Category Archives: Appetizers/Starters

Sopa seca de Fideo y Camarones

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Fideos (vermicelli) are much loved in Mexico, where they form the basis of thick, delicious soups. Usually the soups are served as a first course, but our hearty shrimp version is a meal in a bowl.

The name “sopa seca de fideo” translates to “dry soup with noodles”. It’s not soup, it’s called a “dry soup” because the noodles absorb all of the wonderful rich stock, making the noodles taste more delicious than you can possibly imagine.

Although it can be made with straight noodles, I have found if easier to make fideo with the twirled angel hair nests. It’s pretty, and easier to serve that way, one nest per individual  serving.

Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 dried ancho or pasilla chiles*
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 lb. dried angel hair nests or vemicelli
1/4 cup olive  oil
One medium yellow onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 1/2 cup crushed canned tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 quart chicken broth
1 pound (30 to 35 per lb.) peeled, deveined shrimp, tails left intact
Kosher salt, to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

For Serving:
1/2 cup sour cream
Queso Fresco
Diced avocado

Directions:
Break stems off chiles and shake out seeds. In a small bowl, cover chiles with hot water and let stand until softened, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain and coarsely chop.

Brown the angle hair nests: Choose a frying pan with a lid in which the angel hair nests will all tightly fit in a single layer (about 9 or 10-inches wide, depending on the brand of angel hair nests you use). In the pan, heat the oil until shimmering hot. Working in batches, fry the vermicelli angel hair nests on both sides in the hot oil until golden brown in color. Remove from pan.

Sauté onions and garlic, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in chiles. Add tomatoes, cumin seeds and chicken broth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Reduce heat to a simmer and cook angel hair nests in the broth. When broth is simmering, place the browned angel hair nests or vermicelli in a single layer in the pan, nestled into the broth. The nests should cover the whole pan. Turn them over in the broth so that they get moistened on all sides. Cover and cook until the vermicelli has soaked up the liquid, about 5 minutes.

If after 5 minutes the top of the vermicelli is dry, flip over the individual angel hair nests and cook a minute longer. Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

To serve, spoon soup into wide, shallow bowls. Top each serving with a spoonful of sour cream and some avocado, if you like, and sprinkle with cilantro.

Cook’s Notes:
Vermicelli usually comes in 1 pound packages, so about 1/2 a package can be used for this recipe. If you cannot find angel hair nests at the market, you can make fideo with straight vermicelli pasta. Just break up the pasta in 3 to 4 inch long segments and cook the same way as you would the nests, browning them first in hot oil.

*Good dried chiles are soft, flexible, and smell a bit like prunes. Avoid hard, brittle specimens—they’re old and less flavorful.

How Hot Is Your Chile? To assess a chile’s heat, slice off its top through the ribs and seeds, where the heat-producing compound capsaicin is concentrated. Touch the slice to your tongue. If you want your food to be milder, split the chile and scrape out all or some of the ribs and seeds. If your skin is sensitive, wear kitchen gloves or hold the chiles with a fork—and don’t touch your eyes.

The trick to a great sopa seca de fideo is the chicken broth. If you do not have the time to make your own homemade chicken stock, you can easily use bouillon, boxed broth, and canned chicken stock. While bouillon and the boxes work in a pinch, nothing beats homemade stock for this recipe. It brings a richness that can’t be had any other way. So if you try it, I strongly urge you to use homemade stock!

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Salmon Rillettes

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This salmon rillettes is seasoned with chives, shallots, lemon juice, butter, salt and white pepper. Serve with toasted mini French baguette slices and a glass of chilled Chardonnay, it makes for a perfect appetizer to enjoy out on the deck during quiet Summer evenings.

 

 

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Chicken Noodle Soup with Herbs and Petite Green Peas

Chicken soup with egg noodles and petite peas
Photo Credit: Sun Basket, 2017

Coquilles de Fruits de Mer

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Grilled Sake and Soy Yakitori Chicken

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Yakitori (焼き鳥) is a Japanese type of skewered bite-sized pieces of grilled chicken and are prominent on the menus of most izakayas, casual Japanese restaurants that serve drinks and small bites of food. The preparation of Yakitori involves skewering the meat with kushi (串), a type of skewer typically made of steel, bamboo, or something made of similar materials. Afterwards, they are grilled over a charcoal fire. During or after cooking, the meat is typically seasoned with a tare sauce or salted.

Yakitori seasonings are primarily divided among two types: salty or salty-sweet. The salty type usually uses plain salt as its main seasoning. For the salty-sweet variety, tare, a special sauce consisting of mirin, sake, soy sauce, and sugar is used. Other common spices include powdered cayenne pepper, shichimi, Japanese pepper, black pepper, and wasabi, according to one’s tastes.

While grilling, I like to dip my chicken into the tare, or dipping sauce, two or three times , making for a nice “layered shine” to the meat. If you cannot find boneless, skin-on chicken thighs at the market, buy about 2 1/2 pounds of bone-in thighs and cut the pieces from the bone yourself, saving a few bucks.

Serves 4

Ingredients:
For the Glaze:
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sake

For the Chicken:
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
5 scallions or green onions, white and green portions, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup soy and sake glaze

Special Equipment:
Bamboo skewers


Directions:

For the Glaze:
Stir brown sugar, soy sauce, honey, water, mirin, rice vinegar and sake together in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until reduced in volume by half, about 25 to 30 minutes. Let glaze cool to thicken, for at least 1 hour.

For the Chicken:
Soak about eight 6-inch skewers in water to cover for at least 20 minutes.

Prepare a hot fire in a grill.

Thread the chicken onto the skewers alternating with the scallions, dividing the ingredients evenly among the skewers.

Pour the grilling glaze into a tall, narrow container, such as a pint glass. Working with one skewer at a time, dip a skewer in the glaze to coat. Remove, then repeat twice more to thoroughly coat the chicken. You can also brush the glaze onto the chicken if desired.

Grill the skewers over direct heat, turning occasionally, until the chicken is lightly charred outside and cooked through and the glaze is caramelized, about 2 minutes per side. Arrange on a platter and serve immediately.


Cook’s Notes:

Alternatively to get move flavor into the meat, pour 1/4 cup of the glaze in a large bowl and add the chicken to the glaze; cover and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

This glaze is a simple way to add a ton of flavor to any dish. It’s a perfect complement to get that sweet and slightly spicy flavor with other sauces like sambal oelek or gochujang.

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Baby Octopi and Fried Potatoes

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Thai Chicken Meatballs in Lemongrass Green Curry Broth

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Spicy, tangy, and deeply savory, this dish channels my favorite things about Thai food. Traditionally made with chicken thighs, chicken breast was used for the meatballs making them feel light in calories and well  balanced with the broth.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:
1  1/2 pound ground chicken breast meat
1  1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1  1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1  1/2 teaspoon crushed dried cilantro
1  1/2 teaspoon crushed dried Thai basil
Kosher salt, to taste
1  1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
1 jalapeño, seeded and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh lemongrass
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup well-shaken canned coconut milk
1-1/2 cups fresh cilantro sprigs, more for garnish
1/2 cup small fresh basil leaves, more for garnish
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 1/2 cups julienne carrots

 Directions:
Add the  chicken cumin, coriander, and  salt, a to a large mixing bowl and mix well.  To form the meatballs, set a small bowl of cold water nearby and, occasionally moistening your hands, gently roll 1  1/2-ounce portions of the meat between your palms into balls; you should get 16.

Over medium-high heat in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven or a heavy bottom pot, heat the oil until shimmering.  Add half of the meatballs, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, undisturbed, until browned on the bottom, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip and brown the other side, 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate, and repeat with the remaining meatballs.

Add the shallots, jalapeño, lemongrass and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the pot; cook, stirring, until the shallots soften, about 4 minutes. Add the chicken broth and coconut milk and bring to a boil. Stir in half of the cilantro and the basil, and remove from the heat. Using an immersion blender or working in batches with a regular blender, purée the mixture. Return to the pot if using a regular blender. Add the meatballs, lime juice, sugar, and fish sauce. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until the meatballs cook through (165°F), 15 to 20 minutes, adding the carrots during the last minute or two to cook until crisp-tender.

Divide the meatballs, carrots, and broth among bowls. Garnish with the remaining cilantro and basil leaves and serve.

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Crespelle alla Fiorintina

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catherine_de_medicisThe culinary historical trail leads to Catherine de’ Medici, the Florentine Queen of France, for introducing these savory crepes to French cuisine with the help of her Tuscan chefs.

In 1533, at age fourteen, she was married to Henry of Orléans, the future king of France.
When she moved to France, an entourage of friends, servants, and waiters accompanied her. The Florentine cooks who went with her brought with them the secrets of Italian cooking to France, introducing peas, beans, artichokes, canard a l’orange, (duck a la orange) and carabaccia (onion soup). The pastry makers also demonstrated their innovative genius with sorbets and ice creams, marmalades, fruits in syrup, pastry making, and pasta. A certain Sir Frangipani gave his name to the custard and the tart known in France as Frangipane. Is is not ironic that all these dishes that are considered so quintessentially French, are actually Italian in origin.

Catherine also brought with her to the French table a new protocol, such as the separation of salty and sweet dishes, at a time when sweets were still consumed together with meat and fish in the medieval style all over Europe. Everyone in France was amazed by the Florentine elegance she  introduced, including gracious table settings and dining, fine linen with elegant embroidery, as well as luxurious silverware and crystal stemware.

At the time, French cooking was already a rich, evolving discipline, and the presence of the new style profoundly influenced French cuisine over the next few centuries. Catherine and her army of Florentine chefs reformed the antique French cooking of a medieval tradition and transformed the food we know as today as the modern French cooking. As time went on, French cooks improved and magnified the Florentine contributions. While many dishes and techniques were being forgotten in Italy, the French made them into international cuisine.

And based on the  various  evidence in the culinary literature, it suggests that crepes were also Florentine in origin and the French adapted them into what we now enjoy  today, in both sweet and savory forms. Crespelle  appears to be like Cannelloni, which are pasta tubes filled with spinach and ricotta, but the crespelle is actually a very thin pancake crepe made of flour and eggs instead of a thick sheet of pasta.

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Photo Credit: Josephine Guerriero, Pezzole delle nonna, Posta La Ricetta

In the Tuscan countryside, this dish was formerly  called “pezzole delle nonna.” Pezzole is the Tuscan way of saying “fazzoletto” which means “handkerchief”  and so pezzole delle Nonna  can be translated as  “Grandma’s Handkerchiefs“. Pezzoles can be described as omelets or crepes stuffed with ricotta cheese and vegetables covered with a Béchamel sauce. They are neatly folded into quarters and served family style in a dish, looking very much like handkerchiefs in a stacked in a drawer.  Given its past, and its modern incarnations, this  dish is definitely a home-style comfort food and is  found in extremely traditional Tuscan trattorias.

Serves 8

Ingredients:
For the Crespelle batter:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon melted unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk

For the filling:
1 pound fresh spinach, washed, stems removed
1/2 pound ricotta
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

For the Béchamel:
4 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
1 3/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

To Finish:
About 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 cup tomato passata or  prepared tomato sauce (See Cook’s Notes)

Directions:
For the crepes: In a bowl whisk together all the ingredients to form a smooth, thin batter. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before proceeding. Heat a small skillet or crepe pan and when hot, brush lightly with butter. Ladle about 1/4 cup of crepe batter into the pan, tilting the skillet to evenly coat the pan. Cook until golden brown on the bottom and the top begins to look dry, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a spatula, carefully turn the crepe and cook the second side until the bottom colors slightly, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate and cover loosely to keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter to yield 8 crepes

For the filling:  Bring water to a boil in a saucepan and blanch spinach for a few minutes. Drain and dry  the spinach with a kitchen towel by squeezing the spinach to extract any remaining moisture, then coarsely chop to yield about 1 cup. In a bowl, combine the spinach, ricotta, Parmesan, eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and stir to thoroughly combine. Set aside.

 Preheat the oven to 375 ° F.

Lightly butter a 1  1/2 quart casserole dish.

Divide the spinach filling evenly among the crepes, using about 1/3 cup filling for each. Roll the crepes, like enchiladas, up around the filling and place in the buttered dish. Set aside while preparing the sauce.

For the Béchamel sauce: In a saucepan,  melt the butter. Whisk in the flour until smooth and continue to cook for 3 minutes, being careful not to brown. Slowly whisk in the cold milk, and cook, stirring, until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking until the floury taste is gone, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

To finish: Pour the béchamel over the crepes, drizzle with butter, and bake for 20 minutes, until lightly browned on top. Serve hot, with a little tomato passata spooned over the top of each serving.

Cook’s Notes:
You are probably asking yourself, “What is passata?”  Well, passata is basically just an uncooked sauce made with crushed and sieved tomatoes. What makes it so special? Usually, high quality ripe tomatoes are used for passata, resulting in a well flavored tomato base that is generally superior to standard canned tomatoes. Passata is an excellent base for sauces and perfect as a pizza sauce.

Passata is available in Italian delis and specialty gourmet markets. In Europe, passata is widely available in supermarkets. You will find it near the pasta sauces and canned tomatoes. Usually it is sold in a tall jar or a carton. But for some reason, although it is found all over Italy and Europe in general, passata does not seem to be sold widely in the United States. That’s a pity because it’s a great store-cupboard ingredient to have on hand. If you are having trouble getting your hands on passata, you can purchase it online. Amazon stocks good quality Cento Tomato Passata made from Italian San Marzano tomatoes.

How To Make Passata: If you do not have the real thing, you can make a reasonable substitute at home. Use the best quality tomatoes you can find, drain them and sieve or purée in a food processor. But do not use tomato paste, because it is thick, concentrated and highly processed. You can also add salt and other seasonings to taste, like basil or oregano.

Sources:
Orieux, Jean. Catherine de Médicis, ou, La reine noire. Paris: Flammarion, 1986.

Volpe, Anna Maria. “Caterina de Medici: A Tuscan Queen In France.” Caterina de medici, http://www.annamariavolpi.com/caterina_de_medici.html. Date Accessed: 16 December 2016.

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Brown Sugar Chipotle Wings

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Adapted from
Meredith Steele
Steele House Kitchen.com
November 20, 2015

For this Super Bowl Party LI (51), I was looking for something that had a taste of something that was sweet, spicy  and smoky with a touch of heat. I found this recipe for these baked Brown Sugar Chipotle Wings made with McIhenny Tabasco®  Chipotle Pepper Sauce. This particular flavor of pepper sauce blends Mexican heritage with the Louisiana traditions of Cajun and Creole cooking. A most divine combination, if I say so myself. Anyways, to make a long story short, these wings came out crispy with the meat practically falling off the bone and were ever so tender. This is just about the most perfect finger food for a party, game day or for any time that you want a quick snack to satisfy the flavor cravings. And the best part about it, you don’t have to fry the wings in a pot of hot oil!

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:
3 – 4 pounds chicken wings, cut into drums and flats, tip discarded
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 Tablespoons melted unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons  light brown sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons  McIhenny Tabasco®  Chipotle Pepper Sauce

Directions:
Preheat oven to 450°F.

Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, and set rack inside. Using  paper towels, pat the  chicken wings dry and place on a large rimmed baking sheet, being careful not to overlap.

Place 1/3 of wings in large bowl, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt, and toss until thoroughly and evenly coated. Place on rack, leaving slight space between each wing. Repeat with remaining two batches of wings.

Place the wings in the oven and roast for 35 minutes. Flip wings, and continue to roast for 15 to 25 minutes longer until golden and crisp.

While the wings are roasting, combine hot melted butter, brown sugar, Tabasco® Brand Chipotle Pepper Sauce, and salt in a large bowl that is big enough to hold all the wings. Stir until smooth and sugar has dissolved.

Immediately after the wings come out of the oven, transfer them to the sauce and toss to coat. Plate the wings and serve.

Beer Pairings: wheat beers such as Hefeweizen or even a raspberry Lambic.

Cook’s Notes:
Baking powder, not to be mistaken with baking soda, is a leavening agent usually used in baked goods such as cookies and cakes. It’s a mixture of sodium bicarbonate, cream of tartar and cornstarch. When mixed with salt and coated on chicken the baking powder dries out the skin, leaving it crisp and crunchy. The science behind this cooking technique is that the addition of the baking powder raises the pH level in the chicken, making the wings more alkaline (basic) allowing the peptide bonds of the proteins in the skin to weaken, creating a texture that is less leathery or papery, and more crispy.

DO NOT use baking soda as a substitute for the baking powder. Baking soda will give your wings a  very distinct salty and  metallic bitterness that will not be pleasing to your taste buds.

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