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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fall in love... with an appetizer!

Yet another jewel of culinary simplicity -and a courtesy of my friend Daniela - got my attention early on before dinner.
Tomato-garlic bruschettas. What's more there to say?! Oh, that it's very healthy too? Go ahead, fall in love!

All you need is:

  • 4 Roma tomatoes, diced (or any other tomatoes will work)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, cut in half
  • Black pepper and salt to taste
  • 10 medium fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • A loaf of crusty Italian bread (we used a baguette)
  • Extra virgin olive oil (to drizzle)

In a mixing bowl, combine tomatoes, chopped garlic, basil, and salt & pepper. Add 4 TBS of olive oil, and mix well.

Slice the bread, drizzle with olive oil on both sides, and
grill lightly (or place under the broiler briefly).

Now the final step. Rub your slices of bread with halved garlic clove for some extra flavor, and top with tomato mixture. Be generous. It's very good :). Serve immediately.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Silly Little Sauce = A Huge Difference!

In the spirit of celebrating great food, I simply can't pass on the opportunity to share about my friend Daniela's salmon steaks. They are to die for. Seriously. Why? The Sauce. Read on. 

Daniela starts with a fresh salmon, and rubs it with seasoning (she used the "Lawry's" brand):

The steaks are then placed onto the grill (low-medium heat), where they sit for about 25 minutes. Flip them over at half-time.

Once the salmon is done, you get the most tender, moist steak, with a bit of a charbroil flavor. But don't stop yet. The best part is coming. Daniela serves her salmon steaks with a ridiculously simple sauce, made of fresh crushed garlic, a dash of Vegeta seasoning, and water.

This garlic sauce is poured over the salmon steak, and there are no rules: you can go as crazy as you want on the amount poured. Finish your fish with a sprinkle of fresh lemon juice. The flavor combination is absolutely incredible. Give it a try - you may discover that you'll never go back to the plain ole BBQ fish! :)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Sunday Afternoon"

So, the other Sunday I was in the mood for a nice relaxing concoction. It was about 85F outside, and it made for a perfectly lazy afternoon.

I was looking for something lavendery (lavender rules at our house!). So I got a couple of interesting lavender martini recipes off the internet, but as my luck goes, I hardly had any of the needed ingredients. My darling husband stepped up to the plate, and together we've created a superb little wonder, which we called "Sunday Afternoon". We used:

  • 1 1/4 oz vanilla vodka
  • 1 1/4 oz lavender vodka (infused at home, recipe below)
  • 8 oz black currant juice
  • 1/2 oz lime juice (I found it to be a little "lime-heavy" for my taste, but my husband liked it as is, so this could definitely be adjusted)
Off in a shaker with ice it went, and.... voila!

I have to say I'm pretty proud of our creation. :) Such a refreshing cocktail (thanks to the lime), that's not at all girly, yet so delicate. And yes, you can definitely taste that nice lavender hint!

Here's how I infused the vodka:

  • 12 oz of vodka
  • 2 heaping tsp. of dried lavender flower buds
I used a glass jar. You can certainly use an infuser bag. I didn't have one, so I added the buds straight into the vodka, and strained it later, when it was done. Close the jar, and keep in dry and cool, dark place for 10-14 days.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Inspired by Emeril, Made By A 12-year old. :)

According to our family's tradition, a birthday person chooses their birthday meal to share with the family. And I would typically make it :). But not this time. Not for Yana's 12th birthday.  Yana loves to cook! So for her family celebration party she treated us to a wonderful Caribbean-style dinner, inspired by the recipe of Emeril Lagasse: Jerk pork chops with Mango Salsa, served with rice.

The Jerk Pork recipe is really quite simple:

  • pork chops (we used thick cut), about 2 lbs
  • Jerk seasoning marinade (we used an already-made jerk rub we brought from Jamaica, but there are plenty of easy jerk seasoning recipes on the internet). Make sure to use Scotch bonnet peppers, if possible,  in your Jerk marinade, for the most authentic Jerk flavor experience.
Marinade pork in Jerk seasoning in the fridge for at least 4 hrs., even better overnight - the longer the meat marinates, the better!
Grill on each side until done and slightly charred, about 5-6 min. on each side.

Mango Salsa:

  •  1 mango, peeled and diced (use a firmer mango that's not too soft, or your salsa will be somewhat mushy)
  • 0.5 cup red onion, diced
  • 0.5 cup red pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup green onions, chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced and zested
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, finely minced (you can adjust how much pepper goes in, depending on your spiciness preference)
  • salt and ground black pepper
  • a few mint leaves
Mix all ingredients and let stand in the fridge for at least half-hour before serving. This allows juices and flavors of this mango salsa to really mix and form a nice bouquet of flavors and textures!
Serve salsa over pork - you'll discover a great marriage of spice with fresh light tropical fruit to cool it down. The taste is truly quite exotic!

Although our Birthday girl didn't get to do this next part, we found that a good balanced Chardonnay goes rather nicely with this meal :)

Total cost: $9 per person (incl. wine)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Simple Goodness: Cambodian black pepper sauce for dipping

There's nothing wrong with a good BBQ sauce. Or with ranch. Or with honey mustard. But this...this one is the bomb!
I first had a chance to try this genius and simple sauce while in Cambodia in 2006. I was invited for dinner to a dear friend's house, and was genuinely humbled by the hospitality of the Khmers. I will dedicate some time to this topic later, as it is impossible to describe the goodness of these people, and the wonder of their cuisine in one tiny post.
Everything we were offered was incredibly delicious. But what stood out to me the most, was the most simple thing: black pepper dipping sauce. It went very well with the chicken:

Although we don't serve chicken this way in our house, the sauce goes perfectly well with our version. I hope you give it a try too, and be ready for an explosion of flavor! I promise, you will NOT be disappointed!
The sauce is very easy to make, and the main flavor will largely depend on the quality of the black pepper you use. In Cambodia, they use their own native Kampot peppercorns, which are very aromatic and offer delicate, yet distinct flavor. I highly recommend using freshly ground peppercorns, though I've used an already ground pepper from the store, and it was OK too.   It goes like this:
  • 4 tsp. of ground peppercorns
  • 1 tsp. of salt
  • fresh-squeezed lime juice (about 1/2 lime, but this can really be adjusted to taste, as some people prefer less acid on their palate)
Once you mix the ingredients, you should have a sauce with somewhat pasty consistency. Of course, as you adjust your lime juice, you may end up with a sauce that's a little more runny. 
Your wonderful sauce is complete. Go enjoy it with fish, or spruce up your leftover roasted chicken from yesterday's dinner. :) And don't be afraid to experiment, because you never know what you might discover next!

Total cost: < $1 per batch

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Its Majesty, Steak!

I LOVE a good steak. I mean, the poor cow had to die, so why waste it, right?
I first tried a steak 14 years ago, when I came to live in USA. I had no idea what "steak" was, so I trusted the locals to get a good one for me. It was a long while after that, when I was brave enough to give it a second chance. All I could think was, why in the world would someone want to have a huge slab of cooked-to-death meat, with no flavor, and no color? And go crazy over it? You see, I didn't have the GOOD steak!
I recently came across a fantastic book written by Tom Perini, called "Texas Cowboy Cooking". It's not your typical cookbook. It's a journey through time and tradition of Texas. It really is a good read! And the book is written by a steak lover. You can feel it in every sentence; and with every page you grow more and more hungry for some good steak. So we had some.

My good steak is well marbled for good flavor:

It then is treated to a simple dry rub (we like the "Harry & David's" kind):

Then on to a fire it goes (God bless my husband for dilligently perfecting his grilling skills!) :)

Finally! I smell heaven. It's close, so close! But can't have it yet. It has to rest.

Meanwhile our bread is done! I have a weakness for an artisan bread with a good crust and a warm, soft inside - don't you? :). This loaf has whole garlic cloves in it.

How about a side of Yukon golds? With some sea salt and a splash of malt vinegar? OK!

And some farm-fresh green beans, sauteed with butter and garlic? Can't forget a nice glass of Pinot. Gotta have the Pinot!

Good dinner is almost ready. Just the final touches now. Fresh pepper on the beans, butter on the bread, the steak is trimmed of fat, and topped with Amish gorgonzola cheese. Oh yeah, it's a celebration!


Total cost (per person): $8. Includes wine and leftovers.

Five-minute heaven

I wish for a way to capture the feeling of laying on the swinging bench under my favorite gazebo, while the warm sun is spoiling me. I close my eyes and breathe in summer. It's quiet. Just my puppy digging out some bugs from the ground (note to self: must fix the holes before Rich sees them), and the girls are giggling in the distance. It's not hot, but pleasantly warm. Negative things don't matter, they are somewhere in another universe. Meditating on things that are good, and pure, and wholesome. This is joy.