We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tasty Hot Crab Dip

by Michelle

   Over the years, when it comes to celebrating the holiday season, more often than not we gather friends and family for a festive Yule meal on the shortest day of the year, winter solstice. This year we contentedly dined on a Surf and Turf dinner featuring Hot Crab Dip, Jumbo Shrimp with a Spicy Cocktail Sauce and Filet Mignon complemented with Chimichurri, Mashed Potatoes, Mushroom Gravy and Roasted Tomato Gratin. Juliette brought her homemade seeded focaccia and a beautiful braided sourdough loaf and a stellar chocolate cake accented with fresh raspberries.
   I made enough crab dip to bridge from appetizer to side dish kept warm in a chafing dish. More than a few guests put a big helping of crab on top of their beef filet à la Oscar. If you are lucky enough to live where fresh crabs are readily available, you can use fresh crabmeat, picked over carefully to remove shell fragments. Living in the desert, I buy Phillips Lump Crab Meat in a 16-ouce jar and use it with great success.
   I mix all the ingredients in the chafing pan and heat over a pan filled with boiling water. Once the mixture is hot, I transfer the pan to the prepared chafing dish heated by canned sterno. Alternatively, the dip can be combined ahead of time and refrigerated up to one day in advance. Bake for approximately 20-30 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.
   Serve with crackers, sliced baguette, or my favorite, tortilla chips. The dip is terrific washed down with a cold cocktail, white wine and champagne making it a festive addition to a New Year's Eve buffet.

Hot Crab Dip

Base recipe:
2 8-oz packages cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup mayonnaise
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tsps Worcestershire
1 tsp sea salt and a few grinds freshly cracked pepper
2 tsps Dijon mustard
a few dashes Tobasco

Optional Add-ins:
1 small can Hatch green chilies
1 4-oz jar diced pimientos
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 scallions, sliced into thin rounds, greens included
1 Tbsp minced parsley
1/2 cup shredded parmesan
1 tsp Old Bay seasoning

Fold in:
16-ounces (1-pound) lump crabmeat, picked over for shell fragments

Lars Own All Natural Crispy Onions, optional

sliced baguette
assorted crackers
tortilla chips

1.  For a chafing dish: mix all the base ingredients together and desired add-ins in the chafing pan. Place the pan directly over a saucepan filled with boiling water, stirring often until hot. Gently fold in crabmeat. Heat another minute or two, stirring occasionally not to break-up crabmeat too much. When heated through, top with Crispy Onions, if desired. Place in chafing dish. Keep warm by lighting a can of sterno. Serve with sliced baguette, assorted crackers and tortilla chips.
2.  In the oven: mix all the base ingredients together and desired add-ins. Gently fold in crabmeat. Transfer mixture to a buttered baking dish. Cover with onions. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use, or directly transfer to a preheated 350°F oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes until fragrant and just beginning to bubble around the edges. Serve immediately with sliced baguette, assorted crackers and tortilla chips.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Auntie Dick's Steamed Persimmon Pudding

The Memory Keepers by Linda

"My mother said every persimmon has a sun inside, something golden, glowing, warm as my face." 
                                                                                                 ~From Persimmons by Li-Young Lee

   There are few things that I think are more lovely than a persimmon tree in December. Personally, I like to think of the persimmon tree as the true Christmas tree of California. Starting in early November, the leaves of the persimmon tree will begin to color with gold and red as the fruit grows a more deep orange each day. Finally all the leaves fall, usually in early December, leaving a tall and stately tree full of glowing flame-colored fruit that bejewels the tree up until the first heavy frost.

   Growing up in California, persimmons figure into my earliest memories. I can remember my maternal grandmother, Maxine, used to make persimmon pudding and cookies for the holidays. According to my mother, my Nana, as I called her, and one of her best friends known to me as "Auntie Dick", would start saving small coffee cans all year long in preparation for making the traditional holiday offering.

   Auntie Dick's real name was Hermine Juliette, and she had been born in Germany. Before her death, she had known five generations of our family, and our sister Juliette was named after her. I remember as a girl when I asked her how she came to be called Dick, because it was curious to me that she had a man's name, she explained that as a young girl in Germany that she had been chubby, and her family referred to her as "Dicke", which basically means "fatty" in German. The name stuck even though she grew into a thin and elegant lady, and I can still remember her tickled smile when she talked about how she got her nickname. I remember thinking at the time that I certainly would not enjoy being nicknamed "fatty" by my family, and I failed to comprehend her good humor about it. That memory still makes me smile.

Auntie Dick and Uncle Wes celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.
   Auntie Dick and her husband Wes lived on a large ranch with orchards in a town near Bryn Mawr in San Bernardino County. The town is still very small. As of the year 2000, the population is listed at 213. My mother remembers that Auntie Dick had two very large persimmon trees near her home, one of which was in the front yard. My Nana and Auntie Dick would collect the fruit as it ripened in the fall.   
   I can remember as the fruit ripened on the counter in her kitchen, my Nana would squeeze the persimmons to see when they were ready. When they were soft enough she would squeeze the juicy pulp into containers for the freezer, then she would discard the skin of the fruit, and she always let me help. Her trick for saving the pulp because the fruit ripened at different times was to keep accumulating the fresh pulp on top of the already frozen pulp, so that it froze in layers until the container was full. In this way she was able to have persimmon pulp ready for baked goods all through the year, but particularly at Christmas time. 

Our maternal grandmother, Maxine.
   The persimmon is an indigenous tree to North America. Originally it grew in the hardwood forests of the East Coast. The persimmon was introduced to California in the 1800s, and this beautiful tree can be found growing all across the United States, including along the West Coast stretching into Canada.
   There are many varieties of persimmons, but in your local market starting in October, you will find mostly Fuyu and Hachiya persimmons. Fuyu are a less astringent fruit, and can be eaten like an apple when it is still firm. Hachiya persimmons are an astringent fruit, and need time to ripen and get soft before eating in order to lessen the high tannin content. The Hachiya is the persimmon that is used for baking.

   According to Native American folklore, persimmon seeds can be used to predict whether the coming winter will be cold or mild. When the persimmon seed is cut in half, the shape appearing inside of the seed will indicate what the winter will bring. If the image inside of the seed looks like a spoon, be prepared to be shoveling deep drifts of snow. If inside you see a fork shape, the weather will be milder. If there is a knife shape, the wind will be cold and biting, it is said.

   As a child, our Christmas dessert was always a steamed persimmon pudding served with hard sauce, just like the traditional English dessert of a steamed plum pudding. I never made the association between the two puddings until I was an adult, and I started researching the history of food. I don't really know why, but somewhere around my teenage years, we stopped making persimmon pudding in favor of other more fancy and modern holiday desserts, although persimmon cookies continued to be made by Nana up until her death in the late 80s. No one seems to know exactly why persimmon pudding has fallen out of fashion, but if you are looking for a way to use those beautiful persimmons beckoning to you from your tree or local farmer's market, here is the recipe for our family's persimmon pudding.
   A delicious and modern twist for the pudding is to garnish the serving of pudding in a pool of sabayon and drizzle with caramel sauce. I think Hermine and Maxine would approve.

Auntie Dick's Persimmon Pudding

   You must use Hachiya persimmons, not Fuyu. Fuyu's are similar in texture and shape to apples. Thin slices of Fuyu's make a beautiful garnish - on a cheese tray, "standing" in whipped cream, or as a beautiful edible treat surrounding the Baked Brie with Candied Fruits and Nuts. Dried slices of Fuyu's resemble delicate flowers and are beautiful decorations for the pudding as well as many fall desserts and cheese trays.
   The Hachiya persimmons are ready to use when squeezably soft. If the individual fruits do not ripen at the same time, do not despair. Simply cut off the tops and squeeze the ripe flesh into a tupperware (discarding the peel) and freeze. As each fruit ripens, repeat the process and return the container to the freezer. When ready to use, defrost the required amount before proceeding with the recipe.

1-1/4 cups Hachiya persimmon pulp (about 3 or 4)
3 large eggs, separated
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
3/4 cup milk
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 tsps vanilla extract
1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
boiling water, as needed
Hard Sauce
Dried Persimmon Flowers, optional

Special Equipment:
A pudding mold, optional
parchment paper, optional


1. Place a rack inside a large, tall soup pot. Place the empty pudding mold on the rack. Fill the soup pot with enough water to come halfway up mold. Remove mold and dry with towel. Butter the mold liberally and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Set aside. Begin to heat water in prepared pot; bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a simmer.

2. In the meantime, slice tops off the persimmons. Squeeze out flesh into a blender or bowl of food processor fitted with a steel blade. Discard skins. Blend pulp until smooth. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, whip egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Set aside.

4. In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar. Add melted butter, persimmon purée , milk and whisk again. In a small dish, combine the vanilla and baking soda and stir well. Add to bowl and stir well. 

5. In a separate bowl combine flour, cinnamon and salt, stir. Add nuts, stir until well combine. Add flour and nut mixture to the wet ingredients and whisk until smooth. Quickly fold in eggs whites.

6. Transfer the persimmon batter to the greased and sugared mold. If you are using a pudding mold, cover with lid. If you are using a ceramic bowl, or metal coffee can, cover tightly with buttered parchment paper, then topped with a double layer of foil tied securely in place with kitchen twine. Place the prepared mold carefully inside the soup pot. Cover pot with lid and continue to simmer, adding boiling water as needed to maintain water level. Steam for about 2 hours until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.

7. Transfer mold to a wire rack; remove lid and parchment. Let cool 15 minutes. Unmold pudding onto a plate. Decorate with "persimmon flowers". Serve the pudding while still warm with Hard Sauce, or in a pool of sabayon with a drizzle of caramel.

Dried Persimmon Flowers

by Michelle

Dried Persimmon Flowers

   We snagged this idea from the pages of Martha Stewart Living. Use the slices to decorate Auntie Dick's Steamed Persimmon Pudding or a cheese appetizer such as Baked Bried with Candied Nuts and Dried Fruits.

4-6 firm Fuyu persimmons, stemmed and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil and then cover with wire racks. Place the slices in a single layer on each rack. Bake for about 1-1/2 to 2 hours until the edges begin to curl and the persimmons are still orange. If you bake too long, the slices will begin to turn brown. Cool. Use immediately or store in a covered container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Hard Sauce for Puddings

by Michelle

   This sauce is adapted from a book that I purchased recently titled "Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey" by Jill O'Connor (Chronicle Books, ©2007). The writing, recipes and photography entice the reader into the kitchen to whip up something special. What I liked about this particular version is that it added more alcohol than traditional recipes. The flavor mellows as the hard sauce ages in the refrigerator - up to two weeks before serving - just let the sauce soften a bit at room temperature before serving alongside the pudding. The sauce can be scooped or piped on. Or, as I did for Auntie Dick's Steamed Persimmon Pudding, I couldn't bother to wait so I just poured on a bunch and dove right in. Patience is a virtue, this I know is true.
   Jill's recipe calls for brandy and I substituted spiced rum. Amaretto would also be tasty.

Hard Sauce

2 sticks butter, at room temperature (I used salted butter)
3-4 cups powdered sugar
grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup brandy, spiced rum, amaretto, or whatever strikes your fancy

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, set at medium speed, cream the butter and 3 cups of the confectioners' sugar until light and creamy. Add the lemon zest and gradually beat in the brandy until well blended. Taste the hards auce. If you want it sweeter, beat in another 1/2 cup to 1 cup sugar.
2. Store in a covered container for up to 2 weeks before serving.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

¡Happy Birthday, Guadalupe! Feliz Navidad Fiesta Menu

by Linda

The Guadalupe Shrine at DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun—Tucson, Arizona.
"Cause we are livin’ in a difficult time
We’ve been walkin’ down a difficult line
Put your feet up baby, it’s Christmas time
Cumpleaños feliz
Happy Birthday, Guadalupe."
~The Killers

   I can't honestly pinpoint the moment when I became devoted to the Virgen of Guadalupe. I am nevertheless, for better or for worse, devoted. And my devotion is not Catholic in nature, nor particularly religious. Simply, my devotion flows from the central and urgent need in me to honor the sacred feminine. That force which gestates, gives birth to, and nurtures life and creativity and finally, in the end, destroys and brings death. All of which has a place in the sacred circle of life.
   Somewhere around 1987, during my Saturn Return, I experienced a very dark night of the soul, as they say. I had no idea what a Saturn Return was at the time, but that did stop Saturn from kicking me squarely in the rear end. A more self-aware way to put that would be to say that I had been busy setting in motion some things, and chose to be oblivious to other things. Eventually all those things would converge into my thirty-year-old angst, and subsequent depression.

   "The first Saturn Return is famous because it represents the first test of character and the structures a person has built their life upon. According to traditions, should these structures be unsound, or if a person is living out of touch with his or her true values, the Saturn Return will be a time of upheaval and limitations as Saturn forces him or her to jettison old concepts and worn out patterns of living. It is not uncommon for relationships and jobs to end during this time of life restructuring and reevaluation." — Wikipedia

   So jettison old concepts I did. It was at this time, also, when I turned 30, that my beloved Nana, my maternal grandmother died, leaving me with a broken heart and a great well of sadness within. I started taking stock of every part of my life, including and most especially taking a look at my spiritual life and beliefs, because I was not a happy young woman. I felt depressed and adrift, and I determined that I needed to do something about it. My search for answers led me to read books by Marija Gimbutas, and other scholars who were reintroducing the concept of the Neolithic Mother Goddess. I immediately embraced the idea of a spiritual world view that honored the feminine as sacred, and viewed the Earth as sacred mother of us all. As I began to try on this new mantle honoring the sacred feminine, I felt proud and confident in a way that I never had before.
   So there was Guadalupe. A goddess that I could love— The Goddess of the Americas. My research led me to know that Guadalupe descended from the Aztec Goddesses referred to as Tontantzin. Ancient Aztec cosmology recognized many faces of the goddess, and Tontantzin is the word that was used to refer to all of the sacred forms of the goddess.

Ballet Folklórico Tapatío performs for La Fiesta de Guadalupe. 

   Over the years my relationship with Guadalupe has deepened. These days I feel that she is an old friend, the universal mother. She certainly does not cater to my wishes, or answer my prayers, but she also does not judge me, and she helps me carry my burdens. She patiently watches me struggle with them until I am ready to lay them at her feet. Her expression is always compassionate, and she radiates serenity. And when I don't have any answers, which is often, she is fine with that. In the words of author and poet, Sandra Cisneros:
   "My Virgen de Guadalupe is not the mother of God. She is God. She is a face for a god without a face, an indígena for a god without ethnicity, a female deity for a god who is genderless, but I also understand that for her to approach me, for me to finally open the door and accept her, she had to be a woman like me."

   Happy birthday, La Morenita! According to the legend, the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego 479 years ago today, and pink roses bloomed in December on the top of a frigid and barren hill. Here is a hymn for you which you will find me singing today with a full heart and at the top of my voice accompanying one of my favorite Mexican artists Marco Antonio Solis:

Virgencita... milagrosa - Little Virgen...The Miraculous
Eres tu la estrella mas hermosa - Your are the most beautiful star
De la creacion - of creation
Virgen morena- Brown virgen
Reina de la eperanza - Queen of hope
Hoy te cantamos el himno a la humildad - Today we sing a hymn of humility to you
Eres la tierra - You are the earth
Donde la fe sembramos - Where our faith is planted
Y cosechamos siempre - And we always harvest
De tu bondad - Of your goodness
Virgencita adorada - Adored Virgen
No me puedo ir - I am not able to go
Sin decirte mil gracias - Without telling you a thousand thank yous
Tu sabes por que - You know why

Feliz Navidad Fiesta

   Often when I have hosted the Christmas Day festivities at my house, I have opted to have a Mexican Fiesta menu. I chose to do this for several reasons, and the primary ones are because it is delicious and easy. I want to enjoy my Christmas Day, too, so it is the one day where you will not find me slavishly tending the meal. So here are my offerings, for an amazing meal, that leaves you plenty of time to laze about and enjoy the day. Here is my menu and my secrets for success.

Fiesta Menu

Chips y Salsa Fresca

Sopa de Albondigas
Enchiladas de Amy's
Lupe's Tamales de Pollo
El Charro Arroz
Frijoles or Silvia's
Ensalada de Col
Salsa Fresca
Dulces y Garriettas
Cafe y Kahlua

   The enchiladas can either be made ahead and frozen, or I have often purchased Amy's frozen enchiladas in the family-sized pans. They are tasty and couldn't be any easier. As for the tamales, find a good source and purchase. I have always been able to inquire from friends who is selling tamales at holiday time. For a retail source Primavera Tamales are very good. You can purchase ahead and freeze if you like. So there are two main parts of the meal taken care of.
   The only item that you will need to prepare day of the party is the rice. The refried beans can be a store-bought variety and heated up with some sautéed onion, salsa, and a little chicken broth. You can also make Silvia's Black Beans a day or two ahead if you prefer homemade. The Albondigas Soup is nice to have out in a crock pot during the day and will serve as lunch. It is great to have available for guests to serve themselves. I like to set out a Lazy Susan with salsa fresca, chips, guacamole, pickled veggies and jalapenos, sour cream, etc. Guests can ladle up the soup and garnish as desired.

   The margaritas can be prepared up to three days ahead. I like to use plastic gallon water bottles to store the margaritas in the fridge for large groups. For Christmas, I like to add a splash of fresh orange juice to the mix. The juice of one orange per recipe. This way, all you need to do is to find a place to set up your bar. Have sliced limes, salt on a plate, ice and glasses, with the chilled margaritas in a festive pitcher. You can also have a chilled white wine, a red wine and sodas and mineral water at the bar. Guests can help themselves, a favorite tactic of mine. They can be in charge of their own happiness.
   Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. About an hour before dinner place enchiladas in the oven. Start boiling water in a large steamer for the tamales. The tamales will need to steam for at least 20 minutes. Start heating your refried or Silvia's black beans and make your rice. The coleslaw can be tossed just before going on the table.

The chapel built by Ted DeGrazia dedicated to La Virgen de Guadalupe located in Tucson, Arizona.

Sopa de Albondigas

by Michelle

   If I liked the phrase "twofer", I would use it here. Since I'm not going out of my way to incorporate it into the post, I will use it anyway. Yes, today you get two versions of Albondigas soup in one post. Mainly, I am doing this because I couldn't decide which recipe to use - my sister, Juliette's or my mother-in-law, Joan's. Both are excellent and I think you would be happy with the flavor in both styles.
   Juliette's, as is generally the  overarching rule with her cooking, is spicier than Joan's. So, if you like your food on the spicy side, go for Juliette's version. If you like your food milder, bet on Joan's. Or, you can be like me and do a combination of the two. With either choice, you can use ground turkey or ground beef for equally delicious results.

Albondigas Soup
   As with most soups, stews and chilis, the soup tastes best if made the day before and allowed to rest in the refrigerator overnight. Before reheating over low heat, skim and discard fat from the surface. Serve soup with hot tortillas, tortilla chips or sourdough bread.
   Also, if you prefer a thicker soup, add the cubed potatoes called for in Juliette's recipe. The potatoes partial break down during cooking and the dissolved potatoes thicken the soup.

About 6-7 quarts chicken broth, if making turkey meatballs
About 6-7 quarts filtered water, if making beef meatballs

For Joan's meatballs:
2-1/2 pounds ground turkey
1 cup white rice, uncooked
1/2 cup cornmeal
3 large eggs, whisked
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsps dried oregano, crushed or 1 tablespoon fresh, minced
2 tsps dried sage, crumbled or 1 tablespoon fresh, minced
2 tsps dried basil or 1 tablespoon fresh, minced
1/2 tsp dried mint or 3 leaves fresh, minced, optional
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, minced
2 tsps sea salt
1/2 tsp pepper

For Juliette's Meatballs:
2-1/2 pounds ground beef (80% - NO leaner)
1/2 cup white rice, uncooked
1 Tbsp all purpose flour or 1/3 cup fine dried bread crumbs (sourdough of course!)
1 large egg, whisked
6 cloves garlic minced
1/4 cup diced roasted green chile or minced raw jalapeno
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp oregano
1 Tbsp ancho chile powder, or to taste
A smidge of chipotle powder for extra heat, optional
2 tsps sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Joan's Vegetables for the Soup:
1-2 medium leek, white and most of green, cut in half and sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
1-2 medium zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch half moons
4-5 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
4-5 medium stalks celery, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes or fire-roasted tomatoes

Juliette's Vegetables for the Soup:
1 or 2 yellow onions, peeled and dicedsquash (Mexican Grey, zucchini, yellow crookneck, etc.), diced
1 to 2 medium crook neck (yellow) squash, sliced into 1/4-inch half moons
3 russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
carrots, grated
spinach or arugula
green chiles, diced
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
green beans (fresh, canned or frozen)
corn (fresh, canned or frozen)
1 14-ounce can fire roasted tomatoes

cilantro leaves, stalks removed and discard 
lemon or lime wedges
Mexican cheese - Menonita melts nicely

1. In a soup pot, bring filtered water or chicken stock to a boil over high heat. In the meantime, mix together all the meatball ingredients and with wet hands roll into small, compact balls - about 1-inch around, or about the size of a unshelled walnut. The recipe makes about 52 meatballs.
2. Drop meatballs into the broth slowly to avoid splashing and so the meatballs won't stick together. Juliette adds each meatball to the broth as it is formed. Reduce temperature as needed to maintain a slow boil for 40 minutes. Skim and discard any scum that rises to the surface while simmering the soup. If using, chopped/cubed potatoes, add them now.
3. In a skillet, sauté vegetables for 10-15 minutes, until you can pierce the root vegetables easily with a fork, then add to the soup pot with the meatballs.
4. Taste broth; add more salt, pepper, and herbs, if needed.
5. Let each guest garnish his or her own bowl with cheese, fresh herbs, and lime or lemon wedges.

Salsa Fresca

by Michelle

   Growing up in the Southwest has meant eating excellent Mexican food over the course of my lifetime. My taste buds would be very sad indeed without the cuisine that hails from south of the border. Mexican food is the first thing I want after returning home from a long trip. After being sick, I know I am surely on the road to recovery when I begin to crave tacos with lots of fresh salsa.
   This particular salsa is great party food served in a glass bowl alongside tortilla chips and homemade guacamole and washed down with our favorite margaritas. If I'm feeling especially energetic, I make mango salsa, too. My friends really appreciate homemade salsas and the spicy condiments are usually consumed rather quickly. Therefore, sometimes I'll make two batches for a party, reserving a bowl of each to be set out as part of a dinner buffet. Dido for the guacamole.

Linda's Salsa Fresca

   Salsa Fresca is a first cousin to Pico de Gallo resplendent with the flavors of  ripe tomatoes, chiles, onions and lime juice. Scoop it up with chips, spoon the fresh mix into burritos, or for extra zing heap a healthy serving on top of a taco salad. Although the recipe calls for yellow onion, you can also successfully use a diced red onion or sweet yellow onion, if you like.
   As with any dish that primarily uses fresh ingredients, you need beautiful deeply colored ripe red tomatoes for this recipe. If it is the heart of winter, without access to hot-house tomatoes you will be better off making a different kind of salsa, one that Joan, my mother-in-law would occasionaly make with canned tomatoes that is entirely different than the fresh concoction offered here. Of the two, I would always choose fresh, but hey, when your jonesing for some salsa, just about anything will do over having no salsa at all!

1-2 medium limes, freshly squeezed
1-2 medium jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded and finely diced
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
5-6 medium vine-ripened or hot-house tomatoes, diced
1 4-oz can diced green chiles, such as Hatch green chiles
1 6-oz can black olives, drained and sliced into rounds, optional
2-3 Tbsps minced parsley
3-4 dashes Tobasco
1-2 spashes olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Squeeze the limes and add the juice to a medium sized bowl. Add the minced jalapenos and stir, then the diced onions. Stir again. Add the tomatoes (leaving most of the seeds behind on the cutting board), canned chilies, olives (if using), salt, pepper,Tobasco and olive oil. Let sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with chips and guacamole or as a garnish for any of your favorite Mexican foods.
2. This salsa is best the day it is made, served at room temperature although it will last several days, covered in the refrigerator.

Riffs on Coleslaw

by Michelle

   For years I served a knock-off version of Kentucky Fried Chicken's recipe, which is sweet and creamy and rests for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator before being served. I still like the recipe, especially on tacos and in sandwiches. When I lived in California last year with Linda, she introduced me to a variety of quick coleslaws. I now prefer the crunchy texture and fresh flavors of quickly made coleslaws and they are a breeze to make.
   A variety of mix and match ingredients are tossed in a salad bowl earlier in the day. Stash covered in the refrigerator until just about ready to serve. About 5 to 10 minutes before dinner the dressing ingredients are added and the entire mix is tossed thoroughly to distribute the dressing. Taste; adjust seasonings, adding more vinegar or oil as needed to find the right balance of yin and yang or sweet, salty, sour. Toss again, adjust seasonings again, if needed and serve.
   We assembled coleslaws on the fly to match whatever else was being served that night. We added fennel to the mix for an Italian meal or daikon and picked ginger to an Asian meal. Pickled jalapenos and jicama work well for a Mexican meal that might include tacos, enchiladas or tamales. Coleslaw avails itself to constant interpretation and is always a tasty revelation.
   You know and I know that to be healthy we must eat plenty of fruits and vegetables daily. Scientific research shows humans should have a particular focus on chowing down the cruciferous vegetables, of which the family members are easily recognizable: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, daikon radish, horseradish, brussel sprouts, bok choy, and more. Simply put 100 calories of cruciferous vegetables can provide 25%-40% of your daily fiber requirement - that's a high return on investment - not to mention the serving is also packed with conventional nutrient content and phyotonutrients. What does that mean in simple terms? Cruciferous vegetables might as well wear tights and little capes because they are so good at warding off certain types of cancer. To learn more, visit: The World's Healthiest Foods.

Riffs on Coleslaw

Base ingredients:
1/2 to 1whole small head green cabbage, slivered
1-2 medium carrots, peeled
1 cucumber, peeled, sliced in half, seeds removed (using a spoon), sliced thinly into quarter moons, optional
fresh parlsey, minsed

red cabbage, thinly sliced, mostly added for its appealing color
blanched floweretts of broccoli and/or cauliflower
thin slices of red, orange, yellow or green bell peppers, seeds and veins removed and discarded
2-3 scallions, sliced into rounds both white and green parts
minced chives
1 head fennel, shaved with a mandolin
fresh tarragon, minced
1 jicama, peeled and julienned
minced pickled jalapeno
1 daikon radish, grated
red radish, ends removed, sliced into paper thin rounds
minced pickled ginger
black sesame seeds
pickled shallots: remove and discard papery skin, sliced the shallot into very thin rounds and cover with champagne vinegar for about an hour. Use pickled shallots to garnish salads and use the flavored vinegar in the dressing.

Dressings ingredients might include:
citrus juices and zest: lemon, lime, and orange juice
vinegars: apple/cider, wine (champagne, sherry, red, white), rice wine, soy
oils: infused, such as hot chili or herb, nut (walnut, hazelnut, peanut), meyer lemon, and olive, including extra-virgen
sweeteners: agave syrup and liquified honey
emulsifiers: mayonnaise, plain Greek yogurt, sour cream or crème fraîche
seasonings: plain or flavored sea salts and freshly ground black or white pepper
crumbled Cheeses: Italian gorgonzola, French feta or Mexican queso

   Most vinaigrettes are typically 1 part acid (vinegar and/or citrus juice) to 3 parts oil, although I typically have a heavier hand with the vinegar because I love it so, making my ratio about equal for slaws. The fun of mixing and matching is introduced by the wide varieties of flavored vinegars and oils that are available on the market. Check out your local specialty grocery stores. 
   For a coleslaw, it is important to introduce a sweet dimension to the dressing that we deliver through a generous squirt of Agave syrup because it is a liquid and doesn't solidify over time like honey. If you use granulated sugar, it will have a difficult time dissolving and will likely feel gritty on the tongue. To avoid the sandy texture, first combine the vinegar or acid with the sugar. Stir until dissolved and then add to the slaw.
  And, finally, with all salads whether leaf or cabbage based, I always begin with salt and peppper, and tossing, before adding the rest of the dressing ingredients. For a creamy dimension, add in a tablespoon or two of mayonnaise or plain greek yogurt. Here are some general guidelines to get you started:

   To the base mix, add any prepared vegetables that appeal to you. Sprinkle sea salt and grind freshly ground black pepper over the prepared vegetables in the salad bowl. Toss with two salad spoons. Add about 1 part vinegar - champagne, apple or red wine - or freshly squeezed lemon juice to 3 parts olive oil and a healthy squirt of agave syrup and 1 or 2 tablespoons mayonnaise or plain greek yogurt. Toss well. Taste, adjust seasonings. Serve immediately.

   Shave fennel into the bottom of the salad bowl and toss with 1 or 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice to preserve color. Add rest of vegetables and minced parsley and tarragon. Sprinkle sea salt and grind freshly ground black pepper over the prepared vegetables in the salad bowl. Toss with two salad spoons. Add 2-3 tablespoons olive oil and a healthy squirt of agave syrup. Toss well. Taste, adjust seasonings. Serve immediately.

   I like to add in julienned jicama and shredded daikon radish. Thinly sliced rounds of red radish are pretty in lieu of the daikon. Minced pickled jalapenos are tasty and a sprinkling of cilantro leaves adds nice color and flavor. Scallions are nice, too either as garnish or tossed into the mix.
   Sprinkle sea salt and grind freshly ground black pepper over the prepared vegetables in the salad bowl. Toss with two salad spoons. Add about 1 part lime juice to 3 parts olive oil and a healthy squirt of agave syrup. Toss. Taste, adjust seasonings. Serve immediately.

   To the base coleslaw mix add thin slices of pickled ginger, shredded daikon radish, and 1-2 tablespoons toasted black sesame seeds.
   Sprinkle sea salt and grind freshly ground black pepper over the prepared vegetables in the salad bowl. Toss with two salad spoons. Add about 1 part soy vinegar or seasoned rice vinegar to 1 part dark sesame oil, 1 part hot chili oil, and 1 part olive oil and a healthy squirt of agave syrup. Toss. Taste, adjust seasonings. Serve immediately.

Juliette's Favorite based on Food For Life (more tangy, no sugar):
   One small had cabbage, sliced as thin as you can with a chef's knife. Add one or two grated carrots. One firm red bell pepper deveined and seeded, and sliced very thin. Using a citrus press, squeeze the juice of one lemon over the top of the slaw, salt liberally, grinds of black pepper, mayo to your taste. Stir well. Add lots of minced dill and mix it again. The slaw is best after it has sat in the fridge overnight, and served the next day.

Similar to Colonel Sanders' recipe, but better:
To coat 1 small head of slivered cabbage and 2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded - combine the following ingredients, stirring well, preferably with a whisk:

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon each sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Best Foods Mayonnaise, low-fat or regular
1/4 cup milk, low-fat or whole
1/4 cup buttermilk
1-1/2 Tbsps cider vinegar
2-1/2 Tbsps freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 medium sized lemon)

Toss the slaw mix completely with the dressing, cover and let rest in the refrigerator a minimum of 2 hours before serving. Garnish with minced fresh parsley.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

By Popular Demand: Baked Brie with Candied Nuts and Dried Fruits

by Michelle

   This is one of our most requested recipes. Simply stated it is phenomenal and can be prepared in a snap. Delicious and easy, a hostess' wish comes true just in time for holiday entertaining. Linda created the cheesy delight back in her Ballard Inn heydays. Any notes of appreciation can be directed her way. And, you'll want to thank her. It's that good.
   Have you ever noticed that something you thought was delicious many years ago, when tried today can seem rather bland? And you wonder what all the hot fuss was about back in the day? The American palette has changed so much in the last few decades. But not this appetizer, it has withstood the test of time when others have not. The flavors appeal to just about everyone, including children.
   What I appreciate most about this yummy-ooey-gooey-soft-'n-crunchy appetizer, besides the unforgettable flavor, is that the dish suits every occasion from an informal gathering to the swankiest New Year's Eve party presented with a flourish on fine china. More often than not, I serve the brie on a beautiful ceramic Italian cake plate decorated with falling autumn leaves (thank you Jeff and Sue - a prized Christmas gift from eons ago).
   Strategically placed nearby is a cloth lined basket filled with sliced French or sourdough bread and in a separate bowl, an assortment of water crackers for good measure. I also put out several knives, so all the people huddled around it can eat with vigor without having to wait to pass a serving implement from one person to another.
  After the cheese is removed from the oven, it must sit undisturbed for a full twenty minutes. Thereafter, you can serve directly from the pie plate for an informal gathering or transfer (with the aid of two spatulas - one in each hand) to a decorative plate, scraping the straggling remnants of the fruit and nuts attractively on top of the brie. 
   I always cut a small wedge so the warm cheese oozes out invitingly. I have noticed that if a dish is served too perfectly, guests hesitate to be the first ones to serve up a helping. Linda remarked the same applies to merchandising goods in retail land. If a display is too perfect, shoppers don't want to remove items from the still life. We want our guests to eat, and retailers definitely want shoppers to buy, so help the process along by being the first to tuck in.

The brie ready to go into the oven.
Baked Brie with Candied Nuts and Dried Fruits

   Costco moved into the cheese business a few years ago and although they don't have a wide variety, you can find interesting and delicious cheeses at value prices. I like to buy big hunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano, Manchego, Gruyère, Mexican Queso and Brie, among others. If they only sold Cowgirl Creamery cheeses, my life would be complete (well, maybe... but it would be a nice start).
   For the mix of nuts and fruit, I have found that cashews, pecans and walnuts work very well. Considering the fruit, I always include apricots, cherries and quartered figs. I also like diced prunes and sometimes I'll throw in some raisins, both regular and golden. Cranberries are a nice tangy foil to the sweet coating. Use what you like best and steer the flavors towards your taste. Make it your own!
   In addition to sliced baguettes and crackers, Linda advises that thin slices of crisp, tart apples and Fuyu persimmons work well as "delivery agents" for the irresistible combination of warm, soft brie complimented by candied nuts and fruits.

1 big round of double crème Brie (19.6 ounces), such as Alouette or Président
oil spray
2 to 2-1/2 cups mixed nuts and dried fruits
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 Tbsps salted butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup or a little more, as needed, Orange Liqueur, such as:
   Grand Marnier, or Bols Triple Sec, or Cointreau
the peel grated from 1 lemon or 1 orange, optional
1 or 2 baguettes, sliced thin
assorted water crackers

1. Adjust rack to middle of oven and preheat to 350°F.
2. Unwrap and discard paper encasing the whole brie; do not remove edible rind. Lightly mist pie plate with oil spray. Place brie in pie plate.
3. In a medium saucepan (about 3-quart), bring brown sugar, butter, cinnamon and orange liqueur (Grand Marnier, Bols Triple Sec, or Cointreau) to a boil. Boil for 1-2 minutes to really melt sugar and to make the mixture a glaze. Add nuts and fruits and stir well until glaze is evenly distributed throughout nut and fruit mixture. Quickly scrape the mixture, mounding on top of the brie, and pile high.
4. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 20 minutes before transferring, with the aid of a wide spatula, to a decorative plate or cake stand. Serve with sliced French baguette, assorted crackers and if you like, slices of tart apples and Fuyu persimmons.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thrifty and Delicious: Top Sirloin Roast

by Michelle

   Last year, when Linda and I were feeling especially cost-conscious during the holidays and had finally acquiesced to the reality there would be no Filet Mignon roast on the Christmas Eve table, Linda's co-worker who is a trained chef and butcher recommended we opt for an economical cut of beef: Top Sirloin Roast. I'm glad we took William's advice. The meat was tender and flavorful and was terrific served with horseradish sauce. Chimichurri, the favorite of Juliette's girls, would also be tasty. Knowing me and my penchant for the grandiose, for a larger crowd, I would likely serve both.
   The meat also makes wonderful sandwiches in the days that follow. Think Bánh Mì, a thin layer of meat accented with an abundance of quick pickled vegetables on a baguette roll. Or you could go down the panini road with Gruyère, diced Hatch green chiles or freshly roasted red peppers and a slather of leftover sauce.

Thrifty and Delicious: Top Sirloin Roast

1 untrimmed Beef Top Sirloin Roast
sea salt and black pepper freshly ground
about 1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons fresh or dried thyme
olive oil

1. The Day Before Roasting: Do not trim any fat!! Rub with salt, pepper and fresh or dried thyme. Cover and refrigerate.

2. The Next Day, Five Hours Before Dinner: Remove the roast from the refrigerator and let sit out at room temperature for 3 hours (no that is not a typo) - three hours.

3. Two Hours Before Dinner: When you are ready to cook preheat oven to 500°F. Rub the roast with olive oil. Place roast on rack in a shallow pan.

4. Cook at 500°F for 15-20 minutes, until browned. Reduce heat to 325°F. Check roast at 60 minutes, but it will likely be finished in 90 minutes. Internal temperature should be at 125°F degrees for medium. Let sit 10 minutes, loosely covered with aluminum foil, before carving.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Oven Baked Rice and Risotto With A Variety of Add-Ins

by Michelle

   Have you ever been frustrated by making stovetop rice? Burnt pans, in particular? I've got the solution for you: oven baked rice! But the fun doesn't stop there. You can achieve with ease a close approximation to classic, labor intesive risotto, also in the oven. As Jamie Oliver would quip, "Happy days."
   My favorite tool for making rice and risotto is a 2-3/4 quart oven-proof soup pot with matching lid by Le Creuset. Both items are made of cast iron with an enamel coating. Check-out the house wares isles of discount stores such as Ross or Marshall's to find enamel covered cast iron pots at reduced prices from competing manufacturers. The pan makes a difference! The heavier the better.
   Back in the mid nineties, soon after Juliette gave birth to her youngest daughter, Linda and I took a road trip down to Bisbee to meet our niece and to see the rest of the family. When we arrived, Juliette had the best dinner waiting for us: Burritos stuffed with stewed chicken, Mexican rice (see below), refried pinto beans, shredded cheddar, smothered in mole verde and drizzled with Mexican Crème Fraîche. Simple "slow food" at its best - all homemade - delicious and comforting. Even though such food is simple to make, it's not necessarily easy to replicate.
   I listened as Juliette explained how she sautées white rice in butter or oil until the grains turn translucent, and are gently touched with brown, about 7 minutes, then she adds broth reserved from stewing the whole chicken. Add salt, give the mixture a stir, and when the broth returns to a boil, cover, reduce the temperature to low and cook for about 20 minutes, or pop the covered pan into a preheated oven to finish cooking.    
   Another trick I have learned along the way to ensure fluffy rice is to absorb excess steam with one simple step. Once the rice is finished cooking, remove the pot from the heat. Quickly insert three layers of paper towels or a clean dishcloth in between the pot and the lid. After a minimum of 5 minutes, or up to 15, remove the lid and the dishcloth. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve.
   I am a huge fan of the brown rice at restaurant P.F. Chang's. I will admit freely, to my own embarrasement, that it took me the longest time to figure out that the secret is simply medium grain brown rice. Forget about their special sauce made table side, just bring me a quart of the mustard sauce that is served with the salt and pepper prawns. I've been working on the addictive mustard sauce for awhile. A half-agreeable waiter gave Linda and me the list of ingredients for the sauce, but he would not provide the corresponding measurements. At least knowing what goes into the sauce got me on the right track. As for the rice, it is also my family's favorite and you can always find medium grain brown rice stored in my refrigerator because brown rice can spoil rather quickly in the pantry.
   One of the best dinners I ever ate was at the now shuttered Talula's in Miami Beach. Picture this: Crispy Skin Yellowtail Snapper served with Sweet Potato-Wild Mushroom Risotto, Wilted Organic Arugula and Kaffir Lime Butter. Although we don't add Sweet Potatoes (but I suppose we could - I'll have to give that a try), the Milanese Risotto below is a close approximation with the addition of mushrooms, and would be equally delicious with roasted chicken or pork chops. The possibilites are truly endless. I hope you have as much fun as I do experimenting along the way.

Milanese Mushroom-Saffron Risotto with fresh parsley and shaved fennel.
Oven Baked Rice and Risotto with a Variety of Add-Ins

   There are a many creative ways you can perk up rice. Consider sautéing minced shallots, garlic and mushrooms along with the rice before adding broth. Or, with the addition of broth, throw in small cubes of root vegetables or squash. The famous Chicago-based chef Rick Bayless recommends adding a diced roasted poblano, corn kernals and/or shelled peas during the 5 minute steam absorption period to quickly warm the ingredients. When you fluff the rice, simply mix in the ingredients resting on top.
   A handful of minced parsley, cilantro or thyme is also a nice addition. Throw some freshly diced scallions - both the white and green parts - for another fresh dimension.
   Finally, as Australian-based chef and food stylist Donna Hay has taught us, you can approximate risotto in the oven using Arborio rice, broth, white wine, parmesan cheese and butter. Scroll down the page for details.

1 Tbsp butter, olive oil or ghee
1-2 shallots, peeled and minced, optional
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced, optional
2-1/2 cups filtered water or broth - vegetable or chicken
1-1/2 cups brown rice - any size grain: short, medium or long
         (To cook white rice, please see step 5 below)
1/2 tsp sea salt or 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 cups frozen peas, or corn, or a mix of both, optional

Special Equipment:
A heavy oven-proof casserole, soup pot or saucepan, and lid. Capacity about 3 quarts.
Alternatively you can use an 8-inch square baking dish for a single recipe, or 13"x9" rectangular dish for a double recipe and cover with a double layer of foil, tightly crimping the edges to form a tight seal.

1. Adjust rack to middle of the oven. For brown rice preheat oven to 375°F. For white rice preheat oven to 350°F.
2. For Brown Rice: melt butter, olive oil or ghee in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add rice and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Add the liquid and about 1/2 tsp of salt. Stir to combine, increase heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil.

3. Immediately cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Bake for 55-60 minutes. Remove from oven, stir the rice and taste to verify the rice is cooked through. If not, return to oven and cook for 5 minutes more.
4. Once the rice is fully, cooked, add peas or corn, if using. Cover top of pan with triple layer of paper towels or clean dish towel to absorb excess steam, and cover with lid. Let sit for 5 minutes. Uncover, stir and serve.

Absorbing excess steam at the end of cooking.
For White Rice:
   Follow the complete set of directions for brown rice, but reduce the baking time and temperature to 20 minutes at 350°F. If you want a firmer rice, you can reduce the broth by 1/4 cup. You can use any type of white rice: Basmati, Jasmine, short grain, long grain, but not par-boiled "quick cook", such as as a boxed 2-minute rice.

For Coconut Rice:
   In the melted butter, add 1 tablespoon Thai Kitchen Roasted Red Chili Paste, and sautée minced shallots, garlic and rice. Exchange one cup coconut milk for one cup broth and add 1 tablespoon fish sauce. For garnish, add toasted coconut if you like, sliced almonds and thinly sliced scallions. Freshly minced herbs are a nice touch too, such as parsley, basil and cilantro. I sometimes like to add in small bites of freshly sliced pineapple - especially in the summer months and the menu is Thai. And lest I forget, black sesame seeds are fun thrown on top.

For Mexican Rice: 
   In the melted butter or hot oil, sautée minced shallots, garlic and rice. Exchange one cup salsa for one cup broth. I like to use Trader Joe's "Salsa Autentica", a medium-hot red salsa made with pureed tomatoes and chiles. If you want a slightly smoky flavor, you could add in 2-3 teaspoons adobo sauce from a can of Embasa Chopotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce. Peas, corn and diced carrots are nice add-ins, too. If you like, garnish with minced parsley or cilantro.

For Parmesan Risotto:
   Combine 1-1/2 cups Arborio rice with 4 cups simmering broth (vegetable or chicken). Cover with a lid and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 45 to 50 minutes until the rice is al dente. Remove from the oven, add one more cup simmering broth, 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup dry white wine, 3 tablespoons of butter, salt to taste, a few generous grinds of pepper, and stir thoroughly for a few minutes until the rice is thick and creamy. Add defrosted peas and/or corn, if you wish. Stir once more and serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.

For Milanese Mushroom-Saffron Risotto:
   Peel and finely chop 1 small yellow onion. Thinly slice 1/2 pound of mushrooms - button, shitake, or whichever you prefer. In a heavy saucepan - about 3 quarts - melt 2 tablespoons butter. Sautée the onion in the butter until translucent, but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add 8 ounces sliced mushrooms and sautée until slightly reduced in size, about 5 minutes.
   Add 1-1/2 cups Arborio rice, and stir to coat the grains with the butter. Add 1/2 cup dry white wine, and bring to a boil. Add 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth, 1 teaspoon saffron threads and bring to a boil. Cover with a lid and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 45 to 50 minutes until the rice is al dente.
   Remove from the oven, add one more cup simmering broth, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 2 tablespoons of butter, salt to taste, a few generous grinds of pepper, and stir thoroughly for a few minutes until the rice is thick and creamy. Add whisper thin slices of radicchio or fennel, if you wish. Stir once more and serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.

Sautée the onion, garlic, rice and mushrooms before adding broth.
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