Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Oceanfront Taco Party

Before I begin, I would like to note that, after typing the above title, I have decided if I ever find myself with some prime commercial real estate on the coast and the motivation to open a restaurant, I know what it will be called.

Anyway…. if you have been reading my blog for awhile, you probably know the following things about me:

  1. I like looking at recipes.
  2. I’m a bit of a neurotic overachiever.
  3. I love tacos.

Perhaps you wouldn’t necessarily come to the third conclusion, but if you read back through the past year, it should become pretty evident.  I’ve talked about tacos filled with ceviche and tacos filled with black beans.  I mean, we even had a Mexican-themed wedding menu.

What is it that I love about tacos?  Well, beyond the inclusion of some of my favorite flavors (e.g., lime and cilantro), vibrant colors, and the fact that they can range from respectfully light and nutritious to downright decadent, tacos usually come with a bunch of accompaniments, which gives me an opportunity to use all of the cute little serving dishes I’ve accumulated.

What’s also lovely about tacos is that they can be a pretty basic preparation with one filling and a couple standard condiments. Or, you can go completely crazy and prepare a ton of things that taste yummy in a tortilla, and let everyone create their own special taco.  And, if you refer back to item #2 above, you can guess which direction I’d lean towards.

Enter the article devoted to tacos in the June issue of Bon Appetit.

If there is one thing I love more than recipes, it’s menus of recipes.  Sure, there are times that I like to cover the couch (and myself) with ten cookbooks and make Excel sheets for menu planning.  But sometimes, it’s nice to have someone else do that work for you.  Bon Appetit has done that here: five taco fillings, five condiments, and a recipe for homemade tortillas.  I’m disappointed that they did not include a dessert, though.  If the BA writers believe that after stuffing your stomach with tacos, you wouldn’t want dessert, they clearly have not met my family.

As we were planning our family beach trip, it occurred to me that a stay-at-home taco night would be a nice break among a week of dining out and consuming a ton of crabmeat and Dumser’s ice cream (not together).

In a perfect world, I would have made this entire menu (homemade tortillas included) and a dessert.  But then I realized a) I was only cooking for six people, b) I was trying to save us money by eating in, and c) I was not going to be happy if I spent a perfectly good beach day in the kitchen.

So in the end, I decided on this menu:

Fillings:

Cumin and Ancho Chicken

Rajas Poblanas

Condiments:

Taqueria Guacamole

Pico de Gallo

Extras:

Quick Pickled Onions

Shredded purple cabbage

Sour cream

Cheese

Cilantro

And that was plenty of food for six people.  I think we each had somewhere between 2 and 5 tacos, and we had a good amount of chicken and poblanos leftover.

For the most part I followed the recipes directly, but I’ll share a couple changes/notes.

Chicken- I forgot to look for ancho chile powder at the store, but I happened to have some of this Carne Asada seasoning hanging around. I think my brother-in-law asked us to purchase it last year for the wedding food. Since it had chile powder in it, I figured it would be an acceptable substitute.  It also had salt, though, so I did not add extra kosher salt as the recipe called for.

Rajas Poblanas- Most of us loved them but they were surprisingly hot.  I don’t think of poblanos being that hot, but this was intense. I know a lot of pepper varieties can have quite a range in terms of heat, so maybe these were just unusually hot poblanos. Delicious, though.

Guacamole- I didn’t add water to it, just smashed the avocados a bit more.  I typically like chunky guacamole, but I can appreciate that the smoother variety stays put in a taco a little better.

I swear, these were the most attractive and tastiest avocados I’ve ever had.

Pico de Gallo- Pretty basic, straightforward recipe, but really good. I skipped the jalapenos, which was probably a good thing, given how the poblanos turned out!  Maybe a dear reader can explain to me the rationale behind submerging the onions in ice water and immediately draining them?  I assumed it was just to tone down the onions, but a quick rinse seemed just as sufficient.

Quick Pickled Onions- These disappeared quickly! Even my husband who usually avoids red onions ate them. This was the one thing I made in advance (a couple days) and stored in a jar, refrigerated.

One more thing. Perhaps it was the seasoning I used or my cooking technique on an unfamiliar stove but the chicken produced a ton of smoke on the skillet. (Oh yes, by the way, I took my cast iron skillet with me to the beach.)  I was worried I had destroyed the chicken, since it was pretty much black on the outside.  But it was perfectly cooked and the flavor was awesome.

Since the smoke drove my poor family out onto the balcony of the condo we were renting, it’s a good thing the food turned out well. Of course, even getting smoked out of the condo had a silver lining: we carried the dining room table outside (it was a big balcony) and enjoyed a better view than what is offered at the nicest restaurants in Ocean City.  Let me tell you- tacos taste better when you’re watching a sunset and hearing waves crash.

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Cherry, Chocolate, and Almond Ricotta Parfait and Some Disappointing Instagrams

I think I need to start eating dinner (and dessert) earlier in the evening.  Sure, the mysterious collective “they” say it’s healthier to not eat large meals past the early evening hours.  But my rationale has nothing to do with my waistline.  If I follow through with eating earlier, the only reason I’ll be doing it is for the lighting.

You see, I am not a professional blogger, nor am I a professional photographer.  It’s not like I have special lights for food photography, or even a particularly fancy camera.  And when I’m feeling really lazy, or have a last moment realization that what I’m about to eat might be blog-worthy, I’ve been documenting it via camera phone.

The problem with this is that it means there are times that I hesitate to post recipes because I don’t have photographs that do them justice.  And a lot of the time this happens because we’re eating dinner at 9pm and there’s no beautiful natural sunlight to cast a halo around the heavenly dessert I’m about to eat or to bring out an heirloom tomato’s brilliant colors that seem to disappear the second I turn a ceiling light on.

And what I end up with is a blurry photograph of a parfait topped with what look more like kalamata olives than fresh cherries.  Even the coolest Instagram filter can only do so much.

Sigh.

So yeah… this isn’t the prettiest or most photogenic dessert.  But it was really, really tasty.  Especially considering how easy it is.

I’m a fan of cherries and almonds together, especially when they are joined with chocolate, as evidenced by the Chocolate, Cherry, & Almond Oatmeal Cookies I made last summer.  But here’s a way to enjoy a similar combination without having to turn on the oven.

This is inspired by a Martha Stewart recipe for Sweet Ricotta with Chocolate which I made for a book club gathering last month.  It was served with berries and cinnamon-sugar pita chips.  And it only takes as much time as it takes to chop up some chocolate and stir the ingredients together.  Great thing to throw together for a gathering- easy to make ahead, transport, and since you can serve it with fruit, it’s a good option if you have gluten-free friends.

But when I finally got around to making a belated Mother’s Day dinner the other night for my mom, I wanted to do something a little fancier.  And thus, this ricotta parfait was born.

I’ve tried this once with frozen cherry and once with fresh, and I have to say, I liked the consistency of the frozen cherries better.  But maybe if you halved fresh cherries and tossed them with just a little sugar to draw out some of the juices, that would work too.

In terms of portions/servings, this recipe definitely makes enough for two parfaits plus a healthy amount of leftover ricotta to be enjoyed on its own. But you could probably get 3 or 4 parfaits out of this if you wanted to.

Cherry, Chocolate, and Almond Ricotta Parfait

One 15-16 ounce container of part skim ricotta cheese

1/8 cup sugar

1/2 tsp almond extract (or more, to taste)

1 to 1 1/2 ounce coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate (I use two or three squares of a 4-ounce Ghirardelli bittersweet 60% cacao baking bar)

About 20 to 30 pitted cherries, fresh or frozen, defrosted (I think I had about 10-15 cherries per parfait)

Slivered almonds (I’d say I split about a 1/4 cup between two parfaits but this could be adjusted based on personal preference)

Drain the ricotta in a fine-mesh sieve for about 10-20 minutes, to let some of the liquid drain out.  Transfer ricotta to a bowl and stir in sugar, almond extract, and chopped chocolate until well blended.

In bowls, cups, or glasses of your choice, alternate layers of the ricotta mixture, cherries, and almonds.  My mom had wine glasses with straight sides, which worked well and looked way prettier than our clunky recycled glass tumblers.  But it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right?  And when the insides are basically almond-spiked cannoli filling with cherries and taste like a lighter version of cherry cheesecake, how can you go wrong?  Oh, and I’m sorry, there are no precise measures for this part of assembly.  Embrace this opportunity to create your very own, personal ideal ratio of cherries to ricotta to almonds.

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My Cat is on Amazon.com

No, we did not decide to auction off Bailey to the highest bidder.

Although I suspect he would go for thousands of dollars.  Who wouldn’t want a cranky eight-year-old Maine Coon mix with a love of 4am feedings and a need for tranquilizers before vet visits?

You can, however, now purchase your very own Matilda.  Matilda and 12 others, that is.

Nick’s album, matilda and 12 others is now available for download at Amazon.com as well as iTunes. You can also listen to this debut from Bertling Noise Laboratories in its entirety on bandcamp.  If you like it, you can also purchase it directly from bandcamp for $7 (or more, if you like).

As I said in my last round of shameless spouse promotion, I’m not someone who is going to force feed my husband’s music (or any music I love) down someone else’s throat (or in someone’s else’s ear, perhaps).  But I will say this.  I have been listening to this album regularly for about a month now.  And there are a lot of times when I’m driving in my car, and thirty seconds into the first track I’ve already forgotten that what I’m hearing came from the man who lives with me. And every time, I am blown away by the fact that every sound you hear was produced by one man.

If I had to describe the style, I would start by saying this: Nick is a child of the 80’s who grew up on his parent’s music.  And while the songs on his album are pretty eclectic, there is still this sense of cohesion, because it’s Nick’s take on three decade’s worth of musical influences.

It’s an album for people who enjoy – really enjoy – good music, and if you fall into that category, I hope you’ll take a moment to check this out.  Because good music deserves to be heard.  And people who love good music deserve a chance to hear it.

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Roasted Chicken and Cherry Tomatoes with Herbs

I think I should apologize.  I’ve been terribly selfish.  You see, I have now made this recipe twice and have yet to share it with you.  And it is a strong contender for my favorite new summer recipe.

Take some of my kitchen’s usual suspects- tomatoes, basil, shallots, and chicken.  Throw into the mix some strangers- Worcestershire sauce, herbes de Provence (which I can hear in my head with a French accent but please don’t ask me to say it out loud), and tarragon.  The end result? How can I explain this…?

Have you ever found yourself in a completely new situation with someone you know very well, and suddenly experience a different side of that person?  (Sometimes it’s a good thing, sometimes it’s not…) That’s what this recipe reminded me of.  It’s like if you mix Mom + martini, and the outcome is a Mom that is oddly familiar, yet oddly unfamiliar. (Not my mom, of course.)  Just when I thought I’d pushed the tomatoes and basil thing to the limit, they surprise me with a dimension I never knew they had.

Oh, also- even if you choose not to make this whole recipe (I don’t know why you wouldn’t, though), I highly urge you to try preparing chicken breasts this way.  Somehow it creates a crispy skin on boneless, skinless chicken breasts that are incredibly juicy and moist.  I officially declared that I am never going to cook chicken breasts a different way. Ever again.

This is almost exactly the recipe for Chicken with Herb-Roasted Tomatoes and Pan Sauce from the August 2012 issue of Bon Appetit, so I’m not going to repeat the recipe here.  But I will tell you about few modifications I made.  First, while you could probably get this on the table much faster by simultaneously cooking the tomatoes and chicken in separate overproof skillets, I really didn’t want to contend with two cast-iron skillets- either while cooking or while cleaning up.  So I cooked the tomatoes first and then let them hang out in a bowl while I cooked the chicken.

Second alteration… the original recipe calls for parsley, but I used basil instead.  We’re just more of basil people, I suppose. And finally, I might have swirled one or two tablespoons of butter into the pan sauce at the very end.  It would be delicious without butter, but I’m pretty sure the butter isn’t going to take away from the recipe. And since my tomatoes didn’t seem to yield quite as much juice as Bon Appetit’s picture would suggest, I felt like I needed something to make it a little saucier.

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