Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hot Like Sauce

Like the namesake of the natural hot spring high in the West Elks, I’ve been in quite a hot spot this week; quite literally, its been so freakin’ hot, I’ve been forced to reveal my pallid legs to the general public prematurely of spring. (If that wasn’t scary enough, I’m sure my sweaty armpits, a result of the anxiety caused by the legs, really put my sexy level over the top.) Anyways, back to the bubbling hot spring— Conundrum that is— that I’ve been in:

I have been at a loss of what to cook all week. The unseasonably scorched weather has really thrown me— and the planet I imagine— for a loop. This may seem like a small trifle to you, but for me its quite earth shattering. Not to be overly dramatic, but without cooking, I’m just not me. So, what broke my spell of ambivalence? Well, Global Warming delivered me a swift kick in the ass, and any indecision went packing.

Normally, mid-march is a snow-filled in Colorado. March also happens to be my birthday month, and I remember more than a few occasions where Father Winter greeted me with a blizzard on my birthday morn. Not so this year. The temps topped at 70 degrees this week! Not only was this t-shirt and skirt weather, it meant my taste buds where begging for some crisp, green, palette-cleansing fare. So, while I was stuck on figuring out the next late-winter seasonal fare I would present to you all, I finally took a long hard look into my newly-revealed, pale-skinned legs, and realized nothing sounded worse than stew or lentils. So, this week, I’m going with the weather, and my taste buds, to warm weather fare.

Here is a fresh and spicy meal to welcome spring. (Or the answer to the rash heat wave that Sir Global Warming has presented us with, whichever way you choose to look at it). This dinner is ready in less than 45 minutes and is complimented by a refreshing cocktail recipe. Plus, go ahead and pull out that grill, you know its been begging to be taken out of hibernation. Ok, maybe this meal is a large swing in the direction of summer, but hey, I’m an all or nothing kind of gal.

Crash Course: How to welcome warm weather with a bang!

Chicken Shawarma Skewers with Cucumber Yogurt Dipping Sauce and Grilled Zucchini Flatbreads

PLUS: Refreshing Cucumber Spritzers 

This meal is inspired by my yearnings for cool, refreshing flavors, to cleanse the palette of deep smoky spice. My take on a Middle Eastern-inspired, Mediterranean spread, these blending of flavor are the perfect mixture for a warm-weather day. Both the shawarma skewers and flatbreads are grilled, making this meal ideal for those who just can’t wait to pull out their grill. This dinner is meant to be eaten with your hands, dipping and dabbing into the sauces. While there are a number of ingredients, each component of this meal is relatively straightforward. And believe me, the flavors you’ll enjoy when your done cooking, will be a celebration for your mouth. No need for forks here; treat this meal as a cocktail party and dive in. So, get going and Cheers!

Servings: 4                       
Active time: 45 min                       
Total time: 45 min

You’ll Need:

Chicken Shawarma Skewers:
-       ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
-       1 ½ tsp. coriander
-       1 tbsp. & 1 tsp. cumin
-       2 tsp. crushed fennel seed
-       1 tsp. garlic powder
-       ½ tsp. paprika
-       1 ½ tsp. tumeric
-       2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
-       2 tbsp. olive oil
-       16 wooden skewers

Yogurt and Cucumber sauce:
-       1 cucumber
-       1 cup plain yogurt
-       Juice of one lemon
-       2 tsp. dried dill
-       1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
-       Pinch salt and pepper

Grilled Zucchini Flatbreads:
- 6, 6’’ whole-wheat pita breads
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 ½ tsp. olive oil
- 1 cup feta cheese
- ½ red onion
- 1 medium-sized zucchini
- Fresh-cracked pepper

Cucumber Spritzer:
- ½ cup fresh cucumber juice
- 20 ounces soda water
- 2 tsp. agave nectar
- Handful of fresh herbs, preferably basil or mint

1.     Heat grill to Medium High heat. If you are not quite ready to pull out your grill, you can prepare this whole meal on the stove. For the shawarma skewers, use a cast iron skillet, and heat to Medium. Trim the skewers down so they will fit inside the skillet, and cook as the recipe directs. Grill flatbreads in broiler on high, directly on oven shelf, watching closely to prevent burning. Each flatbread should take no more than five minutes.

2.     To prepare the yogurt sauce, peel cucumber and slice into ½- inch portions. Using a Cuisinart mixer or blender, blend into a chunky pulp. Line a cereal bowl with a paper towel— use at-least 2-ply for proper strength— and transfer cucumber mixture into towel. Squeeze cucumber pulp inside of paper towel, letting juice drain into bowl. Squeeze until you have between ¼ and 1/3 cup cucumber juice, set aside. Transfer cucumber pulp from paper towel to another bowl. Add yogurt, lemon juice, dill, and sesame oil and blend. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. 

3.     To prepare the chicken skewers, combine all the spices in a small bowl and blend. Using a clean cutting surface— preferably plastic— cut chicken into half-inch thick strips. Place strips in a shallow dish, and sprinkle half the spice mixture evenly across the chicken. Pat spices into chicken, and flip over. Sprinkle remaining spice mixture, on up-turned side of strips, and repeat patting. 

      To easily cut chicken breasts, cut through the white muscle that holds the thick part of the breast together. Slice breast perpendicularly to cutting board, to ‘butterfly’. (As the name implies, the breast should be split to look like the insect’s wings.) Then, working with the grain of the meat, slice breast into strips.

4.     Working one strip at a time— keeping in mind a needle and thread motion— use wooden skewers to puncture meat. Meat should lay flat on skewers. 2 pounds of chicken should make approximately 16 skewers. When all the chicken has been skewered, drizzle with oil and cook on grill for 3-4 minutes. Flip with tongs, and cook an additional 3-4 minutes.

5.     While chicken is grilling, prepare flatbreads. Wash zucchini, and slice on a slight angle into thin, ¼-inch ovals. Open garlic cloves by applying pressure with the flat side of a knife, and slice into halves. Drizzle pita breads with ½ tsp. each of olive oil. Using the pieces of one clove per pita, rub garlic with open-side down, over the entire surface of bread. Leave cloves on bread. Arrange zucchini on flatbreads, dispersing evenly. Add approximately 1 tbsp. thinly-sliced onions to each flatbread. Crumble equal portions of feta on each flatbread. Finish with cracked pepper. Cook on grill, on top of aluminum foil, but not covering the top. Flatbreads are ready when cheese melts, at approximately 7 minutes.

To easily slice an onion: Cut the top off the onion (this is the side without the roots). With the flat, top-side down, cut whole onion in half. Then, cut each half with flat side down, down the center without cutting to the core. Hold the end— the roots— of the onion, slice using downwards motions. Place the tip of the knife down first, and then follow through, to better control the size of the pieces. (Pieces will be in quarter portions.)

6.     Now, don’t forget the cocktail! Using whatever fresh herb you have on hand— I used basil— pull 3-4 leaves off stalk and slap between hands. (This will let out the natural oils in the herb, and allow more of its flavor to come through.) Place in bottom of pint glass and muddle with a bit of soda water. Add at least 1 tbsp. fresh cucumber juice, ½ tsp. agave nectar, and 2 oz. of either vodka or gin. Fill glass with ice and cover with another pint glass (or martini shaker). Shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Pour into rocks glass, and add soda. Repeat for each cocktail. 

7.     Assemble meal components on table, give yourself a pat on the back and Enjoy! Serve meal with hummus if you wish.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Kale, Trash and Time

My boyfriend is fond of telling me that you can’t ‘make time.’ He is far too practical, and doesn’t realize the time-bending powers of someone who has their plate way over loaded with dirty dishes, flying trash cans, and impending goat babies. I’ve done nothing but MAKE TIME this week, because 24 hours has yet to prove itself worthy.

And what does this mean for the kitchen? Well, very little unfortunately. Between massive work deadlines, and planning for our goat farm, I have been sustaining myself on trail mix and coffee. For someone who claimed that they would never be handcuffed to a desk job, my life has sure taken a monotonous turn recently. Not only am I hand-cuffed, my butt has been securely cemented in my plush swivel office chair, 10 hours a day— for the past week.

Top that off with this little gem of a disaster that slammed itself into my life this week: There I was, driving down the road, minding my own business— only running 10 minutes late to work, instead of the usual 25— when all of a sudden BOOM. A wall of force slammed into the passenger door. Screeching to a halt, my poor Subi acted as the tennis net for a very large, oblong-shaped ball. The scene was grim. The entire front side of my car was mangled like a used dog bone. The culprit of this ‘act of god’ (as I would later find out the insurance company calls accidents they don’t plan to cover): the neighbor’s empty trashcan, flung at me with the velocity of 90 mph winds.

Suffice to say any unused minutes did not go towards cooking this week.  That was until tonight, when I used my magic time powers to create enough time to prepare actual food. Something that was fresh, leafy, and good for me, all ready in less than 30 minutes. Trash cans, 90 mph winds and hundreds of mounting emails be damned— I’m eating dinner. Don’t worry, I’ll make enough for the unbelievers to have some too.

Crash Course: How to make healthy food, fast

Kale Caesar Salad with Toasted Croutons

Here is a healthy twist on the classic 1960’s salad. I have been eating lots of kale lately, but was craving a quick and fresh way to eat my favorite winter green. Raw Kale has the same crunchy texture of traditional romaine lettuce, with the added boost of Vitamin A, D, and K. The tangy, textured green tastes great with a creamy Caesar dressing, crunchy no-frill croutons and shavings of sharp Parmesan cheese. My step-dad, who ‘doesn’t eat no hippy food crap,’ gobbled this quick dinner entrée right up. The health factor won’t hurt you, I promise.

Servings: 4                       
Active time: 15 min                       
Total time: 30 min

You’ll Need:
- 3 pieces sandwich bread
- 1 tsp. olive oil
- Pinch salt
- Pinch pepper
- Jar with a tight fitting lid
- 2 large garlic cloves
- 4 anchovies
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- 3 tbsp. Olive Oil
- 1 egg
- 1 large bunch dinosaur kale
- Fresh-grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese

1.     Stack pieces of bread on top of each other, and cut into one-inch cubes. Spread out on cookie sheet, drizzle with 1 tsp. oil, and salt and pepper. Toss. Bake on 375 F for 10 minutes, or until golden brown.
The only bread I had on hand was rye. While this worked fine, I would not recommend it if you have other options. Sourdough or wheat sandwich bread will work the best.

2.     Break open garlic cloves by applying pressure with the flat side of a chef’s knife. Mince cloves, and add to jar.

3.     Drain canned anchovies of oil or water, and dice, adding to jar.
Anchovies are super high in Omega-3 fatty acids— a nutrient known to protect against heart disease and promote brain health‑— which means the little fish is super good for you. It is also true that anchovies that come from a can are very high in sodium. Not to worry, use the salt-packed fish to your advantage. You don’t need to add any extra salt to the recipe, the dish will taste well-seasoned, and you won’t overload your daily value of sodium. The fish has you covered. I promise.

4.     Continue to combine Dijon mustard, 1 tbsp. lemon juice and olive oil into jar.
1 tbsp. of fresh-squeezed lemon juice is approximately half of a large lemon. To avoid getting seeds in juice, hand squeeze with the open-cut side of the lemon facing up into your palm. In this way the juice will be squeezed out and over the side of the lemon, while the seeds stay in the fruit.

5.     Add raw egg, close jar tightly, and shake to emulsify dressing (about 20 seconds). Taste dressing, if more lemon is needed add remaining 1 tsp. of lemon juice. Shake for another 30 seconds.
Raw egg may sound scary, but it is the necessary ingredient in a real Caesar dressing. Originally invented in Tijuana, Mexico by a man named Caesar who owned an Italian Restaurant, the salad was meant to be prepared table-side. The dressing was whipped up, tossed in salad, and served immediately for the guest to enjoy. You should think of your salad in the same way, eaten immediately after it is made, your salad will taste the best, and the raw factor will do the least harm.

6.     Wash Kale, and pat dry with paper towels. Cut (or tear) leaves into 1-inch pieces. Place in salad bowl.
I recommend- since you are eating this veggie raw- to choose organic, if possible. I used dinosaur, aka lacinato Kale here, because I like the texture, but you can use any type of kale you prefer.

7.     Pour half of dressing over greens, and toss to coast evenly. Add additional dressing to taste. Top with fresh toasted croutons, and plenty of fresh-grated cheese.

8.     Enjoy a well-deserved meal. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Crash and Burn

I have put off starting this blog more times than I can count. I wanted to offer up easy-to-follow, creative, healthy and seasonal recipes and general kitchen insight in a real way. That was my hang-up— real, for me meant well, slightly off-kilter. Clutziness and I have been synonymous since at age five, I went on a butterfly-catching adventure with a glass jar, and ended up with a face puffed-out in the shape of a football and a pair of bloodied, bandaged feet. Instead of going for the harmless butterfly, I set my sights on the much more tactical catch of a bee. What ensued was a bee chase in which I was the victim; as the bee stuck its pokey ass into my eyelid, the glass jar shattered on the driveway, and hundreds of tiny glass shards found cover in my cushy feet. Not to mention that this is the way I found out I was allergic to bees, but that’s another story.

Cluster is one way to describe it. Much to my mother’s dismay, in high school ‘cluster f@$k’ was my go to adjective for describing my daily pursuits. Other people call it clutziness. In fact, in my adult life I have taken to introducing myself with a form of a warning label. When I first met my boyfriend the conversation went something like this: “Hi. My name is Cassidy. There’s something you need to know about me: I am a clutz. Please give me your phone number, but don’t expect to hear from me, because I will probably loose or break my phone before I have a chance to call you. Don’t take it personally though… I really do want to hang out.”

Anyways, as you can imagine a life of absent-minded bumps and falls, lost keys and phones, spilled dark liquids and forgotten appointments would not seem to lend itself to success in the kitchen. Yet, when my parents finally let me near an open flame without supervision, it was amazing how put together I could be. I was astonished at how much I had picked up just from observing others (always from a safe distance, of course.) Frying an egg, over-easy somehow brought out a calm in me. I stopped moving a million miles an hour and watched the white bubble in the oiled pan, flipping the egg just as the yolk settled. Many times before I had watched my parents season an egg— adding salt, pepper and a pinch of tarragon. I grabbed the spices, and felt comfort in knowing just how much to sprinkle on.

And let me tell you, sometimes there is nothing better than eating a perfect over-easy egg. Golden yolk pouring out from the salty, seasoned white, sopped up in crusty toast. It makes me salivate thinking of it now.

And if I could make simple— yet more than good— food on my own, well that only served to fuel my culinary exploration.

I was about fifteen when I realized the magic calm cooking produced in me. This is not to say that I was without mishaps in the kitchen. Quite the contrary. For one, I am not a clean cook. I have improved quite a bit over the years, but often after a slightly more elaborate weekend dinner, there are comments about ‘tornadoes’ and ‘atomic bombs’ from the present peanut gallery. Yet, I have somehow come out of years of kitchens— both at home and professionally— relatively unscathed. While I cannot say the same for my everyday life, I have never received a truly heinous knife wound or burn while preparing a meal. And more than anything, cooking makes me smile.

So here it is: my version of real. I promise to be honest, both about the food I cook, and the mishaps in my life that led me to each meal. I encourage you to laugh, enjoy, and maybe pat yourself on the back because there is someone out there that is less put together then you. They call me ‘Crash-ity,' and I cook to cope. 

How to fry a perfect egg

You’ll Need:
- 8’’ skillet
- 1 - 1 ½ tsp. olive oil
- One large, preferably free-range or farm-raised, egg
- Course sea salt
- Fresh cracked pepper
- 1/8 tsp. dried tarragon

1.In a heavy bottomed skillet, heat olive oil 
over medium heat. (My favorite pan for this, 
or for any frying really, is a cast iron. If you 
don’t have such a pan, use a stainless steel 
skillet, preferably not the non-stick kind.) 

    2.)  At about 2 minutes, when oil becomes 
      viscous (this  is called the ‘smoke point’), tap 
      egg on side of skillet to crack, and break into 
      the middle of pan, close to surface of skillet so 
      not to break the yolk. The white in the egg 
      should immediately start to turn from clear to 
      white. (If not, your pan was not hot enough 
      when you added the egg.)

3.As the egg sizzles away, sprinkle with a 
pinch or course sea salt and about two to four 
cracks of fresh pepper (depending on grinder). 
Add half of the tarragon. (I like using course 
spices here, because the flavor will really pop on 
the undressed egg. Just remember, with a really 
good sea salt— I like Real Salt from Utah— 
a little goes a long way.)

    4.When the whites of the egg appear to be 
      firmed up, at about 1 ½ minutes, flip using a long-handled spatula. (I like to use a stainless 
      steel spatula here.) Taking care not to break 
      the yolk, scoop under entire egg, and flip gently 
      in a rainbow motion, staying close to the pan 

5.Let egg fry for another 30 seconds. Add
remaining tarragon, salt and pepper to 
taste. Scoop from pan and serve immediately 
with a piece of buttered multigrain toast.

    6.Be amazed at how great an egg can taste!

Note: This recipe is for an over-easy egg. While I personally feel this is the superior way to enjoy the flavor of the humble egg, if you prefer a firmer finished product: allow egg to cook until yolk becomes firm (2-3 minutes), then flip and fry for another minute.