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, February 27, 2011

Avalon and Sonora's Favorite Chimichurri

The Memory Keepers by Michelle

Juliette's daughters, Sonora and Avalon at Goat Rock Beach, Sonoma County.
-----Original Message-----
From: "Michelle"
To: "Linda"
Sent: Tuesday
Subject: oregano

Hi Linda... do you have oregano in the yard? I need a 1/4 cup for the chimichurri. If not, will you bring some home?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Linda"
To: "Michelle"
Sent: Tuesday
Subject: RE: oregano

There is quite a bit of oregano in the front herb patch. If it is too wet to go out there let me know, and I will buy some. Do you need parsley, too?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Michelle"
To: "Linda"
Sent: Tuesday
Subject: Re: oregano

I have plenty of parsley, so I went ahead and doubled the recipe. The recipe also has bay leaves. I just went in search of oregano in the yard and managed to get wet, so if you can please bring some home, along with fresh bay leaves that would be great. Thank you! Your the best. Really. Don't change a thing - not for me, not for you.

The mermaid sculpture by Patrick Amiot lives on Florence Avenue in Sebastopol.
-----Original Message-----
From: "Michelle"
To: "Juliette"
Cc: "Linda"
Sent: Tuesday
Subject: Buckets of rain

Hi Juliette:
   I can't believe that the girls will be going home tomorrow. It's almost ten-thirty and they are both still asleep - Sonora on the couch and Avalon in the loft. Teenagers! I was able to (thankfully) complete all the "nice" weather activities - Sebastopol, San Francisco, Goat Rock Beach, Bodega Bay, Armstrong Woods - before the rain started last night. Invariably I woke throughout the night and each time I'd think to myself, "Man, it's really coming down." If it rained that long and that consistently in Tucson, everything would be flooded - the yard, the roads, but so far so good here.
   The lights flickered on and off a few times this morning and Linda looked a little (errr, super) panicked, green eyes opened wide, as though she was recalling the torrential rain of a couple years ago when she moved to Guerneville and the subsequent loss of power that lasted for days. She directed me, store-team-leader-style, to find the saints candles in the bulging storage room (head scratch, where are those candles tucked away.. they love to play hide and seek much to my chagrin) and to stop and buy ice in case we need to store refrigerated items in the ice chest later today should the power go out. Semper paratus - always prepard - is our battle cry. 

Lunch at Boudin. We adored the sourdough loaf shaped like a crab.
   Driving Maddie to school wasn't too bad on the debris strewn roads because we left ten minutes early and there were fewer cars than usual navigating the backroads of Sonoma County. Both Maddie and I got to wear our new fashion rain gear - new rubber boots and gortex-like jackets. Maddie looked really cute exiting the truck with scarf draped around her neck and opened umbrella in hand.
   After promising the girls their beloved chimichurri upon arrival, I have failed to produce it, so I decided I'd stop by Whole Foods Sebastopol this morning, even in the torrential rain (great aunt that I am), to buy the necessary ingredients to make it for them later today. I think it will go well with the tri-tip burritos we're making for dinner tonight, and knowing them, even if I make a double-batch, the "bestest" sauce in the whole world will be gone before they depart.
   Our final activity is to go ice skating. We'll pick-up Maddie from school, drop by the Sebastopol library and then drive to the rink in Santa Rosa. The skating session is from 4:30 to 6:00. Linda works until 6:30 tonight, so the timing will work out well to have dinner here at the house. I know Linda will miss hanging out in Snoopy's Warm Puppy Café with me. She loves the lack of stimulation and paper cups. We have a gas stove so if the electricity goes out, we'll still be able to make dinner, but we might be eating by candle light. Girl party! Forkin' down the food by candlelight, what could be better?

Django, our "regal" standard Poodle.
   Django is pissing me off. He won't go outside and pee in the rain. He just stands on the patio, sniffing the air and blinking his eyes. When I do the usual snap of my fingers and dramtically point to the yard, he is supposed to run right out and do his business. As Oprah would say, that is something he knows "for sure". Instead he looks at me in a confused manner like he is trying to divide 900 by 64.
   In my frustration, I pulled a Dad and kicked him in the derrière. This just made him run away and cower next to the gate. Surprise... difficult as it is to believe, I did not get my desired result. I don't think I will own another pet after Django. I find pets, in general, too aggravating. You probably will not understand since you, like Dr. Doolittle, can talk to the animals.You should have seen me, Juliette, wiping Django's ass yesterday with a paper towel. He had a poop stuck to his hairy butt and since Maddie couldn't get the job done, I had to finish it. Fun times. Quite the scene for your girls to witness.
   I have literally taken hundreds of photos of the girls. They've been good sports about it, but they probably think I'm a big weirdo. (Remember cousin David called me Baby Weirdo when we were kids?)  Although, come to think of it, Linda would probably win the biggest weirdo prize of the week. Just ask the girls about the night Linda was reading to them articles from the internet, that she embellished during the delivery, all the while ratcheting-up the entertainment factor by belching away.
   Alrighty then, it's almost eleven. The girls are still asleep, but I think I'll get going on the chimichurri although they did request a cooking lesson on the subject. That might have to wait until another day. The ladies are on vacation - might as well let them sleep. I suppose I should take a shower too. It is agony taking a shower in this adorable, uninsulated, little summer cabin we call home when it is "ice-ice, baby" in the mornings. It will be 2:45 before I know it, and then it will be off to pick-up Maddie from school, so I should get moving.
   I hope you've had a productive week without the girls. We've had fun with them here. I always enjoy my time with them. Maddie will be sad to see her cousins go. It's like having her own sisters when they are with us. More soon... Love, Michelle

Long lines at Ghirardelli for ice cream sundaes that are worth the wait.

Exit the cable car at Fisherman's Wharf and walk directly to Ghirardelli Square.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Linda"
To: "Juliette"
Cc: "Michelle"
Sent: Tuesday
Subject: Re: Buckets of rain

Dearest Juliette~
   Here are my additional notes in response to Michelle's email... she sometimes forgets a few details, and I will be more than happy to provide them for you now.
   Anytime I give Michelle a "suggestion", she thinks that I am trying to "manage" her. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am gentle and mild, and might occasionally advise a course of action. Telling her to find candles and purchase ice just seemed common sense... and, thanks to me and my timely suggestions, Michelle and Maddie were both outfitted with sensible and fashionable rain gear today.

Linda's solution: homework by headlamp.
   I also, in my nurturing way, provided them with an emergency lantern and a flashlight that winds up instead of needing batteries before I left the house for work. Lord knows I am looking out for them every minute of the day. At the end of my busy day yesterday, I managed to stop at Lowe's and buy a tarp for the wood table on the patio literally just minutes before the deluge ensued. Whew!! I bet they are super glad to have me around with a sensible head on my shoulders.
   A side note... Michelle is making chimichurri today, however she failed to be able to identify fresh oregano which abounds in the herb garden in the front yard. We do not have any for sale in the store today, so I will graciously come to her rescue and tromp through the mud and pouring rain to procure oregano for her sauce when I get home from work. We will work on her herbal identification skills this coming spring. I should have her mixing up tinctures in no time.
   Django does indeed seem to have a brain the size of a walnut. That, and he has more energy than a pack of boy sextuplets... a really bad combo. He fortunately has an iron bladder - no accidents so far - and when he has the sticky poo problem he stands squeezed up against the glass in the front door and attempts to eject the lodged poo in front of us by continually flexing his tail and hips. This usually happens when we are eating. It is a great dieting tool.
   Since Michelle still has not taken Django to be groomed, the sticky poo seems to be happening more frequently, since according to Michelle, it is an important part of poodle grooming to shave the a-hole. He also smells more than bad at this late date. I can only imagine how rain will enhance the fragrance. I plan to bring Michelle home some handy laytex gloves today from work so the next time that poor Django needs attention she can get right in there and do the job properly.
   In my defense, I do admit to embellishing a few details in the articles that I was reading to the girls to entertain and educate them, however; I certainly don't recall engaging in any unladylike behavior that would set a bad example for my precious nieces.
   On a serious note, it has been fun to have Avalon and Sonora here... and we will miss them!!
xxxoooxxx, Linda Lou

Renewing their sisterly vows in the sacred redwood forest of Armstrong Grove.
----- Original Message ----

From: "Juliette"
To: "Linda"
Cc: "Michelle"
Sent: Tuesday
Subject: Re: Buckets of rain

OMG - you guys are killing me. I needed a good laugh, and so far I have had two today. I am really sick of sugar skulls right about now. I did make my favorite one EVER last night... El Diablo. He rocks! I will send pictures later. Back to it.

Everyone enjoys skating at Snoopy's Home Ice.
----- Original Message ----
From: "Michelle"
To: "Linda"
Cc: "Juliette"
Sent: Tuesday
Subject: Re: Buckets of rain

Funny e-mail, Linda. Touché.

Parsley Chimichurri

   Once upon a time, many, many years ago, I arrived late one evening in Orlando, Florida. I was tired from a long day of traveling, and all I wanted was a little food in my stomach, a glass of wine (not necessarily in that order), and thereafter a quiet room, with a good mattress, in which to pass a pleasant night's sleep.
   I arrived at the Disney Coronado Springs Hotel, dropped my luggage in the hotel room and immediately proceeded to find the nearest restaurant, which turned out to be the Maya Grill. It seemed a little ironic to depart from the southwest to travel 2,000 miles just to find myself checked-in to a southwest themed resort.

Disney's Coronado Springs Hotel and Conference Center in Orlando, Florida.
  I promptly ordered the aforementioned wine, a dinner salad, and soup. As I waited patiently for sustenance to arrive, a basket of flatbread arrived accompanied by a little bowl of green sauce - proof that I was indeed in the magic kingdom. I could not identify the sauce, but ever the adventurist, I dove right in to discover a tasty revelation. I loved it, but could not name it. Could this be? The woman with owns hundreds of cookbooks had just experienced a first?    I asked the waiter about the mysterious sauce and discovered chimichurri. After patiently answering several questions about the sauce, the waiter disappeared and then quickly returned with a little piece of white paper, the recipe printed upon it. Bonus points! The waiter earned a very nice tip from one tired, but grateful traveler.

Flat leaf "Italian" parsley.
   Over the years, I have made many chimichurris. The following version is a slight adaption of a recipe found in Latin Flavors On The Grill (10 Speed Press, 2000) by Douglas Rodriguez, one of my favorite cookbooks. I had the great fortune of dining at his restaurant in Philadelphia, but that's another story.
   My nieces, Avalon and Sonora request that I make this sauce before every visit. I always double this recipe for a party, or if my nieces are staying for a spell. The ladies will eat the chimichurri on just about anything including scrambled eggs. More traditionally, chimichurri is terrific with grilled beef. One of my favorite meals is stuffed flank steak served with chimichurri and Roasted Tomato Gratin. The vibrant sauce is also exceptional, exactly how I experienced it the first time, served as a spread with grilled flatbreads or focaccia. The chimichurri will last for about a week in the refrigerator, or if Avalon or Sonora are in the house, about two days.

Fresh bay leaves and roughly chopped jalapeño.
6 cloves garlic, peeled
3 fresh bay leaves
2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed, seeded and finely diced
1-1/2 Tbsps sea salt
1/2 cup finely minced fresh curly parsley
1/2 cup finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup finely minced fresh oregano
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch green onions, both white and green parts, sliced into thin rounds
1. Using a chef's knife, you can mince everything using your great knife skills. Or, you can use a food processor to do the work:
2. In a food processor, fitted with a steel blade, and with the motor running, add the garlic cloves through the feed tube. Rough cut the jalapeño, and add through the feed tube. Remove the leaves of parsley and oregano, discarding the stems. Add leaves to the garlic and jalapeños. Roughly cut the bay leaves and add to the parsley and oregano. Process until finely chopped. Transfer the mixture to a bowl.
3. Add salt, vinegar and oil. Stir until well combined. Add sliced green onions, stir again, and serve. 

What could be better than Juliette's Sourdough Bread dipped in Chimichurri?
Linda will happily confirm, free of charge, that this is a photo of oregano leaves.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pinto Bean Chili Con Carne

My Traveling Tales by Michelle

"Wish I had time for one more bowl of chili."
~Purportedly the dying words of American Frontiersman, Kit Carson

"Chili, chili con carne, Texas red - whatever you affectionately call this savory mix of meat and heat - is one of those dishes that most people feel just misses when made by someone else, while their own recipe is a deeply held family secret that should win blue-ribbon honors."
~The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman Publishing, 1989)
   Recently this desert dweller found herself plunged into the biting cold of the northeastern United States during a major snow storm. I would have been content to cozy myself in the window seat of a quaint inn, a knitted throw over my lap, a glass of port within easy reach, a happy fire in the hearth and a book, inverted on my lap, waiting patiently as I absent-mindedly gaze upon the snow as it falls in a slow waltz to land lightly on the pristine white carpet one story below. Alas, my visit was not a vacation, but long work days kick started by early mornings (save one), driving across three states in six days, staying in three hotels, visiting four customers, and beginning and ending the business trip with connecting flights and dual layovers in Chicago - not always the easiest place to get in and out of in winter.

The hidden house.
   I typically associate snow with fun, of the downhill skiing variety. I reminisce fondly of days on the slopes followed by evening cocktails and warming dinners in the cabin or a nearby restaurant, typically a steakhouse or a pizza parlor, sitting in a booth, exhausted and happy, cheeks radiating heat brought on by the blasts of cold wind incurred by riding lifts and speeding down slopes. We crash after dinner, bone tired, to sleep like the dead. Waking the next morning, groaning from the pain of aching muscles, we look forward to another day on the mountain, our skis carving turns into light powdery snow.

Portland Head Light located in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.
   If we're staying with friends, inevitably the ladies or the gents will rustle up a big pot of spaghetti with Bolognese or someone will make Chili ahead of time, freeze and then transport in an ice chest for an extra easy and less costly alternative to eating out. A salad with choice of dressings and homemade garlic bread for either entrée and dinner is ready for a large group with relative ease.
   So more often than not, I associate Chili more with cold weather than I do with getting together with the gang to watch sporting events. Naturally then, driving through snow laden roads through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, snow flakes mounting an onslaught against the windshield, my craving for chili escalated by the day. Strange thing though, everywhere we went, chili was not on the menu. It slowly dawned on me that Chili is a western dish. Believe me, I love Clam Chowder, but a girl cannot live on that alone and unfortunately I am allergic to lobster so any kind of bisque that included the giant crustacean was not an option for me.

   Finally, my quest was answered at a steakhouse in Maine. It was getting late in the evening, so a big steak dinner was out of the question, and I thought a cup of chili and a nice salad would fit the bill quite nicely. Still, knowing that chili varies widly, I asked the waiter for his opinion. He seemed enthusiastic about the chili, so I went ahead and ordered it. As Juliette often says, "One first eats with the eyes." Upon the first look, the concoction looked like a cup of Ground Beef Bolognese. Hmmmm... that's not chili. Step two: tasting is believing. Still hopeful (ever the optimist), I took my first taste and thought to myself, "I'm glad this isn't Kit Carson's last bowl of chili." He would have died a very disappointed man.
   Please do not think I'm being a Ground Beef Chili snob. I am not. I grew up on my Mom's Chili Con Carne recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book, which consists of ground beef, chopped yellow onion, diced green bell pepper, minced garlic, canned tomatoes, red kidney beans, tomato sauce, chili powder and dried basil. A hearty, tasty dinner in under an hour. This restaurant's Chili consisted of ground beef and marinara. All that was missing was the pasta. That's not Chili, folks! Disappointed, much? Heck yes! Of course, my friend and co-worker, Bruce ooohed and aaahed over his scrumptious bowl of Shrimp and Lobster Bisque declaring it one of the best things he ever tasted as I sat snarling, feeling slightly bitter, at the mild Italian Chili sitting before me.

   My first order of business upon returning home was to make a big ol' pot of Chili. I like pinto beans in mine and two types of meat - crumbled chicken or beef sausage and cubes of pork butt simmered until meltingly tender. Is it the easiest chili to make? No. But I think the extra steps are worth it especially if I'm enjoying a relatively lazy day at home. Preparing a double batch of chili is as easy as making a regular pot and the taste gets better with a day or two of aging, making the dish a great make ahead meal for parties or dividing extra portions to store in the freezer in anticipation of easy weekday meals.
   After spending nearly a week of braving the elements of a New England winter, I appreciated returning home to Tucson where the sun always seems to shine even on cold days. I am also grateful not to put on and take off three layers of clothes (and gloves) a minimum of five times a day, or brush the snow off the car everytime we needed to drive - whether it was across the state, or just down the street for coffee.

   In my mental scrapbook of life, what I will remember fondly is the night when the guys insisted on a live action performance of what will surely be the next installment of The Fast and The Furious movie franchise by taking the Tokyo Drift experience to the mostly empty parking lot of the local big box store. The four tires of the sports coupe skidded and then carved "donuts" into the fresh snow. The smell of a hot engine and burning rubber slowly building up inside the cold interior. I instantly felt sixteen once again, screaming and laughing until my cheeks ached and my stomach hurt. I have identified my second favorite snow activity. I can make a better bowl of Chili at home, but donuts on powder will have to wait for another snowy day adventure. 

Pinto Bean Chili Con Carne For A Crowd

   Plan ahead as the pinto beans should be soaked overnight before proceeding with the recipe. Ideally, you can make the Chili the day before so all you need to do is reheat for your guests leaving you time to whip up some Guacamole and Linda's Salsa Fresca. The Chili is great served with tortilla chips, small flour tortillas, biscuits or cornbread.
   More often than not, I set out garnishes in separate bowls filled with shredded cheese, sour cream or Mexican Crème Fraîche, minced red onion, leaves of cilantro and wedges of lime. Yep, you guessed it, Margaritas and cold beer are quite tasty with the Pinto Bean Chili Con Carne and are always a crowd favorite. 
   Depending upon the size of the pork butt you purchase, you may choose not to add all the meat to the Chili. Consider reserving some of the cooked cubes for another use such as making tacos, burritos or a delicious bean soup.

Prepare Beans:
1 pound dried pinto beans, soaked in water overnight and drained
1/4 cup dried minced onion, optional
filtered water
Diamond® kosher salt or sea salt

Prepare Stew Meat:
1 pork butt, about 5-6 pounds, fat trimmed, cut in 1-1/2 to 2-inch cubes
1 Tbsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne
1-1/2 tsps sea salt
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1-1/2 tsps ground black pepper
1-1/2 tsps granulated garlic
1-1/2 tsps chile powder
1-1/2 tsps oregano
1 quart chicken broth
1 bottle pale ale, such as Sam Adams®, optional
1 14-oz can tomato purée or 1 cup leftover pizza sauce
about 4 Tbsps ghee or high-heat oil (peanut, safflower, etc.) or more as needed

Prepare Chili:
1 pound uncooked Chicken Sicilian Sausages, such as Trader Joe's®
1 medium or large yellow onion, diced
1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1 medium green bell pepper, deveined, seeded and diced
1 medium red bell pepper, deveined, seeded and diced
1-2 jalapeño, deveined, seeded and minced
1-2 Anaheim chile, deveined, seeded and minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can Muir Glen® Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes
1/4 cup smoked paprika
3 Tbsps best quality chili powder
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp dried basil
1 Tbsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1-2 Tbsps Tobasco® sauce or to taste
freshly ground black pepper
kosher or sea salt, to taste

Optional Garnishes:
shredded cheddar cheese or Monterey Jack cheese
diced red onion or thinly sliced scallions
leaves of cilantro
wedges of lime

1. Prepare beans: The night before, place 1 pound of pinto beans in a colander. Pick over the beans, remove and discard any debris or small rocks. Rinse the beans and transfer to a large soup pot. Cover the beans with water by 2-inches. Let the beans soak over night, at least 8 hours. Drain soak water and rinse beans.

2. In the morning, prepare pork: In a small bowl, combine spices, herbs, salt and pepper, and stir well.
Trim and discard excess fat from the pork and cut the meat into 1-1/2 to 2-inch cubes. Your friendly butcher can do this task for you, which is what we prefer to do. Sprinkle the pork with the spice mix, toss and press to adhere well. You can either cook the pork in a crock pot or in a soup pot or Dutch oven:
A. In a crock pot: In a saucepan, heat chicken stock, beer and tomato purée until boiling, then transfer to large crock pot set to high. Cover with lid.
B. On the stove: Place a large Dutch oven or soup pot on the stove and add the chicken stock, beer and tomato purée. Set the burner to medium.

Brown the meat in batches in a large, heavy skillet that does the job well. Add a few tablespoons of ghee or high-heat oil to the skillet. When the fat is very hot, add the pork and brown, turning occasionally, for about 5 to 10 minutes. As the pieces are finished browning, add the pork to the liquid in the Dutch oven or crock pot. Repeat process until all the cubes of meat are browned. Partially cover the Dutch oven with a lid, and simmer for about 2 hours or until the pork is tender and dark brown, stirring occasionally. Adjust the heat to low, if necessary, to maintain a happy simmer. Alternatively, cook the pork in the crock pot for about 6 hours set on high.

3. To cook the beans: Return beans to soup pot. Once again, cover the beans with water by 2-inches, about 7 cups. Add dried onion. Bring beans to a simmer of high heat, partially cover with a lid, then adjust heat as needed to maintain the simmer until the beans are cooked through, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Once the beans are tender to the bite, add 1 tablespoon Diamond brand kosher salt or 2 teaspoons sea salt and stir. Note: any acidic ingredients, such as vinegar, tomatoes, citrus juices or wine should always be added after the beans tender.

3. Once the beans are tender, finish the chili: Begin by heating a large skillet over medium heat. Remove the sausage from the casings and add to the skillet. Using a spatula, crumble the sausage as it cooks. When the sausage is cooked through, add the crumbled meat to the pinto beans. Add a little ghee, bacon fat or oil to the skillet and add the onion, sprinkle with a little sea salt, dried red pepper flakes and sauté for a few minutes, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the green and red bell peppers, jalapeño, anaheim chile and garlic. Add the crushed tomatoes (sometimes I blend the can of tomatoes to make my daughter happy), and additional herbs and spices. Taste check for salt and pepper. Stir frequently, until heated through and then add to beans. When pork is fork tender, add to pot as well. Stir often, and keep warm over low heat until ready to serve. Makes lots o' servings. Portion and freeze, if desired.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Kahlua Spiked Tofu Chocolate Mousse

by Michelle

"The only bubble in the flat champagne of February is Valentine’s Day. It was no accident that our ancestors pinned Valentine’s Day on February’s shirt: he or she lucky enough to have a lover in frigid, antsy February has cause for celebration, indeed." 
-Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

   This Valentine's Day, feel free to project your wants and desires on mousse. The creamy smooth dessert can be whatever you want it to be, dressed up with various flavorings and garnished to suit your taste pefectly - a match made in heaven. Me + mousse = love.
   The dessert is just as happy to be flavored by another spirit in lieu of the Kahlua listed. To riff the flavors of a Terry's Milk Chocolate Orange Ball, you could opt for Grand Marnier. Spiced Rum could be an interesting choice. If you would prefer not to use alcohol, personalize flavor by using extracts such as almond or peppermint. Start with 1/2 teaspoon, taste, and continue to add little bit by little bit until you think the flavor is perfect.
   Linda balked at the idea of mousse made with tofu. Sounds awful, is what I think she said. All I can say is that tasting is believing.
   Thankfully, the mousse can be made a full day in advance. Spoon individual servings into pretty glasses. Martini glasses, with or without stems, work well. I line the glasses like little soldiers on a tray and cover with plastic wrap until ready to garnish. If you whip heavy cream, it keeps well without weeping so you can decorate servings in advance of your guests arriving. As Dorie Greenspan writes, "You don't have to stop there - mousse is delicious with fresh berries, chocolate shavings, crushed candied nuts, nut brittle, or even pulverized Heath Bar bits." A drizzle of fruit sauce, in particular raspberry, is nice as well. 

Kahlua Spiked Chocolate Mousse Made With Tofu

   This recipe is based on a Cooking Light Magazine recipe. I've changed the porportions and added Kahlua for coffee undertones and vanilla extract for an extra note of flavor. The silken tofu replaces whole eggs and heavy cream in traditional recipes for chocolate mousse, making this a lower-in-calorie-and-fat alternative. I do not particularily care for fat-free whipped topping so I opt for the real thing, homemade whipping cream as a garnish.
   The original recipe called for semisweet chocolate chips. I recently read a report that cited both Cook's Illustrated and Gourmet magazine concluded that for baking, Callebaut Intense Dark Chocolate from Belgium has the best all around flavor. Sadly, it can be difficult to find. Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bar is a close second and easier to find.

2 12.3-oz pkgs Mori-Nu Silken Extra-Firm Tofu
2 4-oz pkgs Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate
1/4 cup Kahlua
2 tsps pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp sea salt
4 egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
whipping cream
grated orange peel, optional
grated chocolate or chocolate shavings, options for garnish
fresh raspberries, optional for garnish

1.  In a food processor, fitted with a steel blade, and process for 2 to 3 minutes, until completely smooth.

2. With a large serrated knife, cut chocolate bars into uniform small pieces. Place chocolate into a glass bowl, and microwave at 60 second intervals, and stirring thoroughly each time, until chocolate is just melted. Be careful, chocolate can burn easily in the microwave.
3. Add chocolate to the beaten tofu and mix until well combined. Add Kahlua and vanilla extract and mix again.
3. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with a mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
4. In a small saucepan, fitted with a candy thermometer, combine sugar and water and bring to a boil. Cook, without stirring, until the thermometer registers 238°F. Immediately begin pouring hot sugar syrup in a thin stream over egg whites, while beating - again at high speed.
5. Add half of beaten egg whites to chocolate-tofu mixture in food processor. Quickly process with on-off pulses until the eggs whites disappear. Add rest of egg whites, quickly pulse again.
6. Spoon 1/2 to 3/4 cup mousse into glasses or custard cups. Cover and chill 4 hours, or overnight.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Kung Pao Chicken

by Linda

   All right... it is my turn to wax rhapsodic about the infused oils from Barbara Tropp's China Moon Cookbook (Workman Publishing, 1992.) When Michelle first introduced me to these oils I did not immediately recognize that these items would become staples in my pantry (I should say fridge... oils are perishable. I always keep mine in the refrigerator), but over time, they have. I always have them on hand. I find the flavors to be fresh and complex, and lend themselves to many uses.
   In the summer months, I use the oils to dress vegetables, such as steamed green beans, tossed with rice wine vinegar, a little of the Spicy Citrus Chili Oil, olive oil, and finished with a sprinkle of Tamari and a touch of "the goop" from the bottom of the jar and fresh cracked black pepper. Be sure to dress the beans when they are still hot, because they soak up the dressing better. My spicy green beans also make a great appetizer, as well a tasty side dish. The left over beans (if there are any), are great added to a salad the next day. I have fond memories of Michelle giving these beans her highest praise with her classic exclamation, "I could eat these until I throw up!" (FYI or maybe TMI... she also says this about our family's cucumber salad.)
   The oils also make an nice addition on top of a log of chevre. Just drizzle the cheese with a little oil of your choice and finish off with finely grated citrus peel, chopped herbs, or chopped roasted and salted peanuts. A touch of Ma-La Oil is a great addition when making your own Arrabiata sauce, if you add just a little when you are sweating the onions, garlic and chiles.
   One of my favorite ways to use the Spicy Citrus Chili Oil is in making my own version of Kung Pao Chicken. I add plenty of veggies to my version, and I can make it in a flash without having to have fresh ginger in the pantry. This stir fry makes a delicious and quick weeknight dinner. Get your rice cooking while you marinate your boneless chicken breast pieces, pour yourself a glass of a nice crisp Sauvignon Blanc while you chop the veggies, and you will be enjoying a delicious and nutritious hot meal in under an hour.

Kung Pao Chicken with Veggies

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Spicy Citrus Chili Oil with goop
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound), cut into pieces for stir fry

3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar or agave syrup
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

For stir fry:
2 tablespoons Spicy Citrus Chili Oil (without the goop), or high-heat oil, such as peanut
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced on the bias
1 medium zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise and then sliced into half rounds
1 half of a red onion cut into slices
2 cloves of garlic smashed and rough chopped
1/2 cup roasted and salted peanuts for garnish
chopped scallions for garnish

1. In a non-reactive bowl prepare the marinade. Stir in the chopped chicken pieces. Cover and allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
2. For the sauce, stir ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
3. Place infused oil in the wok or cast iron skillet and heat on medium high heat. Add sliced carrots and sauté until they start to carmelize stirring frequently. Then add zucchini and onions. Sauté 2 minutes before adding smashed garlic. Sauté for another 3 minutes before pushing to the side of the pan.
4. Add the marinated chicken breast and sauté on high heat. When the chicken is starting to cook through, incorporate the veggies into the mix. When chicken is done, add sauce and keep on the heat until sauce has thickened slightly. Top with peanuts reserving a few for final garnishing. Serve over rice. Garnish with peanuts and chopped scallions if desired.
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