Thursday, June 30, 2011

What is a chimichurri?

Photo: Scott Atkinson (www.sunset.com)

The warm weather of summer has coaxed my garden into a growth spurt of amazing proportions. Parsley and oregano have exploded from every nook and cranny. When given lemons, we make lemonaide. When given parsley, we make chimichurri.

No, it's not a new dance. Chimichurri is a popular Argentinian condiment--a green sauce used on grilled meats as commonly as we use catsup.

How did such a simple sauce gain such a strange name? There are many theories. One story claims that it comes from "Jimmy McMurry", an Irishman who invented the sauce. Others say it was "Jimmy Curry", an English meat importer, James C. Hurray, and even an English family who were heard to say "give me the curry" while dining with a Uruguain family.

All I know is that it is so easy to make. Just place the following in the bowl of your blender or food processor and whirl until you have a beautiful green sauce:

Chimichurri
3 cups of chopped flat-leaf parsley (firmly packed)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
1 tsp. salt
juice of 1/2 half large lemon
3/4 cup olive oil

OK, so now what do you do with chimichurri? My husband and I had it with grilled steaks. It would be equally fabulous with grilled chicken, fish, or even pork.

But, there will be leftovers. We had leftovers. Now what?

Well, I've never been known to throw anything away. Not even a cup of day-old chimichurri. Guess what? You're getting two recipes today for the price of one:

Rice Salad with Chimichurri Dressing
4 cups cooked rice (white or brown)
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced tomato (with seeds removed)
6 slices bacon, cooked crisp and chopped
about 1 cup chimichurri sauce
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Mix all together, serve, and enjoy!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Another visit to the Farmers Market

Photo: http://www.bhg.com/
(Meredith Corporation)
Every Tuesday afternoon during the summer, there is a Farmers Market near by younger daughter's house. I meet her there when she gets off of work. It gives us a chance to shop together, talk, and simply enjoy all of the sights and sounds and aromas of a local market.

This week we discovered amazing rustic breads from a local bakery, fresh basil, and some heirloom tomatoes.

Do you have any idea what an amazing meal you could make with just those simple ingredients?

In the Tuscanny area of Italy it is common to find Panzanella (pahn-zah-NEHL-lah) or bread salad, not only in restaurants, but in the homes of those living in central Italy. Italian cooks waste nothing and this is commonly a way to utilize stale bread and vegetables from the garden. The record of panzanella goes back centuries. In the 1500s, a poem by the famous artist, Bronzino, described the salad. Of course, the tomato was quite a few years from being introduced into the Italian kitchen, so the ingredients didn't include tomatoes. But the panzanella's created today take advantage of the wonderful earthy/sweet flavors of home-grown tomatoes at their finest:

Panzenella (Bread Salad)
Day-old bread
Cucumber, peeled and diced
Tomatoes (roma, plum, or heirloom of your choice)
Red onion, thinly sliced
Basil leaves

Olive oil & vinegar
Salt & Pepper

Suggestions for serving two people: 4-5 slices of day-old bread (1/2 loaf), 1 cucumber, 4 (Roma / small) tomatoes (or 1-2 large), 5-10 basil leaves, 1/4 red onion.
  1. Take the day-old bread, and lightly moisten it under the faucet. It should be moistened all the way through. If it’s too wet, gently squeeze excess water from the bread with your hands and set aside while chopping vegetables. The bread should crumble, not clump/collapse or get soggy.
  2. Shred the bread into a large salad bowl. I like to keep some larger pieces of bread in my panzanella, but you can crumble the bread down until there are very fine pieces, or “breadcrumbs” that resemble couscous.
  3. Cut the cucumbers and tomatoes into pieces and add them to the bowl. Thinly slice a red onion and chiffonade the basil.
  4. Add vinegar and olive oil and mix completely (start with a small amount of each, like 1 T. of vinegar and 3 T. of olive oil) and add more to taste. Taste before adding salt and pepper.
  5. The salad can be served immediately or chilled for 30 minutes in the refrigerator before serving.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dinner from the Farmers Market

Photo: www.bhg.com
Summer has officially arrived in the Pacific Northwest, and every day of the week, you can find a farmers market. I love my local produce stand for their vast selection and low prices, but it's important to support our local farmers. Yesterday I went to the Farmers Market in my town. It's small, but what it lacks in size it makes up for with enthusiastic vendors and produce so fresh it's as though you just picked it from your backyard.

It's too early for the warm-weather crops, but spinach and fresh basil were available. And with just a few additional ingredients dinner was served:

Pasta with Fresh Spinach/Basil Cream Sauce
1 lb. dried fettuccini (or pasta of your choice)
8 oz. ricotta
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (plus additional for serving)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tsp. lightly packed finely grated lemon zest

1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper
6 cups baby spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
2 cups loosely-packed fresh basil, chopped fresh basil


Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook the pasta in the water until al dente, about 11 minutes. Reserve about 1/3 cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix the ricotta, parmesan, olive oil, zest, and salt and pepper.Add the spinach leaves.

Add the hot pasta to the ricotta/spinach mixture and toss to coat. The heat of the pasta will wilt the spinach. Add the reserved cooking liquid as needed to moisten the pasta. Serves 4.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The yin and yang of food


I love chocolate--the dark earthy aroma, the complex hints of coffee/spice/fruit/herbs that are characteristic of the cacaos of different regions of the world,the seductive sensation as it melts in the warmth of your mouth. But could I live on chocolate alone? At first thought, that sounds like a vision of Heaven, but in time I'm sure I would want something more, something different.

After surgery or illness have you ever been restricted to a bland diet? You end up eating food that is all the same texture and color. My cat is perfectly content to eat the same kibble day in and day out. But we humans are always looking for some excitement in our meals. It's that lack of "sameness", the contrasts, that make our foods interesting.

Yesterday I assembled one of those yin-and-yang meals, and it happened quite by accident. It all started with bacon. I had fresh shrimp and some fettuccine--always a good platform with which to start. I love shrimp because it cooks quickly and can be taken in so many different directions--with a bit of soy sauce and spices you have an Asian-inspired meal, with cardamon you are dining in Morocco, or with chilies and tomatillos you are south of the border.

But yesterday I had some bacon in the frig that would soon be past it's prime. I also had a few mushrooms about to expire. So I started to think about combining bacon and mushrooms and shrimp. Yes, you can always wrap bacon around shrimp and toss them on the grill, but I wanted to do something in the kitchen. So here's what happened:

Fettuccine with Bacon and Shrimp
1/2 pound pasta of your choice

4 slices honey-maple cured bacon, diced
1 cup button mushrooms, sliced

2 large cloves garlic
parsley (about 1/2 cup fresh tops)
1/2 cup walnuts
zest from 1/2 lemon

1 pound shelled, deveined raw shrimp
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese


Fill a large cooking pot with water and set over high heat to bring to a boil to cook 1/2 pound of pasta. (I used fettuccine, but you could use whatever type of pasta you have on hand.) Cook pasta according to package directions, drain, and set aside. Save 1/2 cup of the pasta water. 

Place the bacon in a large saute pan, and cook it until it is crisped. Remove it from the pan and set aside. Add the mushroom slices and cook over medium heat until lightly browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Place the garlic, parsley, walnuts and lemon zest into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the garlic is pulverized and the walnuts are finely minced.

Heat a large saute pan to medium-high heat. Add shrimp to pan and cook until pink, about 4 minutes. Return cooked bacon and mushrooms to saute pan. Add garlic/walnut mixture and stir together over medium heat. Add cooked pasta to pan. Stir in 1/2 cup reserved pasta-cooking water. Season to taste with salt and/or pepper if desired. If you like a bit more heat with your meal add a pinch of red pepper flakes.

****************************

So, why is this recipe different? There's the sweet shrimp juxtaposed against the salty taste of the bacon. Acidic lemon vs. the bite of garlic. Toothsome pasta vs. crisp parsley. Crunch of walnuts vs. the creaminess of romano cheese.

The point isn't to use these specific ingredients. Just think about complements and contrasts in your every day meals. If you don't have shrimp, substitute chicken. If you don't have parsley, use another fresh herb. No romano? Any other firm cheese would do. No bacon? What else is hiding in your frig that might impart a smoky taste? Perhaps a bit of sausage or kielbasa?

My husband all but licked the pan. I hope you can find a way to make this dish your own and enjoy it too!
 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Vive le difference

OK, today this post is not about recipes, or cooking, or even about food.

I've been asked why my blog is not like others. Almost every cooking blog features beautiful photographs of recipes in progress--step-by-step reveals of what should be happening in your kitchen as you dutifully replicate their creation.

#2 - I'm not a photographer. In fact, I don't own a camera. I don't even have the option of taking a photograph with my cell phone (if I can find it).

#1 - I believe that my followers (and occasional visitors) are intelligent enough that they don't need to see what it looks like if one breaks an egg into a bowl, sifts flour, or slices a mushroom. I know that you get it, and if I take care with my wording I can lead you step-by-step through the processes without photographs.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Four-layer dessert

Photo: www.Kraftbrands.com/coolwhip
Next Sunday is Fathers' Day, and there will be a potluck at our church after 2nd service. I've been looking through my files to find a dessert idea that is low cost and quick to fix. It needs to transport easily and I've heard a few hints that chocolate would be appreciated. Here's a recipe I found on the Kraft Foods/Cool Whip website:




Four-Layer Dessert
1 cup flour
1/2 cup finely chopped PLANTERS Slivered Almonds
1/4 cup margarine, melted
1 pkg. (8 oz.) PHILADELPHIA Fat Free Cream Cheese, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 cups thawed COOL WHIP Sugar Free Whipped Topping, divided
2 pkg. (1.4 oz. each) JELL-O Chocolate Fat Free Sugar Free Instant Pudding
3 cups cold fat-free milk
Mix flour, nuts and margarine; press onto bottom of 13x9-inch pan. Bake 15 min. or until lightly browned. Cool.
Beat cream cheese and sugar with mixer until well blended. Stir in 1 cup COOL WHIP; spread over crust.
Beat pudding mixes and milk with whisk 2 min.; spread over cream cheese layer. Top with remaining COOL WHIP. Refrigerate several hours or until chilled.

Kraft Kitchen Tips

Serving Suggestion--Garnish each square with a fresh raspberry and mint sprig.
Note:
If pudding layer seems too soft for layering, refrigerate dessert 15 min. before covering with the final COOL WHIP layer.




Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Make me proud!


I have an announcement from the Lindsay Olive Company that I want to share with all of you. Today they have launched a nationwide recipe contest, Lindsay’s “Love This Recipe”. All recipes must use Lindsay Olives as one of the ingredients. A total of 13 prizes will be awarded in a variety of categories, with prize money totaling more than $3,000. The contest will run through June 30, 2011.

Lindsay’s Recipe contest will accept submissions in six categories, and participants may enter up to one recipe per category.
  • Appetizer (this can include tapenades, relishes, spreads etc.)
  • Side dish
  • Main course
  • Snack
  • Meal on a budget: $10 or less
  • Five ingredient fix
You're probably wondering "What could I possibly create with olives? They're on the relish plate on Thanksgiving, and once I stirred some into the spaghetti sauce."

Let me give you a recipe that uses olives in a way you might not have imagined--I'm hoping it will help get your imagination clicking:

Focaccia with Rosemary and Olives
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 tsp. sugar
1 envelope (about 2 tsp.) active dry yeast

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup warm water
3 tablespoons olive oil

cooking spray
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup small or medium black olives, well drained and patted dry
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup water with sugar and yeast. Let tand in a warm place for about 10 minutes, or until mixture is bubbly and begins to smell yeasty.

In another bowl, combine flour and salt. Make a well in flour, add proofed yeast, remaining 3/4 cup warm water, and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Begin mixing flour and liquid with your hand; mix until you form a dough that cleans the sides of the bowl.

Clean off your hands. Lightly flour a work surface. Place dough on surface and begin to knead with the heel of your hand, turning and folding dough as you knead it. Knead 5 to 8 minutes, or until dough becomes smooth and elastic. Put dough into a clean bowl and let rise, covered with a kitchen towel iin a warm place 1 to 2 hours, until doubled in bulk.

Punch dough down with your fist.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat the bottom of an 11x7-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Pat dough to fit pan. Brush surface with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Indent surface of dough by pressing all over with your fingertips. Evenly distribute olives over the surface of the dough; sprinkle rosemary on top.

Cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes, or until doubled in bulk. Bake for 30 minutes or until puffy and lightly golden on top.


For contest details, official rules and the entry form, visit www.LindsayOlives.com/contest. Lindsay Olives is also on Facebook at facebook.com/lindsayolivesor Twitter at twitter.com/lindsayolives.