in row 16A in coach.

So overall:

Flavor: Not bad. Hey it’s a mix but I thought it was pretty refreshing. Very light on the mint and yes, it’s really sweet.

Appearance: I wish they had a special glass- it looked like a club soda with lime so no points for that.

Value: I thought it was pretty good. I am positive that I have paid more for worse in bars. Although with the two cups, I felt a bit like a lush sitting next to a teenage girl who was traveling with her family, but oh well.

Overall: I was pleased. I am woman who likes a cocktail and I feel like this offering, although not truly authentic, is satisfying a desire for me on a four hour flight- perhaps one that I hadn’t thought of until I saw it. Bravo!

Bonus: I really like the spiced cookies that Delta serves. They are made specifically for Delta and have brown sugar and cinnamon in them. With a crunchy texture, they are quite tasty. Maybe I don’t really miss Northwest that much.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Best Place for Fruits, Vegetables and Seafood in Peru!

After feeling refreshed from La Gran Fruta, we visited a small outdoor neighborhood market where the best fruits, vegetables, and seafood are bought. We met Chef Carlos Otero there to be our culinary guide. Chef Otero owned a series of restaurants in Miami Beach, Chile, etc called Salad House specializing in fresh salads of fruits and vegetables. He currently is an instructor at two of the cooking schools in Lima. Both Sandra and Chef Carlos explained that Peru is undergoing a gastronomic renaissance as chefs from Peru such as Gaston Acuria have achieved global recognition and Peruvian food is now one of the hottest trends in the US. The diversity of food that grow there and the culinary fusion from several different cultures makes Peruvian food truly unique and wonderful.

We began tasting different fruits and vegetables at a fruit stand.

This fruit looks like a large pod...

and the fruit flesh has a cotton candy-like texture.

We also enjoyed the tangy flavor with a crunch from the seed in this fruit, maracuya, passion fruit. A juicy membrane surrounds the seed and you simply eat it all. We also tried several different bananas that were sweeter as they were smaller in size and had beautiful pink and deep yellow flesh.

Potatoes and corn are part of the foundation of Peruvian food. There are over 300 varieties of potatoes and we saw several at this market with vibrant skins that were pink or yellow and with bright yellow and orange flesh. The corn in Peru has giant kernels that can be as large as a horse’s tooth.

This is a purple corn with a white interior (endosperm)- so no purple popcorn!

But a popular drink called Chicha Morada is made from the dark purple corn and we saw several kinds of fried kernels for snacks- sort of a Peruvian Corn Nut!

Who could come to Peru without eating many different kinds of chilis? We saw several from the mirasol to the ahi amarillo which translates to mean “yellow chili” even though the skin is orange. We later found that this chili is one of the main chilies in a few traditional sauces that we would later make and eat.

Finally, we had to pay homage to the abundance of fresh seafood in Peru. The waters are rich with plankton and all sorts of fish, octopus, scallops etc. There was so much pride in the foods at the marketplace. Just as the fruit and vegetable sellers eagerly sliced fruits and vegetables for us to taste, the fish sellers proudly displayed the fish, purple crabs and octopus. And there was much to admire.

We left the market in awe of the native foods of Peru, realizing that while we are celebrating local foods in America- foods that grow in our region but may not be originally from our country- Peru is celebrating the rich selection of foods that are truly Peruvian in origin.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Fruitful Adventures in Peru!

We decided to take a one day culinary tour from PicaPeru. Our guide, Sandra, began the day with trip to La Gran Fruta, a chain of juice bars in Peru. As Americans, when we think juice, we quickly go to orange, apple, grape--often thin in viscosity, clarified, and pasteurized.

When we walked into La Gran Fruta, we thought immediately of Jamba Juice where the offering is really a blended smoothie with frozen fruit and sorbet or frozen yogurt and juice. The appearance looked similar but the juice was an entirely different thing.

First, the menu of exotic juice blends is huge. Peru is an amazing country with 84 different climate zones. We soon realized that many unusual fruits and vegetables are native to Peru and completely new to us. This store goes to the market everyday and selects fresh fruits to blend into juices. We tasted three blends of juices that were unlike anything we had every had in both flavor and texture:

• cherimoya with mandarin orange
• mango, maracuya (passion fruit), strawberry, and mandarin orange
• lucuma with milk

Cherimoya with Mandarin Orange

Cherimoya is often translated into English as "custard apple", but that doesn’t do it justice.

This large, green dimpled fruit looks nothing like an American apple. It is ripe when the flesh is a tiny bit soft. The fruit has a sweet and juicy flesh that is white with large black seeds. But you might notice, that is is a fairly dense flesh which gave the juice a thick and delicious viscosity--almost like a shake made entirely of fruit with a sweet, but not overly sweet flavor.

Mango, Maracuya (Passion fruit), Strawberry, and Mandarin orange

The second juice was a full flavored blend, which was as vibrant in flavor as it was in color. We were a bit more familiar with these fruits (mango, maracuya (passion fruit), strawberry, and mandarin orange) but we often eat them as ingredients in desserts, ice creams etc. and haven’t had them in this fresh form.

The maracuya (passionfruit) has crunchy seeds wrapped in juicy membranes and has a flavor that is completely different than passionfruit flavored candies etc. This juice blend with its absolutely market fresh flavor was incredible--full of sweetness, tartness, and the delicate notes that can be lost with a traditional pasteurization.

Lucuma with Milk

Of the three juice blends, the lucuma with milk was the most unique and one of our favorites.

Lucuma has the most unusual texture--it’s very dense, not juicy, and has a fibrous like texture that dissolves in your mouth. When blended with milk, this juice is like a decadent milkshake with a flavor that can be described as brown sugar/almond . . . sweet but unique. Sandra, our guide explained that lucuma pairs very well with chocolate or caramel in desserts.

We actually had a cake with lucuma later in the week and it was delicious!

So it was a great start to the beginning of many food adventures to come . . . up next, the outdoor market!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Where Have We Been?

On an adventure in Lima, Peru!! Justin and I took a very short trip to Lima, Peru for a wedding. But, we managed to sneak in a culinary tour to experience the wonderful food culture in Peru. We will have four posts about this trip:

• A trip to El Gran Fruta- a unique juice bar that celebrates the native fruits of Peru.
• A tour of a local neighborhood market where the freshest fruits, vegetables and fish are found.
• A cooking lesson and lunch at El Gloria Del Campo, a restaurant in the middle of a organic garden.
• A visit to Vivande, a high-end supermarket in the Miraflores area of Lima.

So, new posts coming as soon as we can write them!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Pork Butter Disagreement

Ok, the Foodspiration foodies are fighting...over pork butter. That's right, pork butter. Pork butter is the one of the new items at Boccalone, a salumeria in the San Francisco Ferry Building whose motto is Tasty Salted Pig Parts. Pork butter is the leftover renderings from lard manufacture (solid bits of meat, skin, etc.) that are blended with olive oil, rosemary, and garlic. They sell it for $5 dollars a pound and other foodies on the web are likening it to rillettes or French potted pork.

I first tried it spread on a piece of grilled crusty bread and thought it was really indulgent, but wonderfully flavorful with complex savory and meaty notes. Yum! It's nothing to look at as you can see from this photo and you really have to taste it to make your decision. I also like it because it is part of founder Chef Chris Cosentino's philosophy of using as much of the animal as possible-not letting anything to waste.

Then I took it home for Justin to try.

He felt differently.

And so I'll let him express his thoughts directly:

Holy EXPLETIVE. This was over the top. As a bratwurst eating boy from the Midwest, this even violated my pork eating sensibilities. I've been chased by an angry sow on Uncle Fred's farm and I'd love the sweet taste of revenge, but man . . . Maybe I've been in California a few months too long, but I preferred EVOO on the grilled bread. I can visualize the pork butter incorporated into a more complex dish in some general, abstract sense, but not alone.

So, there you have it. Pork butter--sustainably succulent or ridiculously indulgent? Have you tried it? We'd love for you to settle this argument for us!