Saturday, May 28, 2011

Green Salad with Grapes and Walnuts

Oh no, not another green salad. Green salads can be so boring, so routine, SO predictable. It’s far too easy to turn out the same version of "The House Green Salad" meal after meal. Not that a plain green salad is bad. No, it’s the lack of any element of surprise that disappoints. So, there is reason to celebrate when you find a green salad that stands out with its difference, whether its a single ingredient or some combination that sets it apart from the ordinary.

Different greens will vary the impact of a salad. I love the peppery bite of arugula, while RL carefully picks it out of any Spring Greens mixture. Dressings are obviously different; even within the family of vinaigrettes the choice of oil may vary the taste. And then there are the toppings and additions, the jewelry of a salad. Some are tasteful adornments, others resemble a jumble of costume jewelry thoughtlessly tossed into the mix.

Green Salad with Grapes and Walnuts has become a favorite for us at lunch and dinner. It is terrific served by itself, or when it accompanies sandwiches or grilled meat and seafood. What else pairs with chicken salad in dainty tea sandwiches as well as with a thick chunk of grilled steak? Add some toasted croutons and cooked shrimp or chicken and it becomes a main dish. Substitute different nuts, add some herbs and it’s still terrific. Try it as written or with your own variations. I predict this will become a favorite in your galley too.

Greens with Grapes and Walnuts
Serves 4 to 6

6 Tbs mild-flavored oil
2 Tbs red wine vinegar
1 tsp honey
dash oregano
1/8 tsp Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground pepper

1 cup seedless red grapes, cut in half
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, halved or rough chopped (or pinenuts)
6 to 8 cups torn greens (romaine, spinach, red leaf, etc.)
chopped fresh herbs, like Italian parsley and basil (optional)

Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a salad bowl or serving bowl. Stir in the grapes and walnuts. Add the greens, toss well but gently, and serve immediately.

1. Dried cranberries, presoaked in a bit of juice, can substitute for the grapes; though the effect is different, the taste is pleasant.
2. Add some cooked chicken or seafood to make this a main dish salad.
3. Sprinkle some sugared and spiced whole walnuts on top for a special presentation.   

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Carnitas Tacos with Spicy Coleslaw

May has become my Mostly Mexican Menu Month. I'll blame it on the Cinco de Mayo postings all over the internet, or maybe it's my response to a lack of Mexican restaurants in town (and no, I don't count the local Taco del Mar as a dine-out destination). Whatever the reason, thoughts of Mexican food keep popping up in my mind, like spiraling bubbles in a champagne flute. I keep a brief journal in my DayTimer when we travel, a few phrases to record our location, doodle a weather icon and note our meal choices. This habit began on a whim many years ago, and it has developed into an interesting data source. I found that a tilt towards Tex-Mex or Southwest cooking shows up every year, an urge to enjoy our favorite Mexican dishes before the menu turns more to fresh seafood and barbecues.

We've been aboard for three weeks and have already eaten chicken and cheese enchiladas, pork and chicken tamales, quesadillas, chicken tortilla soup, posole, a Mexican omelette, pork and poblano chile, SW corn salad, beef taco salad, arroz con pollo, carnitas tacos... Ah, carnitas.

Somewhere I read that carnitas are the Mexican version of Southern pulled pork. Nope, not in my galley. There is a world of difference that goes beyond the sauces. It might be my imagination, but I swoon over this difference. Pork marinated in bold spices and braised with onions, garlic and chilies in citrus juices, cooked low and slow for hours... OMG, The aroma alone transports me to another world, one of warm sunshine, margaritas, mariachis and the like.

A small pork shoulder roast yields a lot of carnitas, guaranteeing that we will enjoy a variety of presentations. Last night it was carnitas soft tacos; the mellow, citrusy flavors of the meat balanced with a spicy, chipotle-sauced cabbage slaw. Accompaniments included shredded pepperjack cheese, thinly sliced radishes, salsa, sour cream, avocado slices and cilantro. RL loved the tangy bite of the slaw, but all I really needed was a warm tortilla and some carnitas.

Note: Breakfasts with friends aboard usually feature sourdough pancakes, fresh fruit and broiled ham or bacon. Next time I might serve carnitas burritos instead. Ole!

Spicy Coleslaw
Shredded cabbage dressed in thin mix of
  3 Tbs mayonnaise (or Miracle Whip if you prefer)
  1/4 cup orange juice (or an orange/lime juice blend)
  Orange zest
  Chipotle tabasco to taste (I use about 10 drops)  

Cruising Carnitas  
3 lbs pork shoulder, with fat intact
1/4 cup Spicy Seasoning Rub (see below)
1 medium onion, cut in large dice
4 cloves garlic, peeled and split
1 bay leaf
1 orange, quartered
1 cup orange juice
chicken broth, to bring the liquid 3/4 way up the pork
Salt to taste
Tabasco to taste

Suggested Accompaniments: warm tortillas, shredded pepper jack cheese, spicy coleslaw, fresh cilantro, lime wedges, avocado slices, diced tomatoes, and/or diced red onion

1.  Sprinkle a few tablespoons of the Spicy Seasoning Rub all over the pork shoulder and massage it into the meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight, if you have the time. Otherwise, just proceed.
2.  Preheat the oven to 275 F.
Add a generous tablespoon of oil (canola oil is fine although lard, and a plenty of it, is more traditional) to a heavy Dutch oven and heat at medium-high. Brown the pork well on all sides, then remove from the pot and set aside.
3.  Add the onions to the heated pot and cook until they soften; add the garlic and another tablespoon of the Spicy Seasoning Rub and cook for another minute or two, until fragrant.
4.  Add the chicken stock, orange quarters and orange juice, stirring to scrape up the browned bits and spices. Return the meat to the pot and add a bay leaf. Adjust liquid as needed, it should reach about 3/4 of the way up the meat. Cover tightly and cook in the oven until pork is fork tender and ready to fall apart, about 3 1/2 hours.
5.  Remove the meat from the Dutch oven to cool; pull apart into chunks or shred. Remove the orange quarters and other solids from the pot. Heat the remaining juices over medium heat; use salt and tabasco to adjust seasoning to taste.Then... 
Option 1: Return the meat to the pot and fry in the juices until it begins to crisp and the liquids are absorbed.
Option 2: Preheat broiler; place pork pieces in a shallow pan and broil, about 4 inches away from the flame or element.
6.  Serve warm with optional toppings suggested above..

*Spicy Seasoning Rub
2 Tbs ground coriander seed
2 Tbs dried Mexican oregano
2 Tbs cumin
2 Tbs thyme
2 Tbs paprika
1/4 cup ground red chile powder (ancho or chipotle)

Note: some traditional carnitas recipes cook the pork in lard or vegetable oil rather than broth. It sounds interesting, but no, I haven't tried this method. I might find that I like it too much.
Kenji's recipe here calls for canola oil.
Emeril uses lard in this recipe.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Daring Cooks: Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

To roux or not to roux... don't laugh, that really is the question.

Ask yourself, before selecting your gumbo recipe...
  • “Will  this be a roux-based gumbo, or not?”  There’s no right or wrong answer since the results can be tasty either way. Tasty, but different.
  • “Will I use okra, or file powder, or both or neither?” Individual preferences dictate the answer here. My response is bring it on! I love the flavor and thickening power of both ingredients and have used them separately and together. I do realize that some diners have issues with the taste or texture of these items, so it's a personal choice.
When DaringCooks announced this month’s Gumbo Challenge, I knew I was in cooking heaven. We love seafood gumbo and it’s frequently on the galley menu. Fresh prawns and crab are featured in many of the gumbos prepared aboard the boat, while chicken and sausage are more common in my gumbos ashore. The current challenge was to move beyond my favorite recipes and try something new… or maybe not. What to do? I decided to cook more than version, a somewhat healthier non-roux version that’s an old standby, and a roux-based gumbo adapted from a recipe by Leah Chase. The suggested John Besh recipe was appealing, but the new-to-me Chase recipe called to me more strongly. 

When dealing with a roux, preparation is key, so step one was to season the chicken and chop the meats and vegetables into appropriate bite-sized pieces. We haven't gone prawning or crabbing yet this season, so chicken and pork were my protein choices for this batch, even though the recipe listed crab, shrimp and oysters. Oysters?!

The fresh okra at the nearby market looked too sad and tired to use, frozen would be a better choice. I was surprised to find two frozen okra packages, one from Egypt and the other a product of the USA. The origin and brands were different, but the pods inside looked and tasted the same.

I browned the sausages and chicken pieces and cooked them in a covered pot while I tackled the roux. Roux is just flour cooked in an equal amount of very hot oil and stirred constantly until it reaches the desired color. The darker the roux, the nuttier the taste and the less the thickening power of the flour. This recipe called for roux "the color of pecans". It was tempting to stop cooking at a medium beige stage, but achieving the pecan coloration didn't take too many minutes longer.

Chopped onions were quickly added to the skillet. They help to lower the temperature in the pan and stop the roux from burning. There's no recovering a scorched roux, it will always taste bitter and burnt - not a flavor you want in your gumbo.

The roux was slowly added to the pot of cooking meats, followed by all of the remaining ingredients except file powder and rice. Chicken stock covered them all as they gently bubbled along at a low simmer for an hour. To finish I stirred in the file powder, let the gumbo rest for a few minutes and served it around a mound of cooked rice. 

The flavors will mellow and blend with an overnight hold, so leftovers are a special treat. Gumbo freezes well too, so don't hesitate to make an extra-large batch. I'll defrost a quart or two, top each serving with some Cajun spiced, pan-seared fresh prawns and this gumbo will be beyond heavenly.

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo (with a roux)
based on Creole Gumbo by Chef Leah Chase in The Oprah Magazine Cookbook (link)

1/2 lb hot sausage (andouille, chorizo or Italian) cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 lb kielbasa, cut into bite-sized pieces
5 or 6 chicken drumsticks or thighs, bone-in and skin-on
2 Tbs Cajun Seasoning*
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
3 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
3 quarts chicken stock
1/2 lb smoked ham, diced
2 cups okra, chopped if large
1 Tbs sweet paprika
1 tsp ground thyme
1 tsp salt (optional)
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1 Tbs file powder
5 cups hot cooked rice

  1. Cut up the sausages and chop all of the vegetables before you begin.
  2. Sprinkle Cajun Seasoning* over the chicken pieces; rub in and set aside.
  3. Heat a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat; add the sausage and sear until browned and fat is rendered. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the chicken pieces to the pot and brown on all sides. Add the sausage chunks back to the pot; cover and cook over a medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the chicken pieces; discard the skin and bones and shred the chicken meat back into the pot.
  4. Heat the oil in a medium-sized iron skillet over medium heat. Add the flour all at once, stirring constantly and cook until the flour mixture (roux) turns nutty brown, about the color of a pecan. (Be careful to avoid splattering your skin, the oil will produce a bad burn). Reduce the heat to low and add the onions all at once, stirring constantly, until the onions soften, about 3 minutes. Add the bell pepper and celery and stir to mix.
  5. Stir the roux with vegetables into the meat mixture, scraping up any brown bits from the skillet. Gradually add the chicken broth, stirring to combine and incorporate the browned bits from the bottom and sides of the meat pot. Add the ham, okra, paprika, thyme, parsley, garlic, and bay leaf. Simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally. 
  6. Remove pot from the heat and stir in the file powder. Let stand 5 minutes. Serve over a mound of rice.
*Cajun Seasoning: Mix 2 TB sweet Hungarian paprika, 1 tsp each dried basil and dried thyme, 1/2 tsp each freshly ground pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder, and 1/4 tsp cayenne. You will have more than you need for this recipe: store in a tightly lidded container for up to several months.

Gumbo Number Two

Below is a favorite old standby, the reliable basis for countless gumbo variations. Tomatoes give it a rich color and a nice flavor boost without any roux. It may not be traditional, but this gumbo is much faster to prepare and still very tasty.

Chicken Gumbo (without a roux)
from Creole Gumbo in Eat Light by Susan Deeming (link)

1 1/2 cups water
1 chicken-flavored bouillon cube
3 5-oz chicken breast halves
3/4 cup chopped onion (divided)
1/4 cup chopped celery leaves
1 (16-oz) can tomatoes with juice (Cajun flavored recommended)
1 thick bacon slice, diced (not Maple flavored)
1 cup diced green bell pepper
2 TB all-purpose flour
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp dried leaf thyme
1/8 tsp red (cayenne) pepper
8 oz fresh or frozen medium shrimp (about 18), shelled, deveined (use shells to season chicken broth)
cooked ham hocks or spicy sausage chunks 
1 (10-oz) pkg. frozen cut okra – or 3/4 lb fresh okra, chopped
1 tsp gumbo file powder
  1. In a large pan, combine water and bouillon cube. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat until water barely simmers. Crush bouillon cube with the back of a spoon. Stir until completely dissolved. Trim fat from chicken. Add chicken, 1/4 cup chopped onion and celery leaves to bouillon mixture. Bring mixture back to a simmer. Cover, simmer 15 min. Use a slotted spoon to remove cooked chicken breasts. Pour broth mixture through a sieve into a large saucepan; discard vegetables. Set broth aside to cool. Cut cooked chicken from bones; discard bones. Cut or tear chicken into bite-sized pieces; set aside.
  2.  Fry bacon in a heavy skillet until crisp. Drain cooked bacon on paper towels. Sauté sausage chunks or cooked or smoked ham hocks to brown; remove from pan and set aside. Add remaining 1/2 cup chopped onion and bell pepper to skillet. Sauté over medium heat until onion is soft, but not browned. Sprinkle flour over sauteed onion mixture; stir in. Cook about 1 min.; remove from heat. Gradually stir reserved broth into onion mixture. Return skillet to heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Pour broth mixture back into large pan. Add canned tomatoes (broken up) and their juices, bay leaves. Thyme and red pepper to pan. Cover; reduce heat to low. Simmer 15 min.
  3.  Add chicken pieces, shrimp and okra. Simmer 10 min. longer. Remove 1/2 cup liquid from saucepan; stir file powder into liquid. Return file mixture to saucepan; stir to blend.
  4.  Ladle gumbo into soup bowl (over or alongside rice mound); top with crumbled bacon pieces. Serve hot. Serve additional hot sauce and file powder separately to add to taste.

Note: I usually double the recipe, but triple the tomatoes.

Blog-checking lines: Our May hostess, Denise, of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need, from creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Free 3-Day Food Photography Workshop

May 13-14-15

FREE Food Photography Workshop starts Friday!
Join Penny De Los Santos in a three-day online Food Photography Course 

Check it out and sign up immediately if you're interested. No, this isn't a commercial, it's more like a heads up on an opportunity. I"m looking forward to participating on Friday, and the rest of the weekend if the class is terrific and if we're still in port. 
I had seen the announcement last month and was excited about a workshop based in Seattle. Penny De Los Santos is a remarkably talented photographer. Her images are distinctive, recognizable even before you see the credits. This workshop would be an opportunity to gain tips and insights from a master, to watch her in action instead of just reading a how-to article. But scheduling presented a problem. We are usually cruising in Alaska by mid-May, without an internet connection, so why bother thinking about it. When Ree (thepioneerwoman) wrote a post this week about the workshop I grew excited all over again. We will be in town, at a marina, with wi-fi and maybe, just maybe BBXpress will give me a fast, solid connection hour after hour, for three days, over a long weekend. It's worth a try. 

While my primary focus will always be on cooking and enjoying a meal, I'd like to post images that reflect the experience. You know, in focus and appealing. I'm hoping for magic here, a way to improve my food photography, yet allow me to enjoy food while it's still warm, not re-warmed. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ad-Lib Posole

Note: this should really be dated April something, but the post just sat around as a draft for an entire month! Now it's May and we're back aboard, the weather is wet and blustery with whipped-up water inside the marina. That's reason enough to warrant a posole party, even though it's past Cinco de Mayo. I may be back on the boat but I still can't find my usual recipe, so here's the Ad-Lib Posole post and recipe anyway. I'll have to rely on this version for tomorrow's batch.

Photo: A warming bowl of  Posole, just waiting for toppings

"March went out like a lion, a'whippin up the water in the bay..." Those Rogers and Hammerstein lyrics ran through my mind repeatedly as I watched the surf build up on the lake. The music from Carousel is infectious that way, once those lilting melodies take hold, they stay with you all day. So I smiled and sang my way through the morning, ignoring the rainy windstorm raging outside the kitchen. Except when I tossed on a rain jacket and ventured outside to check on progress in the yard. 

RL worked with a 3-man crew to attack some major tree pruning, shrub trimming, planter bed cleaning, power washing, etc. Our yard is small, but during Spring cleanup it seems to grow acres larger. That's especially annoying since we're focused on leaving town and moving aboard the boat. While the fellows dealt with the landscape and the weather, I ad-libbed a large pot of posole. Why ad-libbed you ask? Because my usual recipe was left behind, stored somewhere on the boat, never transcribed onto the computer. I might prefer this new version anyway. It was certainly a hit on a chilly yardwork day. 

Posole is a classic dish, enjoyed for centuries in Mexico and the American southwest. It's a thick soup that's usually made with pork, hominy, garlic, onion, chili peppers, cilantro, and broth. Okay, I covered those bases with my freeform recipe. Green Posole and Red Posole are traditional holiday dishes in New Mexico, but location doesn't matter - posole makes any meal taste like a celebration. Ole!

Ad-Lib Posole

1/2 lb spicy sausage, cut in chunks  (I used Aidell's Habanero Mango Chicken)
1 lb pork, cut in chunks (bone-in shoulder is good, but even tenderloin will work)
1/4 lb loose pork sausage (I like chorizo, but only had JimmyDean Lite on hand)
2 poblano chiles, roasted/ peeled/diced (or 2 small cans diced green chiles)
1 large yellow onion, medium dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 large tomatillos, husked and chopped, (or a dozen or more small ones)
2 tsp cumin
1 TB Mexican oregano
1 TB dried cilantro
1 can diced tomatoes and their juice
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (more as needed)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 large cans hominy, rinsed and drained
1 cup frozen corn (Mexicorn is best, canned works well too)

Optional toppings might include:
Avocado chunks
Shredded kale or cabbage
Shredded jack cheese
Thinly-sliced radish
Tortilla strips or taco chips (freshly fried or packaged)
Chopped scallions
Chopped fresh cilantro
Salsa and hot sauces
Pickled jalapeno rings or nopalitos
Lime wedges

  1. Heat 1 TB canola oil in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or large pot over medium high heat: sear the pork chunks in several batches until browned on all sides, but not crispy. Use a slotted spoon to remove from the pot and set aside. In the same pot cook the loose sausage until no longer pink.  Add the chunks of spicy sausage and cook until they release their fat and become browned. Use a slotted spoon to remove from the pot and set aside.  Leave 2 TB of fat in the pot and discard the rest.
  2. Add the diced onions to the pot and saute until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and tomatillos; stir and cook for another minute. Add the spices and cook until they become fragrant, another minute or two.
  3. Return the meat to the pot. Add the tomatoes and chicken broth and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently until the pork is tender. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Add the hominy and corn and simmer until softened and heated through.
  5. Serve and accompany with a platter of assorted toppings. The broth is tasty by itself, but oh! it's heavenly when you add handfuls of your favorite toppings. Use a wide variety, the toppings make a big difference.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

An Easy Cinco de Mayo Lunch

Tamale Plate 

Cinco de Mayo didn't register on my mental calendar until this morning, too late for any major cooking event. I took the easy route and rummaged through the fridge and freezer drawers. A package of frozen pork tamales saved the day. Not just any old storebought tamales, oh no! These were handmade, crafted with care by the ladies of a local South Seattle church (and sold as a fundraiser). Miguel used to deliver them, still warm from the steamer, very early on random Friday mornings. Pork or chicken? chicken or pork? Unable to decide between the two varieties, I usually purchased a dozen of each. After enjoying many dozens of both, we still haven't declared a favorite.

Even though they had been frozen today's tamales were delicious, as always, and helped us celebrate the Mexican holiday honoring the defeat of the French forces in the Battle of Puebla. We did skip the margaritas at lunch, there were afternoon projects that required focused concentration. But now I'm thinking about posole for later in the week.........
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