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ASIAN CHICKEN LETTUCE WRAP SAUCE

Sometimes you need to pull a rabbit out of your hat. On occasion you find that what you pulled out actually was more like a weasel or a marmot, but now and then it does turn out to be a rabbit, just as you’d hoped.

I’m preparing food for a cocktail party, which has to be all finger foods. I thought Asian chicken lettuce wraps would be good, never mind that I have never made them before. The filling part is easy enough – diced chicken, water chestnuts, peanuts, cilantro, scallions – but the dressing was another story. You can buy all kinds of bottled dressings and some of them taste okay, but it’s fun to mix your own. If you have a well-stocked pantry with Asian ingredients, it’s fast and easy.

Here is what I came up with. This started with a recipe for Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad from Nigella Bites by Nigella Lawson, and took off from there.

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SAUCE FOR ASIAN LETTUCE WRAPS

  • 2 small red Jalapenos, minced
  • 3 fat garlic cloves, pressed or minced
  • 2 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
  • juice of one lime
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 Tablespoon nam pla
  • 2 Tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce
  • 1 teaspoon black bean garlic sauce
  • 1 star anise

Combine all ingredients. Store in refrigerator. Remove star anise before using. Toss with diced chicken or shrimp for Asian lettuce wraps or as a salad dressing.

Notes:

Use chili flakes, Sriracha, cayenne, or other hot peppers in place of the Jalapenos.

Nam pla (fish sauce) is available in Asian markets or well-stocked supermarkets. If necessary you can substitute soy sauce or tamari.

Black bean garlic sauce is available in Asian markets or well-stocked supermarkets. Leave it out if you can’t find it.

Thai sweet chili sauce is available in Asian markets, supermarkets, and Trader Joe’s. It is a thick sweet-spicy sauce that has a couple of million uses.

 

 

 

MRS. SUNDBERG

Now we know she is a real person. Her name isn’t Sundberg but she has been involved with Prairie Home Companion for years, and she has a cookbook out.

The scoop right here.

CHICKEN-AVOCADO ENCHILADAS

The first enchiladas I ever made were from the Sunset Cook Book of Favorite Recipes. The recipe called for 2 cups of sour cream and 1 pound of shredded Cheddar cheese plus additional sour cream to pile on each serving (and this was in the days long before there was such a thing as nonfat sour cream or low-fat cheese). I made it quite often for years. It was wildly popular among my co-workers when I brought it to potlucks. Between this and the cheesecakes I used to make, I probably single-handedly contributed to the early demise of of several people.

But we’re here now in the Dark Days Of High Cholesterol, so I needed to find a way to make luscious enchiladas without so much animal fat. Someone on Facebook – I have forgotten who, so I can’t give credit – posted a recipe for chicken-avocado enchiladas that looked pretty good. I messed around with the recipe a little, then called friends to come over for dinner. None of us could stop eating it. We  cleaned the pan out. I’m telling you, this is good.

If you must, you can substitute canned green enchilada sauce, but this sauce is totally worth making. Both the sauce and filling can be made a day ahead if necessary,but do not add the avocados until ready to assemble the enchiladas.

CHICKEN-AVOCADO ENCHILADAS

SAUCE:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or minced
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 cup salsa verde (I used La Victoria)
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
  • salt and pepper

 

Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute the garlic lightly for a minute. Do not allow garlic to brown.

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Stir in the flour, and cook & stir over medium-low heat for 2 more minutes.

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Add the chicken stock while stirring, and keep stirring until the sauce is lump-free. Add the cumin, salt, pepper, and salsa verde, and heat until thickened (it won’t be really thick – about the consistency of canned enchilada sauce). Taste and adjust seasoning with more salt, pepper, or cumin as needed. Add the cilantro. When sauce tastes good, remove from heat and stir in the sour cream.

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  • Do not boil sauce after sour cream has been added.

 

TORTILLAS

  • 18 6-inch corn tortillas (I used Guerrero brand)

Heat 1/2″ oil in small frying pan. Test by dipping the edge of  a tortilla into the oil. If the oil sizzles, it’s ready. Fry each tortilla for about 5 seconds on each side. Do not try to crisp the tortillas; this step is to soften them. Turn with tongs, then remove to a plate lined with paper towels, and press the tortillas between the towels to absorb excess oil. Use as many paper towels as needed – I arrange about 3 tortillas on each towel, then top with another layer of towels.

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FILLING

  • 4 cups diced chicken (I used poached chicken from this recipe)
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup sliced pitted black olives
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon New Mexico chili powder
  • about 1 cup fat-free sour cream
  • 3 firm-ripe avocados, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese (I used Cheddar, but use what you like – low-fat cheese is good here) (optional)

Combine all ingredients except cheese, using as much sour cream as necessary to coat everything. Mix gently to avoid mashing the avocados.

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Spread about 1/2 cup sauce on the bottom of a large baking dish.

Fill each tortilla with equal amounts of filling – for this much filling/this many 6″ tortillas, figure around 1/3 to 1/2 cup filling, but YMMV.

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Tuck each tortilla into the baking dish, open side down. Here I decided to make a double layer of enchiladas, so when the baking dish had one full layer, I poured some sauce over the first batch and sprinkled with about 1/4 cup shredded cheese. Or just make one layer if the baking dish is large enough.

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Second layer – pour the remaining sauce over, top with about 1/4 cup cheese. If you like, top with sliced tomatoes,  roasted red bell peppers, chopped olives, sliced avocado, etc.

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Bake at 350 until hot and bubbling, about 25-30 minutes.

 

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Serve this with beans – I made plain boiled pinto beans served in little bowls with cilantro and chopped red onion – rice, and a green salad.

Gluten- free option for the sauce:

Saute garlic in oil, then add broth, salsa verde, and seasonings. Thicken with a cornstarch slurry – when sauce is thickened, add sour cream and proceed with recipe from there.

RED JALAPENO JELLY

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This spring I optimistically planted six tomato plants, five chiles (three Jalapeno, two poblano) and six squash plants. The squash plants are a bunch of worthless slackers. The tomatoes got a late start but are making up for it now with avalanches of yellow pear-shaped tomatoes and a crop of beefsteaks coming on. The chiles found their footing early and have been producing like there’s no tomorrow. I had planned to make salsa – loads and loads of salsa – but the main ingredients didn’t all ripen at the same time. So, jelly.

Most of the Jalapeno jelly recipes require a couple of green bell peppers, which seems a distraction and beside the point; also, you had to go through all that jelly bag draining nonsense which is tiresome. I found this one online and it’s much simpler. I adapted it ever so slightly to go with what I had.

RED JALAPENO JELLY

  • 12 ounces red Jalapenos (about 12 medium)
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar, divided
  • 6 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 three-ounce pouches of liquid pectin
  • red food coloring

Before you start with the recipe, prepare six 8-ounce canning jars with lids and ring bands by heating in large pot of simmering water, which will be used to process the filled jars later.

I decided that 14 smallish Jalapenos plus two red poblanos equaled 12 ounces.

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Remove the stems from peppers, slice in half, and remove most of the seeds. The seeds and ribs are where the heat is so don’t be too scrupulous about removing them all. Mo hotta, mo betta.

Cut into pieces and put in a blender or a food processor with one cup of the vinegar, and blitz. Do not strain.

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Combine the pureed chiles with the remaining 1 cup vinegar and the sugar in a largish pot. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar, and boil over medium heat, stirring as needed. Do not allow to boil over because you will have the stickiest mess ever.

The mixture will turn from red to orange.

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Meanwhile, cut the tops off the two pouches of liquid pectin and prop them up in a cup.

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After ten minutes, add the pectin. Quickly squeeze the pouches to get all the contents out and into the boiling liquid. Boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly. The mixture will go from foamy and puffy to condensed and shiny.

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Remove from heat. Add food coloring if using (I found it took about 1/4 teaspoon to get the red color I wanted) and skim off any foam.

Ladle the hot jelly into hot jars. I find a canning funnel invaluable here.

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Leave about 1/4″ headspace. Wipe the rim of the jar with a damp paper towel (anything on the rim may interfere with sealing). Fish a ring and band out of the simmering water and apply, tightening comfortably by hand (these jars are hot so use a mitt if necessary). As jars are filled, place them back into the pot of simmering water. When all jars are filled and in the hot water, water should cover jars by 1″.

Adjust heat so water is at a fast simmer. Do not boil violently as this may cause jars to rattle around and interfere with the necessary vacuum sealing. Process for 10 minutes.

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Remove jars with a jar lifter and place on a folded towel away from drafts. Let cool completely. When sealed, lids should stay down when pressed. Any that do not stay down should be stored in the refrigerator. The recipe said it made 5 8-ounce jars but I got 5 1/2.

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If what you have are green Jalapenos, they work fine in this – just use green food coloring.

If you want a much hotter jelly, add hotter chilis (though I do think the Jalapenos make a good base note with their slightly fruity, distinctive flavor) – try a serrano or two, a chipotle (available dried or in adobo) for a hot smoked flavor, or go on up the heat scale to pequins, Thai bird, Scotch Bonnets or habaneros. Hey, it’s your creation.

This is usually presented on a bar of cream cheese with crackers, but it also makes a nice glaze for chicken, ham or pork. I think it would be interesting used as a filling for chocolate cake. And of course, spread it on toast or biscuits.

NOT SO SWEET CAKE

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That’s maybe a little prosaic for a title, but it’s hot and I’m cranky and don’t feel like thinking up a cutesey-pie title,  mmmkay?

The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum is the last best word on baking cakes ever written. This is not up for discussion. Anyone who wants to learn how to bake a cake beyond a box of Betty Crocker would do well to get this because it explains everything about the science behind making cakes. Everything from a very simple pound cake to an extravagant triple-layered dotted Swiss cake, folded chocolate pages, cake with trellised roses – it’s in here, with careful directions and sources for equipment.

One important lesson I took away from this book is about sifting. It does not mix ingredients; it aerates them. I had thought this for a long time but Beranbaum actually wrote her thesis on it. So those instructions in most recipes that read, “sift the flour, salt, and baking powder together”? Pffft.

I have made the Buttermilk Country Cake from this book dozens of times and it’s always perfect. Yesterday I wanted to make it but didn’t have buttermilk and didn’t want to run to the store. I also wanted to cut down on the fat and sugar a bit.  I adapted the recipe and it turned out very well.  The next time I make it, I will use almond extract instead of the vanilla.

LESS-SWEET, LESS FAT CAKE

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons softened butter

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 10-inch springform pan, line it with wax paper or parchment paper, then grease again and flour.

Combine the eggs, 1/4 cup of the yogurt, and the vanilla and lemon extracts in a small bowl and mix with a fork until there are no lumps of yogurt remaining. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Using an electric mixer, beat on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter and remaining yogurt and beat until dry ingredients are moistened, then increase speed to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes, stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Add the egg mixture to the dry mixture in 3 batches, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides as needed.

Scrape batter into pan. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let cool 10 minutes on a rack, then run a knife around the inside of the pan. Loosen the sides and remove, then invert cake onto rack. Remove the paper, invert right-side-up, and let cool completely.

To serve, cut into wedges. Slice each wedge in half horizontally and fill with fruit. Top with sour cream, whipped cream, or ice cream. Here I used nonfat sour cream and a hot cherry filling.

 

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GREEK TURKEY BURGERS

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There used to be a restaurant in Eureka, California, called Ramone’s Opera Alley Cafe.  I never got a chance to eat there – well, I guess I had chances, but I didn’t take them. There’s now a place called Cafe Nooner where it was; Ramone’s lives on as a bakery.

Anyway, a few years ago I found an interview online with a guy who cooked at Ramone’s and he gave a recipe for a Spanakopita burger they apparently used to make. I looked at the recipe the other day and it included ground pork along with turkey, which I am sure is delicious but not really on our recommended diet these days. I made some adjustments and made these for dinner last night along with sauteed corn & red onions and a heirloom tomato salad. It was divine.

GREEK TURKEY BURGERS

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup panko
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dry oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients and shape into patties.

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Refrigerate until well-chilled (turkey burgers tend to fall apart easily; the chilling helps them stick together).

I cooked these on a Lodge cast-iron grill.

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Cook until well-done (I used an instant-read meat thermometer).

Serve on toasted buns with the usual burger toppings – though we tried some homemade peach chutney in place of ketchup and it was fabulous.

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Variations:

  • Use half ground pork and half ground turkey.
  • Substitute ground lamb for the turkey; omit the panko. Cook until rare or medium-rare.
  • Substitute blue cheese or gorgonzola for the feta.
  • Substitute basil or rosemary for the oregano.
  • Add chopped Kalamata olives.
  • Serve on focaccia bread.

 

 

BRUSCHETTA: PERFECT SUMMER FOOD

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I’m so over summer, but like honey badger, summer don’t care. It’s going to be here for the next million years, or at least that’s what it feels like.  It’s a long string of days in which it’s just too hot to do a lot of cooking.

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On those kinds of days, I often make bruschetta. It’s virtually no-cook (except for making toast) and is an extremely good way to enjoy the best summer tomatoes. There’s no set recipe: use as much of each ingredient as you like or you have on hand. This approaches Nirvana if made with heirloom tomatoes.

  • Real summer tomatoes
  • Garlic
  • Fresh basil
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Core and chop tomatoes. Mince garlic. Chop or sliver basil. Combine in a bowl. Pour in some olive oil and add salt & pepper to taste.

Toast the best bread you can lay your hands on (i.e. not  squishy supermarket bread like Rainbo).  If you feel ambitious, cut a garlic clove in half and rub the cut side onto the toast until the garlic disappears. Spoon the tomato mixture onto the toast. Eat.

Possible add-ins:

  • Minced hot peppers, cayenne, or hot sauce.
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice.
  • Fresh oregano along with, or in place of, the basil.
  • Minced sweet onion.
  • Chopped roasted red bell pepper.
  • Chopped good-quality olives (like Kalamata).

Other things to try:

  • Top bruschetta with cheese, then run under the broiler.
  • Spread tapenade on toast, then top with tomato mixture.
  • Spread pesto on toast, then top with tomato mixture.
  • Skip the toast. Mix this into hot cooked pasta.
  • Pour over green salad and toss.
  • Puree leftovers and serve as cold soup.
  • Use to top baked or grilled fish.
  • Use to top grilled eggplant.
  • Puree and strain. Pour over ice along with a healthy shot of vodka.

 

 

 

 

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