Summer = Salads!

I have to be honest. I don’t love salads. When it comes to eating them, I’m very persnickety. I’m not embarrassed to admit it, even though I should be. I guess. I have all sorts of rules and regulations when it comes to the green stuff. It has to be ice-cold. The lettuce can’t have any brown spots. Those tomatoes better be plump. It goes on and on.

Salads to me have always seemed like a chore. A chore only rewarded by your doctor, and who really wants to hang out with that guy? I know, I know. I have issues, but they’re fun in my head. Anyway. Rather than be completely irresponsible, I’ve opted to make salads a tad more appealing. Staying away from the traditional lettuce, tomato, cucumber and replacing those with veggies I like.

And so, here we are. A tomato, ASPARAGUS (cuz I love me some spears) and, yes, a bit of lettuce salad. The second most crucial bit on salads I like, is the dressing. Let’s face it, that ‘s the real reason I eat the darn things ūüôā For this one, I got a bit inspired by some overly ripen tomatoes and used them as the base for the dressing. You know what? This salad was much yum! Yep. Uh huh. It was mighty good! Check, check it out.

Tomato & Asparagus Salad with Tomato Vinaigrette

For the vinaigrette:
Ripe tomatoes, seeded
Balsamic vinegar
Sugar
Salt & pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Heat about 1 tbsp of olive oil in a small saucepan, add the tomatoes and cook for a couple of minutes until they begin to soften. Add 2 tsp of balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper, about 1 tsp of sugar and about 1/2 cp of water. Allow it to simmer until the tomatoes break down completely, about 10-15 minutes. Allow it to cool.

Place the tomato puree in the blender and puree. Add a bit more balsamic and about 1/4 cp of olive oil. Check the seasoning again and put in the fridge to cool.

For the salad:
Blanched asparagus*
Firm tomato, cubed
Lettuce

*To blanch the asparagus, trim the ends and cut the spears in half or thirds, depending on the size. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil and dump the asparagus in for a couple of minutes. Just long enough for the green to become very vibrant. Remove the asparagus and dunk them in a bowl of ice water for a couple of minutes.

Drain the asparagus and pat dry them, placing them in a salad bowl. Add the tomatoes and lettuce. Drizzle the tomato dressing over the top.

Enjoy!

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

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Eat your vegetables

OK, we may be off to a bad start. I know I said I was going to focus on Latin-Caribbean cuisine, and I will. Just not this time ūüôā Lo siento. I thought about typing the post in Spanish, but then you would either a) have to deal with some unreliable online translation tool, b) think I’d lost my mind and move on or c) not get to enjoy this awesome salad. My hope is that this salad will make up for my transgressions.

Let me start by saying…, I’m NOT a salad gal. Hey, I’m a¬†Latina, we don’t eat salads. Well, that ‘s not true. We do. I don’t. I try, but I’m usually disinterested. Every now and then I do find a winner. Like Houston’s Cobb Salad. Or the salads at sushi restaurants with that awesome ginger or peanut dressing. But those are not the salads I want to talk to you about. This salad is unusual. It is fresh. It is satisfyingly¬†meaty and meatless. This is a Poached Mushroom and Asparagus Salad.

I’ve been hearing¬†about poaching meats and vegetables in olive oil. It seems to be one of the ‘it’ cooking methods at the posh places these days. Poaching is generally done using a well-flavored¬†broth, sometimes wine, that is kept at a consistently low temperature. The idea is to slowly cook the ingredients without ever bringing them to a boil.

I used a medium-sized skillet and added about 3 cps of extra virgin olive oil. Don’t fret, you will save the oil and reuse it. Because the oil is never very hot, you don’t burn it, which allows you to use it time and again. There really isn’t a recipe here, but here’s what I did.

Poached Mushroom and Asparagus Salad

Wild mushrooms–I used portabella and oyster
3 cps extra virgin olive oil (approx)
Asparagus spears, trimmed
Fresh fennel, julienned
Sea salt
Fresh ground pepper
Your favorite vinaigrette
Parmesan or Manchego slivers

To poach the mushrooms:¬†clean and slice the mushrooms. If you are using portabellas, make sure you remove the brown gills. Otherwise your oil will be dark brown. While you get the mushrooms ready, put the oil in the skillet and turn the heat as low as your stove will go. The oil’s temp should be between 160‚Äď185¬į.

Once the oil comes to temperature, add the mushrooms. It is important that they be completely submerged in the oil. You’ll know the temperature is right if you see little bubbles slowly forming around the mushrooms. Poach the mushrooms for about 15 minutes or until tender. Once the mushrooms have softened, remove them from the oil and drain. Allow them to cool. Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Blanch the asparagus: bring a pot of water to a boil. Add salt, then drop the asparagus in the boiling water. Allow them to cook for about 3 minutes. Have a bowl of iced water waiting , remove the asparagus and dunk them in the icy water. Allow them to stay in the cold water for at least 3 minutes. Remove and drain.

In a bowl combine the mushrooms, fennel, asparagus and vinaigrette–tossing to coat all ingredients. I used a store-bought white balsamic vinaigrette. Add some of the cheese slivers and toss. Top with more cheese when served.

You may think using olive oil as your poaching liquid would result in an extremely oily dish, but it doesn’t. What you end up with is a delicately flavorful bunch of mushrooms. To preserve the oil: If you notice any bits or drippings, allow it to cook longer without the mushrooms. Then strain through a coffee filter and save in a glass or heavy plastic container in your refrigerator. Bring it to room temperature before the next use.

I promise you, you will make this one again. And again. Enjoy!

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Got zucchini, will travel.

There was a side dish my mom used to prepare for almost every Sunday dinner we served. She called it a corn souffl√©, I’m not sure where she got the recipe from, Betty Crocker? In any case, I.simply.loved.IT.

I’m surprised I still think and crave that dish given that I was the type of child who would OD on a dish or food once discovered. I’m trying to keep my carb intake down, which is tough for me because most of the veggies I like pack a huge punch in that department. Corn, obviously, falls within that category. Improv time.

I had a couple of zucchinis¬†and a few spears of asparagus left from after our weekend grilling fest. Wonder if I can sub the corn with those two and still have something similar to¬†mom’s dish, while keeping carbs on the DL???

The delicious answer is YES! Yes! It works, oh it works deliciously! It may¬† not be a fancy souffl√©, but you’ll like it anyway. The best part is that you can probably use pretty much any veggie you like and the ratio you prefer. More asparagus, all zucchini, peas, the possibilities are endless.

Zucchini & Asparagus Soufflé-ish

2 medium zuchinnis, cubed (about 3 cps)
+/- 10 asparagus spears, cubed (about 2 cps)
 2-3 slices of bacon, chopped
1/2 cp milk
1 egg
3 tbsp flour
1 cp cheese, shredded (I used cheddar)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg, optional
1/2 – 1 tsp red pepper flakes, optional

Preheat oven to 375¬į. Cook the bacon in a medium skillet until lightly brown, just long enough to render the fat.

In a bowl, beat the egg, milk and flour, then add the rest of the ingredients. Once all the ingredients have been incorporated, add the bacon, including the fat rendered.

Butter a baking dish, something that is about 8 to 10 inches in diameter and add the mixture. Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Allow it to rest for at least 5 minutes before serving. YUM!

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Chicken and Gravy, but wait…

There’s more! I’ll tell you in a minute, first, humor me.

I was down to the last chicken breast I purchased for the V-Day¬†recipes and I didn’t know what to do with it. I had the chicken and some asparagus left. You may remember I mentioned not preferring chicken breast. I find it dull, dry and almost flavorless. What can I say? I’m a dark meat kinda girl.

But, I had a chicken breast leftover. As I drove home from work, I kept pondering my options. It wasn’t enough for Hubby’s yummy chicken tenders. Scratch. I’m trying to keep my carb intake down, so adding it to pasta was not an option. Scratch that too. But something with a crunch is what my brain wanted. Then, lightbulb! How ’bout Chicken Fried Chicken(ish), Gravy and Asparagus.

I came up with Chicken Fried Chicken with Asparagus and Bacon Gravy. Don’t ask me how that happened, but you’ll be glad it did! Here’s the awesome recipe.

Chicken Fried Chicken
For the chicken:
1 chicken breast, skinless & boneless
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp Herbs d’Provence
1-1/2 cps panko crumbs

Let’s make that lonely chicken breast multiple, shall we? Butterfly that breast, why don’t you! The idea is to split the breast in half and even it out. Make sure your knife is very sharp. Carefully work the knife through the breast, you now have 2 halves.

Now that it’s butterflied, you will need to even out the thickness. Cut 2 sides of a large ziploc¬†bag. Lay the breast down on one side of the bag, top it with the other end then use a mallet or a flat heavy pan to flatten the breasts out. This is also known as Paillard.

This is what it looks like before:

And this is it after:

Now that the chicken breast has been thinned out, combine the oil, S&P, garlic and Herbs dProvence in a bowl and add the breast meat. Spin it around to coat all sides and set aside.

For the Bacon Asparagus Gravy:
3 slices bacon, finely chopped
Bacon drippings, about 2 tbsp
3 tbsp flour
10 asparagus spears, chopped
2-1/2 cps whole milk
Sea salt & Fresh pepper
Dash of nutmeg

Brown the bacon in a medium pan. Once golden brown, remove the bacon to a bowl. Drain out most of the drippings, but do not discard the fat, you will need it to make the gravy.

After you’ve peeled and trimmed the asparagus, cut them to pieces that are about 1-inch long.¬†Heat the pan you cooked the bacon in and add the asparagus, throw in a pinch¬†of salt and pepper. Toss the asparagus around a few times, then cover with a tight-fitting lid. Allow it to cook for about 2-3 minutes, just until the asparagus is al¬†dente. Remove and add to the bowl with the bacon. Set aside.

In that same pan, add the rest of the bacon fat over medium heat. When it is hot, add the flour and stir with a whisk. You’re now making a roux. This is a white gravy, so the flour shouldn’t brown. However, in order to¬†improve the taste of the gravy, you need to make sure the flour is cooked. The color should be that of light honey.

Once the roux is the right color, slowly begin to add the milk. Make sure you’re stirring while you add the milk or you’ll end up with lumps. Once all the milk has been added, continue stirring and allow it to come to a boil.

Once it boils, lower the temperature and stir some more until it thickens. When it reaches the consistency you’re looking for, add the asparagus and bacon. Taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary. Set aside.

Now is time to cook the chicken. In a medium skillet, heat enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Spread out the panko crumbs on wax paper and dip the chicken pieces in it. Once the oil is hot, fry the chicken pieces to a golden brown. Remember the chicken is very thin now and will not need to cook for long, probably 2 minutes per side. Remove and drain.

To plate, place a piece of chicken on a plate, then add the gravy right next or on top of the chicken. Enjoy it!

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

It’s a roll. An asparagus roll

Sides can be¬†daunting. Veggies can be… y’know. Green. And if that’s not your favorite color, then they’re a drag. As I’ve gotten older, grown up, I’ve developed an appreciation for certain veggies. I’ve actually come to LOVE some of them. Asparagus definitely fall in that very small percentile. I L.O.V.E.me some asparagus.

A few months back I was watching a travel¬†show, I think it was Samantha Brown in SF. She was showcasing a cooking school in town. This was the first time I saw asparagus¬†rolled in prosciutto. These days I see it almost every time someone is making asparagus.¬†Nonetheless, I thought it was an awesome idea and couldn’t wait to give it a try.

However, the more I thought about it, I felt the prosciutto may just dry out. That, in my book, is a serious offense against pork. Alas! Lightbulb moment. Sub prosciutto for bacon and thus it went.

This is so ridiculously easy AND delicious you won’t be able to stop making it. And if you have picky eaters, who can say no to bacon? Seriously.

Bacon & Asparagus Roll

16 asparagus spears
4 slices bacon, thick
Black pepper, to taste

Trim and peel¬†the asparagus:¬†Bend the bottom inch or so of 1 spear, it will break where the tender part begins. Then use that spear as a guide to cut the other spears. To peel, use a potato peeler¬†and peel about 1-1/2 inches from the bottom. This is not a necessity, but sometimes the peel can be a bit tougher than the flesh and you’ll end up with stringy asparagus. Rinse and pat dry. Set aside.

Place the bacon slices on a cutting board and thin it out a bit to make it more pliable.

Divide the asparagus in 4’s. Tuck 4 spears together and lay them on top of a bacon slice. Wrap the bacon around the bottom of the asparagus, then continue rolling the bacon towards the top of the asparagus bundles.

Hubby can tuck the bacon under to secure it… I must admit¬†when he makes these, they’re way prettier than mine.¬†I just use a toothpick and secure the bacon to the asparagus. Repeat this process for the other 3 bundles.

Heat up a skillet–preferably non-stick–over medium high heat and place the bundles about 1-inch apart from each other. Sprinkle with fresh ground pepper. Brown the bacon on all sides, about 2 minutes per side.

Remove from the skillet and set aside. Carefully remove the toothpick before serving. Hubby likes to slice them so they look like sushi.

That’s it. Enjoy!

Cookingyly yours,
Anamaris