Thursday, July 31, 2008

Avocado sauce

I finally got my first gift from my garden this season. Today, I picked my first serrano chiles. Since I found California avocados at my local Marcs store for $1.00 each, I decided to make a very simple sauce that has become a staple around my house because it's so versatile. All it is, is a simple puree of avocados (2), cilantro (a large fist full), the zest and juice from one lime, salt, as many serrano chiles as you can stand (I used three, seeds and all) and enough water to make it the consistency you want. Just puree everything in a blender. It's a great topping for tacos, nachos and the like but I've also used it as a salad dressing, a dip, with fish and many other things.

A quick note on storing this, guacamole or other avocado based things. It is always best to prepare these things as close to serving time as possible but when you have to make it ahead here is the best way I have found to stop the avocados from oxidizing. Store the product in a heavy zip-lock type bag and squeeze out all of the air. If possible, set the bag in a bowl of ice water. The combonation of cold, a lack of oxygen and plenty of acid (lime juice) should keep it fresh and green for a day or two. I've also had luck putting this sauce in a squeeze bottle filled to the absolute top and kept cold.

Not a great picture but still a delicious sauce.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Spice of the week: Mixed sesame seeds

I've had several people ask me to talk a little more about spices. I'm trying to not use this blog to shill for my spice business but I have a weekly promotion that I do called "spice of the week". Basically, if you buy five $1.00 bags of spices from me you get the "spice of the week" free. I'm trying to get people to try something unusual or different, usually something that I have been experimenting with recently. I thought it might be good motivation to talk about a different spice, spice blend, salt sugar or anything else on a regular basis.

Sesame seeds seem to be something that people don't use very often. They are pretty inexpensive ($1.00 gets you 2-3 ounces), healthy and very tasty. You can get them in three forms, hulled (white), un-hulled (natural) or black. (You can also buy them toasted but since they go rancid quicker once they're toasted, I suggest that you undertake this very quick and easy process as needed.) I also sell a 50/50 mixture of black and white that I use often because it looks so nice. Aside from breads and an occasional sprinkling on sesame noodles, I find that a lot of people don't know what to do with them. One of my favorite uses for sesame seeds is to encrust things with them. I've done scallops, all kinds of fish, eggplant, mushrooms and meats. Today I'm doing some shrimp.

I thought that it might be interesting to make them sweet and spicy so I dissolved some hot pepper jelly in a small amount of white wine. I dipped each shrimp in the jelly and then into the sesame seeds. I would suggest not using the small shrimp that I did unless you like for this process to take what seems like forever. Cook them quickly in a very hot cast iron skillet. You want to be careful not to overcook them, the sugar in the jelly will give you a nice brown crust in seconds.

I finished them with a little wasabi sauce (wasabi powder, wine and honey). These were good and they were even better cold. Next time i think I might grill them and serve them as a cold appetizer.

Sesame seeds make a nice alternative to breading and they are also great in dips and on salads. Be creative. I'm sure that you can think of many things that can be complimented by their toasty, nutty flavor.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Squash blossoms

O.K. This isn't all that unique or creative but it is something that people don't do often enough. I usually end up with some "volunteer" squash vines coming from my compost pile or somewhere in my garden. These rarely produce great squash but they do give a steady supply of blossoms for fryin'. I like them stuffed with cheese or any other tasty filling but I love them simply fried in a light beer batter on their own.

All you need is that last cup or so of that German Hefe beer that I know you brewed after read my post about it and some all-purpose flour. Mix them together to make a "slightly looser than pancake batter" batter. Season it with salt, pepper or anything else you can think of. Dip the blossoms (washed and naughty parts removed, of course) in the batter and fry in some 365+ degree oil in whatever strange cast-iron piece you recently acquired at your local thrift store and need to season. Remove from oil when golden brown and top with your favorite finishing salt.

There you go, stupid-easy and delicious.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Shame on you for throwing out all of those stale tortilla chips all of these years. Those chips, some other leftover stuff from the fridge and a little creativity will get you a tasty Mexican style meal. I've made chilaquiles many dozens of times over the years with all kinds of different ingredients (They are a great showcase for dried chiles) and the only hard part is getting the liquid to chips ratio right so the the final consistency is what you like. Recipes for traditional chilaquiles can be found everywhere but this post isn't about the traditional versions. Instead, we are talking about making something delicious out of whatever you may have around. In this case I had some homemade coconut milk and a couple of cups of tomatillo salsa that was dangerously close to ending up in the compost pile and had to be used immediately. Fill a baking dish with your collection of stale chips, mix in and thing else you want (I used cubed cheddar cheese and some leftover chicken but this is a great time to use veggies or anything else you may have) and pour your liquids over the whole mess. Make sure your liquid mixture is very flavorful but be gentle with the salt. Your chips are most likely bland but salty and the liquids need to make up for that by being light on salt but bold in flavor. If your sauce isn't chile based then I would suggest a sprinkle of your favorite chile powder (I used ancho) over the top just before it goes into the oven.

As I mentioned before, the hard part is getting to chip to liquid ratio correct. I like them to come out on to loose side but if you want it to slice neatly I have one little trick for you. Just mix an egg or two into your liquids and you will end up with something that serves up beautifully. Just don't err on the dry side or it can be nearly inedible. Bake the whole mess at 350 degrees for 45 min. to 1 hr. and it will be wonderful.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Coconut milk

Canned coconut milk is very convenient but making it from scratch is easy, fun and satisfying. If you do it my way, it will only take 15 or 20 minutes so time is not an issue.

One swift hit with the back of your chefs knife or cleaver will crack his head open. Drain the coconut water into the nearest Hello Kitty bowl and drink it or add it to your liquid later. Separate the flesh from the hard shell. If you slip a butter knife between them it should come free pretty easy. Now here is the time saver. Most, if not all, recipes would ask you to remove the brown layer from the flesh. This is difficult, time consuming and unnecessary. If you leave it on it will still come out very white and the flavor will not be affected. Break it into smallish chunks so it's able to be pureed in your blender.

Add the chunks to your blender with two or three cups of hot tap water and puree until uniformly smooth. Separate the resulting puree through a chinous or other fine strainer, or you can pour it through a clean kitchen towel, wrap it tight and wring it out.

However you do it, the resulting solids should be surprisingly dry.

Now you have a luscious addition to hundreds of dishes both sweet and savory and it was easy to do. Part of this will be used for chilaquiles.

Figs and goat cheese and bacon and fire

Here is another simple and fantastic idea. Figs with goat cheese are a common combination that are often served with prosciuitto. Since I have a abundance of homemade bacon, I thought I would wrap them in that and throw them on the grill.

Lake Erie Creamery makes the best goat cheese I have ever had so I didn't feel the need to doctor it up with herbs like many recipes do, I just added some cracked pepper. I slit the figs down the side, stuffed some cheese in, wrapped them in bacon and put them on a skewer. After five minutes or so on the grill they were warm and the bacon was crisp. These things were heavenly.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A very quick radish slaw

Somebody at the market asked me what they should do with radishes besides topping a salad. Radishes are great on their own so here is something that's stupid simple.

Radishes, shredded finely (I used a Benriner mandolin with its finest shredding blades)

1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. sugar
Fresh dill weed
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Next time I'm going to buy the multi-colored variety that Bo sells at the market called "Easter egg". This will be great with my dry rubbed ribs I'll be smokin' on the 4th.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I've been tagged

Since I don't believe in following rules I thought I would take this opportunity to list a few of my food related pet peeves.

It pisses me off when:

-people choose not to eat or drink certain things. Food and drink, like life, is to be experienced. "I don't eat pork", "I don't eat meat", I don't eat salt", "I can't eat that, there is too much fat", "I don't drink", the bullshit never ends. Barring the risk of anaphylactic shock (Minor food allergies can be dealt with by eating a Benadryl before your meal. Just ask my wife), you shouldn't completely exclude things from your diet. Religion?, Silly. Health concerns?, Try moderation. Eat, drink and enjoy and always be willing to try something new.

-people make substitutions that are nothing less than lies. Miracle Whip isn't mayo. Soy isn't meat. Margarine isn't butter. Log Cabin syrup isn't maple syrup. There is no such thing as vegan cheese. I could go on and on. I even ate at a restaurant once that used surimi in their crab salad. If there is no fuckin' crab then it's not crab salad.

-forget that beer is great with food. The world of beer is far more diverse in flavor than the world of wine. I'm not at all saying that either one is better than the other, just that beer has taken an undeserved 'back seat' for way too long. All of those wonderful Maillard reactions, that those of us who cook work so hard to create, go unrepresented in the wine world. Beer has all of the roasted, toasted and sometimes burnt flavors that we crave as well as a whole world of sweet, sour, funky, chocolaty, fruity, bitter and just about any other complimenting or contrasting flavor you could want to match with food.

-assholes buy insipid California strawberries at Costco when local strawberries are in peak season. Eat seasonally, eat locally and when you can't, at least buy quality ingredients at a market where you can taste them. I run a farmers market. I see all kinds of people who want pretty veggies. They will walk past a weird looking heirloom tomato to pick up the perfectly round red one. The prettiest tomato probably isn't the best tasting. And this, at a place where the farmer who grew it would love to give you a taste of their hard work before you buy it. Why taste isn't the most important criteria, for many people, when buying fruits and vegetables, I don't know.

Oh, and since there should be six 'things about me', here is the fifth and last. It's just not me to 'tag' someone, so I will let this tag die right here. This doesn't mean I don't love you ohio mom. Thanks.