Sunday, April 24, 2011

Margarita-Matching: Chunky Guacamole

Cinco de Mayo wouldn't be complete without a dish of cool, creamy, comforting guacamole. Plus, with a cold margarita in hand and loads of corn chips served with a refreshing salsa (I have a weakness for pineapple...), it's a must.

Now I've shared a winter adaptation for guacamole, made with sundried tomatoes, with you, but now that it's a bit warmer, I'm going for something lighter, fresher, and with flavors a bit more subtle -- the classic guacamole with fresh tomatoes comes to mind.

I love guacamole. I was of the spicy and garlicky crowd — until last summer when I made (and ate) the best guacamole ever. I was working with a recipe derived from Rosa Mexicano and learned that there was no garlic in it. Instead, the white onion (which is more difficult to find) was combined with the jalapeño and half of the mixture was worked to a paste in a molcajete. The avocadoes and chopped tomatoes (I know... it's a crime to add tomatoes to your mock-a-mole my Mexican friend Mercedes says) were then mixed in with the remaining onion-jalapeño mixture.

As white onions are more difficult to find, I now use finely chopped yellow onion. Tomatoes not in season as you read this? Do as I did before, substituting finely chopped sundried tomatoes instead (and cilantro optional). Serve with thick-cut yellow or blue corn chips (and a refreshing Blood Orange Margarita, of course).

Chunky Guacamole
Adapted from The Daily Meal

1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 jalapeño
Sea salt, to taste
2 ripe avocadoes
1 tomato, seeds removed and finely chopped
Cilantro, for garnish (optional)
Corn chips, for serving

In a medium bowl, combine the onion and the jalapeño. Season well. Crush part of the mixture with the back of a wooden spoon or measuring cup. Add the avocado and mash well, while still leaving some chunks. Add the tomato and mix well. Taste for seasoning, adding more if necessary.

Serve immediately with chips.

Serves 4
Total time: 10 minutes

The Best (Blood Orange) Margarita

With Easter just about over, I'm already thinking about the next couple of holidays coming up. Cinco de Mayo is a week from Thursday, and I've been thinking about where I'll welcome the end of the work day with a refreshing margarita. Soon thereafter is the Kentucky Derby, on Saturday the 7th, followed by Mother's Day on the 8th... What are your spring holiday plans? (Does your liver ache just thinking about this?)

With the taste of spring and summer that we had today, I'm in full Cinco de Mayo swing, thinking about everything Mexican. Just last week I made some flank steak tacos (recipe to follow). Of course, they must be served with margaritas and guacamole!

To kick off a week of Cinco de Mayo planning, I'm sharing some of my favorite Mexican recipes that are so easy to make and even better to eat. What to start with? A salt-rimmed, cold margarita. I've adapted the classic lime with a bit of blood orange juice for a slightly sweeter, and brightly colored alternative. And guacamole, of course. I'm also thinking of a cool and refreshing tuna seviche. But you'll have to wait and come back for that. I promise it will be worth it!

This recipe is derived from my dad’s amazing margaritas. During the summer, he’s the margarita-maker. I don’t know what he does, but I can never seem to recreate the slightly-tart, slightly-sweet, and oh-so-easy-to-drink cocktail he creates. Here, I sub half the lime juice for blood orange juice. Just remember: The key to the recipe is equal parts juice to triple sec to tequila.

I’ve dabbled with using both triple sec and Grand Marnier in the drink. I find a smoother taste comes from using good-quality triple sec (not the $5 stuff in the grocery store). And NEVER use anything but fresh lime juice — preferably from room temperature limes.

This recipe calls for serving the margarita up, but you can also serve it over rocks. A salt rim is up to you... But forgetting the Chunky Guacamole with chips is a crime.

Blood Orange Margarita
Adapted from The Daily Meal

Juice of 2 limes (about 1/4 cup juice)
Juice of 2 blood oranges (about 1/4 cup juice)
1/2 cup triple sec
1/2 cup Tequila, preferably 100% agave
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges
Salt, for rimming

In a shaker, combine the juice, triple sec, and tequila. Add ice and shake well. Set aside.
Coat the rims of 4 martini glasses with lime and rim with salt. Pour in margarita base and serve.

Serves 4
Total time: 10 minutes

Saturday, April 16, 2011

How to Eat the Rainbow

Growing up, I'm sure you had people tell you to "eat your vegetables." Maybe they added "Now, darling, you are what you eat." But have you ever noticed how you might feel slightly more invigorated, energized, even alive when you eat fruits and vegetables? Come on... Just a bit?

I think so.

So this salad came about one day when I was semi-cleaning out the fridge one Saturday night. I had been taking inventory for what I would need to get the next day during my weekly grocery run. I had some leftover cooked yellow beets, and wonderful sun-dried tomatoes. I almost always have baby arugula or spring greens in the fridge -- and lucky for me, this time I had some wonderful carrots (which is rare, as during the winter, I cave and get baby carrots for easy snacking. They're easier and more delicious than the ones in stores). Inspired by a family friend and carpenter who strives to have a dinner plate featuring every color of the rainbow, I chopped and mixed all my ingredients together. 

I used my favorite simple maple-Champagne vinaigrette to bind it all together, and served it alongside a piece of artisan bread with a hunk of cheese on top. Simple, yet so good. While I had this with a glass of Grenache from Australia, it would be really good with a crisp Italian Pinot Grigio or Pinot Bianco -- or a buttery California Chardonnay.

Now, this salad is even better when all of these vegetables are in their prime, but that probably won't be again for a couple months, when the greenmarkets carrots appear. I'm already excited for this year's  carrots. They're SO sweet.

Rainbow Salad

2 cups greens, like arugula or mesclun
2 yellow beets, cooked, peeled, and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8-10 sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
Salad dressing, to coat
Toasted bread, for serving
A good cheese, for serving

Green and Greek and Oh So Delicious

 I love spinach. While I don't find it to have any "popeye" effect (!!), the taste and texture is a bit heftier and heartier than lettuce. When I can't find a crisp and tender heat of Boston (aka Bibb) lettuce, this is my go-to green. And what could be better than sauteing spinach with salty feta?

In terms of Greek cuisine, I have also always liked spanakopita. Not sure where this love of the crispy appetizer (often laded with butter-smeared layers of phyllo...), but there has never been a spanakopita I've turned down. Call me crazy, but I justify indulging in the treat partly because it's filled with greens (and cheese. And butter. But don't remind me of that). 

Needless to say, this classic Greek dish, also known as spinach pie, is a perfect cocktail party appetizer or, when made in larger triangles, a comforting lunch or dinner dish that always satisfies my craving for something rich without doing too much caloric damage (phyllo is relatively light when compared to puff pastry or pie dough. Healthy? No, but it's a wiser choice).

While some will prepare spanakopita in a pie dish or casserole pan, to create a pie, you can also make free-form triangles of different sizes, depending on your needs. I wanted to make an entrée-sized portion that could be served with a salad, so I made my triangles larger. If you wanted to make mini-spanakopitas for a cocktail party, trim the phyllo sheets into three tall and skinny pieces and make the triangles that way.

Serve with a side salad of mâche or another tender lettuce, or a warm soup for a complete meal.

As published on The Daily Meal

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, finely sliced
12 ounces baby spinach
Freshly ground pepper
8 ounces feta cheese, small dice
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
1 egg, beaten
One 12-ounce package phyllo dough
Butter, melted, for brushing

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and sauté until fragrant and tender, about 5 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until well wilted.

Remove the spinach from the heat and season with salt and pepper. Let the mixture cool slightly (and drain if liquid collects in the bowl), then chop with a knife until in small chunks. In a bowl, combine the spinach with the feta, nutmeg to taste, and beaten egg. Combine well and set aside.

Unroll the filo dough, position with the long side at the top and bottom, and remove 1 leaf. Brush very well with butter and layer a second leaf on top. Brush with butter again. Scoop a 1/3 cup of filling about 3 inches in from top and 2 inches in from left. Carefully fold top half over filling, then bottom half. Fold lower right hand corner of the end near the filling over the filling, creating a triangle. Continue to fold the triangle like a flag. Place triangle on a Silpat-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining filo and filling (you’ll have about 10 spanakopitas).

Brush with more melted butter and bake in the oven until golden, about 30 minutes.

Yields 10 entrée-sized spanakopita
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tea... For Two?

So, the photos from Miami won't be of the landscape, as I completely de-compressed (and my cold caught up with me). But it was a magical trip to say the least -- especially when the warm weather came back with me to NYC.

So, when Tuesday came along and the cold returned, I found this quote I discovered Monday quite fitting. Enjoy!

"If you are cold, tea will warm you;
If you are too heated, it will cool you;
If you are depressed, it will cheer you;
If you are excited, it will calm you."
-William Gladstone

My favorite tea is Apple Cinnamon right now -- or a Royal Wedding White Tea from Harney & Sons when I need a non-coffee caffeine fix. What's yours?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Stylish and Summery Prosecco Cocktails

Well, there will be no cooking in my kitchen this weekend, as I'm in sunny and warm South Beach for a friend's wedding.

However, I'll be sure to take some pictures for you (especially for those of you stuck in somewhat chilly NYC/CT -- you know who you are!).

I won't leave you completely high and dry though. I'll be bringing the warm weather back with me (yup, sunny and 70 on Monday in NYC), so be sure to stock up on some sorbet and prosecco. Sarah and Lydia at Apples and Onions have just the thing to prepare the next time you're in need of a cool cocktail -- a sorbet-topped glass of prosecco.

Check it out for yourself on The Daily Meal. Be sure to leave your favorite flavor or prosecco mixer in the comments, too!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Thai for Cheaters (Like Me): Red Curry

Let me preface this with this is not a classic curry from scratch. As a busy person working in Manhattan, cooking often takes a backseat to my busy schedule. Yet, I have to eat -- and I often want to eat nutritious meals that are full of flavor (but aren't too rich). I love dishes with a bit of spice, and anything with coconut in it. In early spring, when my allergies are just starting to act up and one's sinuses stuff up, this is the perfect light yet filling, flavorful and sinus-clearing kind of dish that I can't do without.

I've simplified the steps (yes, and cheated. I'm so embarassed) and recruited the help of a pre-made curry paste. While it's not the same nor as complex as a curry made from complete scratch, it's lightyears better than takeout or something from the hot/cold bar at Whole Foods.


I love Thai curries. The aroma alone of creamy coconut milk with the slight heat of the pungent curry spices makes my mouth water. I will often add lamb coupled with whatever vegetables I have on hand and simmer the mixture together until meltingly tender. Alone, a curry is a hearty alternative to a bowl of soup. For something even more substantial, serve it atop a cup of brown rice cooked with a bit of coconut oil and coconut milk, for added flavor. Added benefit of this recipe? It cooks in the same amount of time it takes to cook rice.

While I used lamb, onions, and bell peppers in this curry, you can really use whatever ingredients you have on hand. For example, try chicken instead of lamb, and use fresh snow peas and zucchini instead of the red bell peppers. A vegetarian? You can also use chopped tofu as well.

As published on The Daily Meal

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 ounces red curry paste
2 small yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
One 13.5-ounce can coconut milk
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 cup water
¾ pound lamb stew meat or tenderloins cut in ¾-inch pieces
Cooked rice, for serving, preferably brown rice
Sliced jalapeño, for garnish
Fresh basil, for garnish

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil. Add curry paste and cook, constantly stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the onions and the peppers and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk, soy sauce, and 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add the lamb. Cover with a lid and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or longer if the lamb is not yet cooked.

Remove the lid and let the curry sit for 5 minutes. Serve over a bowl of rice and garnish with sliced jalapeños and basil.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Serves 4

An Easy Weeknight Dinner: Omelettes!

Living in a city, many friends (and myself) turn to take-out, delivery, even pre-made foods easily available at the market for a weeknight meal. After a day staring at computer screens and in meetings, who wants to make a meal when they get home at 8 or 9 p.m.? Often, not me. But, I've learned not to fall into the take-out trap. Yes, it's easy (and when I'm craving sushi, it happens sometimes), but over time, it's expensive.

To solve this problem, I've adopted two new practices: 1. Making a couple of things over the weekend that I can freeze in the freezer (lamb curry or soup) or that I can reheat and eat all week (this is one of my favorites). 2. Always having the ingredients for an omelette on hand.

I think omelettes are nearly a complete meal on a plate (with a side of toast or another grain, of course). Protein and fat from two eggs, and (for me), green vegetables in the filling. They're also completely adaptable to your preferences. I've made bacon and fontina omelettes (post 10-mile run) and ratatouille omelettes. Omelettes with spinach, or simply plain, with cheese. They're hard to beat.

So the next time you're wondering what to make for dinner, don't over look this classic French dish. They're not just for breakfast anymore.

As published on The Daily Meal

Olive oil
3 scallions, whites and most of the greens thinly sliced
1 cup baby spinach
1 whole egg
1 egg white
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 thin slices Gruyere cheese

Heat an 8–inch sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add the scallions and cook about 30 seconds. Lower the heat to medium, then add the spinach. Cook until it is wilted, about a minute or two.

Meanwhile, mix the whole egg and egg white together well, seasoning with salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture over the spinach, immediately stirring the egg and spinach together with a wooden fork. 

Once the egg mixture is in the pan, continue to gently stir the egg while shaking the pan, so as to gently combine the egg with spinach and to scramble most of the egg mixture (rather than letting the liquid pool). Add the cheese down the middle and cook until most of the eggs are set.

With a rubber spatula, lift the edges of the omelette to make sure it is not sticking. With the handle toward you, flip the far edge of the omelette towards the middle. Then, with your plate readied in front of you, and the pan in your right hand, flip the omelette onto the plate, rolling it into a log. 

Serves 1