Monthly Archives: March 2013

Surprise!

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Easter EggWhen I was four or five we had a jellybean hunt instead of an Easter egg hunt. File that away for later.

At the age of fourteen, on the Saturday before Easter, I snuck out of the house at 10pm, after everyone had gone to bed, and rode my bike down the hill to the local Dairy Mart. I purchased four dozen eggs, several dying kits and one package of those plastic, shrink-wrap collars that cling to the egg when submerged in boiling water.

Back home at 11:00PM I hardboiled and decorated each of the 48 eggs. They were dyed brightly, names added with the clear, wax crayon, and the Paas stickers, including the turtle and the little, golden cross, placed carefully.

Well past midnight I snuck quietly out into the backyard and hid each of the 48 eggs before creeping up to my third floor bedroom and drifting off to sleep, smiling, knowing I would wake to greet my family with this wonderful surprise.

I rose Easter Sunday about 1 hour after my dad, who was up early to let the dogs out. I came down and announced, beaming, the prior night’s mischief. Dad, looking worried, walked me out into the yard. “Do you remember,” he said, “when we had the jellybean hunt for Easter?”

“Of course,” I replied. It had seemed so different and magic at the time.

“We had planned an outdoor Easter egg hunt that year too, but when we let the dogs out, they ate each and everyone of the eggs. I suspect they did the same thing this morning.”

Sure enough, the eggs were gone. Every one of them. All that was left were pieces of shell and the chewed plastic shrink-wraps. Dad and I walked back inside, and he let me help hide the two dozen eggs we had decorated as a family the afternoon before.

NOTE: For those of you worries about the dogs, our two labs were just fine, despite looking a bit smug that morning.

Spinach Frittata

Spinach FrittataIngredients:

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 pound spinach leaves, stemmed
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp cream
  • 1/2 tsp
  • nutmeg
  • cayenne
  • white pepper

Directions:

  • Warm oil over medium heat in a 12″ skillet. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  • Add spinach to pan and cook until wilted and most of the water has evaporated. About 3-4 minutes.
  • Remove spinach to cutting board and chop finely.
  • Whisk together eggs, and cream. Season with salt, a few grinds of pepper and a pinch each of nutmeg and cayenne.
  • Return pan to medium heat and melt butter, swirling to coat the bottom and edges of the pan.
  • Sprinkle the spinach over the bottom of the pan, and gently pour the eggs over the top. If the eggs don’t spread evenly over the pan, gently tip the pan to distribute.
  • Now, stop messing with the eggs. Don’t stir them. Cover the pan with a lid and let them sit for 5 minutes or so. Take a quick look, and if they are nearly set, move a rubber spatula around the edge of the pan to loosen the frittata. Return the cover and cook until the eggs on top are set.
  • Once finished, remove from heat and loosen the frittata with a rubber spatula and slide it onto a cutting board or serving plate. If it feels like it won’t loosen from the pan, cut it into wedges or squares and remove it piece by piece. Either way, it tastes awesome!

Sounds good on paper.

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Fish tacos

It all begins with a perfect summer day, warm and lightly breezy. The sun is low in the sky, reflecting off your sunglasses as you pull up to the bar for a cheap, watery beer that could not taste better passing over lips still salty from the ocean. The bartender promises great fish tacos and they sound like the perfect filler for a growling stomach, hungry from an afternoon of bodysurfing.

They come out, and with a squeeze of fresh lime you take your first bite.

Eh…the cabbage is dry and flavorless, the lime is too bright and the fish is greasy. On a good day it’s rubbery, on a bad day it’s mush. The mayonnaise mixed with hot sauce and large stems of cilantro do little to add either depth or subtlety. Fortunately, the bar has more beer, enough to drown your dismay.

With the first warm days of spring coming hope renews. This year, fulfill every expectation of spring love. Flavorful cabbage, softened but still crisp, lightly fried fish, flakey and light, bright, citrusy tomatillo salsa and tart, rich avocado crema. This, my friends, is the perfect fresh bite on a warm afternoon.

Grab your sunglasses and ice down the beer. I’ll grab some tortillas and be right over.

Tacos de Pescado

This looks like a lot of steps and ingredients. Let me break it down: you’re marinating fish for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, you throw together a quick salad dressing for the cabbage and mix avocado and lime zest together with Mexican sour cream. If you are making the tomatillo salsa from scratch (trick question, the answer is always “yes”) then you throw those 5 ingredients in a food processor for 30 seconds. Et voilà (that’s Spanish for…oh, never mind) you are ready to fry the fish and eat the best fish tacos you’ve ever tasted!

Mexican cremaMarinade:

  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 jalapeño, minced
  • 2 tbs olive oil or hot chili oil
  • 2 tilapia filets, about 1 pound

Cabbage:

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 cup Sherry vinegar*
  • 1/4 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup good quality olive oil
  • 6 cups shredded napa cabbage

*We love using Sapore’s Serrano Chile Honey Vinegar with this vinaigrette

Avocado Lime Crema:

  • 1/4 cup avocado
  • 1/2 cup Mexican crema or crème fraîche (You can make this. Here’s the recipe. Plan one day ahead)
  • 1/4 tsp lime zest

Fried Fish:

  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • Cayenne or chile powder
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

To assemble:

  • Corn tortillas
  • Tomatillo salsa (Make it from scratch. Here’s the recipe.)Fish tacosDirections:
  • Make the marinade for the fish: Whisk together lime juice, 1/4 cup cilantro, cumin and jalapeño. Whisk in oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Coat tilapia with marinade, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  • Make the vinaigrette for the cabbage. Chop garlic and sprinkle with a pinch of coarse sea salt. Mash into a paste with the flat side of your knife or tines of a fork.
  • Whisk together garlic paste, coriander, cumin, Sherry or Serrano Honey Vinegar and mustard with a pinch of salt and pepper.
  • Whisk in oil to form a thick emulsion and dress cabbage heavily. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  • Make the avocado, lime crema: Mash avocado with a pinch of salt. Stir in crema and lime zest. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.
  • Prepare fish for frying: Whisk egg in a medium bowl. In another medium bowl, whisk together flour and cayenne, with a pinch of salt and pepper.
  • Warm tortillas in a 250 degree oven.
  • Remove fish from marinade, brush off herbs and cut into 1” pieces.
  • Dip fish in egg, then flour. Shake off extra flour and place on a platter.
  • Heat 2 tbs olive oil in a 12” skillet over medium heat. Fry in a single layer, without crowding,turning once. About 5 minutes total per batch. You can cut a piece in half to see if it’s ready. The thin side of the filet will cook faster than the thicker chunks. Remove these from the heat first. Set fried fish on paper towels to drain.
  • Layer each tortilla with cabbage, tomatillo salsa, avocado crema and top with fish. Love your life.

Auténtico Americano.

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Mexican cremaSome things are easier to just buy. I’ve made ketchup and tortilla chips, and read recipes for mustard and Hoisin, but they’re just too much work to regularly make at home. Mayonnaise and salad dressings are not. Nor, I’ve discovered is Mexican crema.

It would be insulting to call crema “Mexican sour cream. More appropriate is a comparison to crème fraîche. Buttery smooth, and elegantly tart, crema is rich and balanced, a perfect compliment to the grassy heat of jalapeño.

After striking out at several Washington, DC grocery stores, I looked up a recipe online. With less than ten minutes of work, and about 24 hours of waiting, I had a full jar ready to use. I’ll never buy it off the shelf again.

Mexican Crema

Apparently, the difference between crema and crème fraîche is the balance of cream and buttermilk, resulting in different thicknesses. Sounds good to me.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup cream
  • 2 tsp cultured buttermilk

Directions:

  • Warm cream slightly over low heat, keeping it under 100 degrees. It will still feel cool. 2-3 minutes on low is plenty.
  • Sterilize a container, like a ball jar, by submerging it in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and dry with a clean towel.
  • Pour cream and buttermilk into the sterilized jar. Stir (with a clean spoon), and lightly cover. Leave out on the counter in a warm room, about 70 degrees, for 12- 18 hours, until the mixture has noticeably thickened.*
  • Refrigerate for another 4 to 6 hours to set, and it’s ready to serve.

*Milk on the counter overnight sounds scary. Here’s my thought: The Mexicans and the French have been thickening cream on the counter for generations. There is no great oral tradition of death from crema. As always, be careful and know your sources – local dairy like Maryland’s Trickling Springs and Ohio’s Snowville creameries are a great place to start.

Paper lanterns.

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TomatilloPhysalis is one of my favorite genera of plants. Not aesthetically or even culinarily, but because of it’s family relations. Physalis philadelphica, also known as the tomatillo, is a close relative of Physalis alkekengi, those bright orange Chinese lantern plants that fill gardens and vases each fall.

“But wait,” you’re thinking, “isn’t the tomatillo related to the tomato?” Well yes, they are both members of the nightshade, or Solanaceae family. However, that makes them about as similar as other Solanaceae including potatoes, eggplants, peppers and even the petunias in your pots.

Now you’re thinking, “who cares?” True, this knowledge won’t impact your ability to make a great salsa. It may, however, make it more fun.

Tomatillo Salsa

I’ve tried it boiled and roasted, but this simple, fresh salsa is light and easy, citrusy and bright. Peeling a tomatillo involves removing the papery skin and washing them clean, they may still be a little sticky. The glossy green skin gets eaten.

Physalis alkekengiIngredients:

  • 4-6 tomatillos, peeled, washed and cut in quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro – stems and all
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice, about 1 fresh lime
  • 1 jalapeño

Directions:

  • Place tomatillos, garlic, cilantro and lime in the bowl of a food processor.
  • Slice jalapeño in half, and using a teaspoon (eating not measuring) remove the seeds and ribs. Roughly chop and add to food processor. Wash hands with soap and water for 30-60 seconds. Don’t touch your face, anywhere, for the next 10 hours. Wear gloves to bed.*
  • Pulse until finely chopped, but not liquified. Add a tablespoon or two of water to thin, if needed.
  • Eat with tortilla chips or fish tacos.

*In this age of hysteria, I would like to qualify this statement as hyperbole. Chile peppers aren’t that dangerous, but don’t rub your eyes or lick your fingers for a little while.