Saturday, August 29, 2015

Breakfast Paella

This is my own creation, though I will admit to being inspired by a great brunch in Vancouver earlier this Spring. If you get up to Canada, you got to go to the Medina Cafe. It was an incredible meal and the place was packed!  We waited over an hour for a table, but I would definitely do that again to eat there.  It was worth it.  Best mini waffles I've ever had, served with a caramel peach sauce... but you have your choice of about a dozen other amazing sauces.  Just order a side... like toast.  Haha.  
While they are famous for their waffles, it's the breakfast paella that blew my mind and kept me thinking of it again, and again.  What an easy and interesting way to get some different, exotic flavors into your brunch menu.

This would be easy enough without meat too, just do it with veggies, salsa and a crispy fried egg!

NOTE: Crush and soak saffron to release its flavor. Saffron threads are quite frail and can easily be crumbled between your fingers, although for a more uniform powder, use a mortar and pestle. Measure (or count) saffron threads before crushing. A "pinch" is about 20 medium saffron threads.

Serves 4

1 cup orzo
1/2 med zucchini, cut into chunks
1/2 red peppers, cut into chunks 
1 jalapeno, cuts in chunks, (cut enough for 1 Tbsp in a mince for the salsa)
1/2 onion, cut into chunks (cut enough for 2 Tbsp in a mince for the salsa)
2 sausages- chorizo, hot links or andouille, cut into chunks
2-3 Tbsp Chunky bacon or pancetta, diced
1 tsp smoked paprika or chili powder
A pinch of saffron, crushed and soaked in 1 Tbsp water

Rough Cut Salsa
8-10 cherry tomatoes, diced small
1 Tbsp Jalapeno, minced from above 
1-2 Tbsp onion, minced from above 
Fresh cilantro
1/2 lime, juiced
Salt & Pepper

For the top:
1 avocado, cut into chunks
Fresh cilantro
4 eggs, fried crispy 

Boil about 1-2 quarts of water, cook orzo for 6 minutes. Drain.
While the water is boiling and the orzo cooks, prep the salsa so that the flavors have time to meld. 
Add minced tomatoes, red onion, jalapeno and fresh cilantro.  Juice 1/2 a lime in the mixture, adding salt and pepper.  Stir and let sit while the rest of your meal cooks.

Slice sausages, cook over med high heat to get a nice sear
Add bacon and cook for another 2-3 minutes, take off heat and add to a plate, reserving it while you cook the veggies next.

(Next time I might cut these a little smaller, just sayin'!)
Cook veggies in the same pan, try to get some color/crust on the veggies.  
Try not to over cook the veggies.  Sprinkle with chili powder and saffron/water mixture.  
Add in the reserved meats, and stir.  Add in the cooked orzo and mix.  
Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cover with a "tent" of foil, or a lid while you fry eggs.

Here's a photo of the veggies before I started cooking. I did some pretty big chunks.

Crispy fry eggs, serve on top of orzo, veggie and meat mixture.
Sprinkle with fresh salsa, avocados and chopped cilantro.
Serve with hot sauce, if desired.

Here's a shot of the orzo, meat and veggie mixture before adding the egg.  This was great reheated the next day for lunch (but without the egg), I just added a dash of hot sauce and was incredibly happy with it. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Perserved Lemon & Saffron Risotto

Making risotto is just a comforting thing to do.
Something about all the stirring and tending to the mixture by adding the wine and broth a bit at a time, stirring all the while. This was a perfect rainy Friday night dinner "in" with a grilled steak recently.  I froze the leftovers (in a flat ziploc freezer bag) so that I can have a quick side dish some other night.  Feeling a bit happy to know it's in there waiting for me.

I made preserved lemons about a month or so ago, so lately, I've been looking for ways  to use them in lots of recipes because they taste so good. I've been told you can also buy them at a gourmet grocery store, but I have never seen them there.  My recipe for preserved lemons is here, if you want to give them a try.
I used a recipe for the risotto from Sunset Oct 2011 Original recipe was in Sunset magazine,  My only changes to the original were not adding any extra salt, but adding the salty preserved lemons instead. 

Serves 6

8 cups broth (Vegetable or chicken)
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
3 Tbsp butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 Tbsp  finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp sour cream
2 Tbsp  finely chopped chives, plus more for garnish
1 Tbsp finely chopped preserved lemon, store-bought or homemade
Fresh pepper, salt if needed

Bring chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan, covered. Add saffron and reduce to a bare simmer, covered.

 Melt butter over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed 8-qt. pot. Add onion; cook until translucent and turning golden, 10 minutes. Stir in thyme, chives and preserved lemon. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, until edges of grains look translucent, about 2 minutes.

Add wine to rice and cook, stirring, until wine is completely absorbed. Add about 1 cup hot broth and simmer, stirring, until absorbed; reduce heat to medium-low if mixture starts to boil. Keep adding broth, a ladleful at a time, stirring until each addition is absorbed before adding the next, until rice is just tender to the bite and still slightly soupy, 15 to 30 minutes. You may have broth left over.

Remove rice from heat and stir in cheese, sour cream, pepper. Scatter more chives on top.
Great on it's own, but would also be wonderful as a side dish to grilled scallops, fish, steak or chicken.

Note: Adding the cheese and sour cream "tightens" or thickens it up, so I'd suggest that you error on too soupy, rather than not soupy enough.

Here's a photo proving I cook with wine... sometimes I even put in it in the dish!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Basil Margarita

There's a hard line between too sweet, and too tart.    
I figured this might be too sweet, but it was just what I wanted!  
I think you will like it too.
We first had this drink, called a "basilrita" at a favorite Mexican place in Leavenworth Washington called "South".  Loved it but never tried it at home. 
I'm not sure why  not, I usually have Rose's Lime Juice (in the drink/mixer area of your grocery store) on hand, plus limes, triple sec and tequila on hand.  Fresh Basil?  Well, that one is a bit more tricky at some times of the year, but I do love having fresh basil on the deck in the summer!  Having loads of fresh basil to use up is a fantastic reason to make up a basil margarita!
I'm sure you agree.

As you may have noted, I omitted the salt from my rim, but it would have made a better picture.  I love salt, but it doesn't love me. 

Makes 1
3-4 leaves of Fresh basil (plus some more for garnish)
1 lime, juiced 
1 jigger Rose's lime juice
1 1/2 jigger tequila
1 jigger triple sec
Salt for the rim (optional)

Fill a glass with crushed ice.  
Fill a drink shaker with ice, add some ripped up fresh basil leaves, add the lime juice, Rose's lime juice , triple sec and tequila.  Shake, shake,shake and strain into a glass.
garnish of lime and a sprig of basil leaves.

Serve at once.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Jones Island Shrimp Fest- San Juan Islands, Washington

It just sort of happened, the way some magical times do.

 (View from the dock on Jones Island)

Jones Island is a state park island in the Washington's San Juan Island group, basically a 188-acre marine camping park with 25,000-feet of saltwater shoreline on the channel.
It's pretty popular and has a small dock... maybe 8 boats at the dock, plus some extra to raft on the outside of their friends on the dock, if you're lucky. We were part of a group of three boats that scored two dock spots, and rafted together for the last night of our San Juan boating adventure.  We've boated together before many times, but this time was kind of special.  The rest of the dock was fully loaded with other boaters.
The whole dock converged to be a fantastically compatible group, like a super fun dock cocktail party, and progressive dinner all rolled into one. 
But, I get ahead of myself...

The island is amazingly beautiful with two distinct "lobes" that attach in a narrow low spot on the island.  We hiked about 4 miles around one lobe one day, and all agreed it was one of the prettiest hikes we've ever taken.

The fun part though?

Coming back from our hike we met this woman.  Somewhat intense, box in hand, asking questions of us gals. In her box was about 8-10 huge ziploc bags of freshly cooked prawns, ready to peel and eat.  She was about to become our new best friend.

She mentioned that they came to Jones Island every year as an extended family vacation, with about 30 people coming and going over the couple weeks they were on the island, camping and staying on boats.  We met many of them including some of their soon to be Portuguese "in laws".  Happily, this gal and her husband gave us a bunch of shrimp! Immediately, they jumped on their boat and went out to check their other pots in the deep waters of the sound.
Apparently the joy of this was catching the shrimp, first and foremost.

Our group gets ready for our dinner, starting, of course, with our new gift of fresh  shrimp and cocktail sauce.  

Before we can start, In comes the returning boat of our new found friend.  What do they have, but another two huge tubs of fresh caught shrimp.  Nothing doing, we all immediately start helping to clean the shrimps. I mean, it's like "pay back" you know?

There is lots of squealing and fun as we learn the best way to make this happen.

Cleaning is basically twisting off the head of the prawn and setting aside the tail for steaming or boiling.  You can eat shrimp sashimi, if  you are up for it.  Seems a little hard hearted to eat a newly dead shrimp.. but we did it.  Just needed a little soy sauce and some wasabi too.

Here's a shrimp with some barnacles on it... now, how does that happen? 

Everyone brings something for our impromptu potluck dinner on the dock. 

Wine is opened, bourbon appears out of nowhere, conversations and new friends are made.  It was a night like no other.
I feel a little bad as this isn't some destination that you can add to your bucket list.
I mean you can GO there, but I can't promise you all of this.

No matter when you go, you will something to love on Jones Island.  Beautiful madrona trees, large fir trees, white tailed deer, raccoons, beaches, rocky cliffs and beautiful water vistas with other islands in the background.

At the very least, find a little beach and spend some quiet time with a loved one.
Enjoy having most of this island to yourself.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Hot & Tangy Pepper Relish

 My sister made some of this and shared it as an appetizer on a recent boat trip.  A block of cream cheese and a jar of spicy sweet relish was gone in wink.  Happy boaters all around. Everyone loved spread on a cracker.  What a simple appetizer to share, and ready in flash.

When we got home from vacation, I was still thinking about it, so I set out to buy a bunch of different peppers to give it a try.  Most of the recipes online used bell peppers, but I really didn't Spicy, sweet and tangy relish.  Perfect with a little cream cheese on a cracker, but would also be good with grilled meats, stirred into meatballs, on a slice of cheese, or even on a hot dog or hamburger if you are a sweet relish fan.

 (not pictured, 1 lime and the salt)
Makes 7-8 - 1 cup jars

4 cups chopped hot peppers (jalapenos, fresno, anaheim, habenero)
4 cups minced white onions (about 3 large onions)
4 cups sugar
2 cups white vinegar
1 lime, juiced (optional)
1 tsp salt

Chop the peppers, removing most of the seeds.  You can see below, I hold the stem in one hand and cut the pepper off of the seeds and membranes in the middle. It's easier than cutting them in half and scrapping out.  

Chop in a food processor until small. (photo below)

I had about 4 cups, but it was a little shy of the full amount.  That's Okay.
Chop the onions in the same manner.

In a pot over medium high heat, add the veggie mix plus all the sugar and vinegar. Stir and bring to a boil Cook over med high for 30-35 minutes.  Like the picture below, it will get a little thickened and glossy.

Fill hot sterilized jars, add the lid and the bands and process n a water bath for 10 minutes. Cool.  The contents will firm up a bit.  Here's a link to how to process canned jam/jelly/relish

I thought you might enjoy a picture of my set up.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Cucumber Watermelon Martini

The great debate with this cocktail was with mint, or without.
After exhaustive research (LOL), we decided we liked it best without.
Refreshing and yummy on a hot summer day.

Muddling the cucumber and the watermelon releases quite a bit of juice.

Makes 2

2/3 cup cucumber, peeled and diced
1 cup watermelon chunks
4 oz vodka

Add the cucumbers and watermelon to a martini shaker (no ice yet...) and MUDDLE it.  If you don't have a muddler*, use the handle of a thick wooden spoon.  The intent of muddling is to get the item to release it's juices (or oils in the case of herbs).  Add ice, and the vodka and shake, shake, shake it.  Strain into a chilled martini glass.  It may take a while to drain as there are "chunks" in there that get in the way.  Be patient, a yummy drink is coming!

Serve with pick of a cucumber slice and a melon ball, if desired. 

*A muddler looks a little bit like a mini potato masher, there are many on Amazon, if you want to get an idea of what you can order, or what you can improvise with at home.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Pearl Couscous Preserved Lemon Pasta Salad

Recently, we packed a picnic to take the St. Michelle winery to see an outdoors concert.  

Well, maybe picnic is a bit of an understatement.  About 8 couples, all with yummy things to share, our little table was groaning with food and wine.  A fun night out with friends, a beautiful night to hear good music outdoors.  I love summers in the Pacific Northwest.

I made Preserved Lemon- How to about a month ago, so now I'm hot on ideas for using them.  I love the fresh, salty taste that these lemons add to any dish, but especially this salad.  Almost a Greek salad, but the lemon is more pronounced and adds a great zip.  You could make this salad with other shapes of pasta, or even quinoa if you needed a gluten free dish.

NOTE: If you don't have time, or don't want to make your own, you can buy preserved lemons at gourmet grocery stores, Amazon or Sur la Table. 

One more NOTE... if you didn't have any preserved lemons (which many of you probably don't...) then you could try substituting 2-3 Tbsp of fresh lemon juice, 1-2 tsp of fresh lemon zest and some salt to taste.  I haven't tried it like that, but I think it would be good too.

Makes about 6 cups

1 1/2 cup Israeli, or Pearl Couscous
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 Tbsp preserved lemons, minced (recipe here)
1-2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 cup diced cucumber
1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced (spinach would work too)
1 cup feta, diced (optional)
Lots of pepper

Cook the pasta al dente, about 6-7 minutes.  Strain and rinse in cold water.  Drain well. Add the pasta to a large bowl, add the olive oil, minced lemons, minced garlic, cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley and feta.  Stir to combine.  Check seasoning... need more lemons?  Pepper?  Go for it.

Mince the preserved lemons quite small, like this.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

German Beer Cheese

I had so much leftover cheese, and I was getting tired of snacks on chunks of cheese.  
We'd bought the big bags of pre-cubed cheese at Costco for a party, and frankly when the party was over, I bet we still had about 10 pounds of cheese left.
We'd already finished the leftover pepper jack and the cheddar, and just had the lonely bag of Co-jack (Monterrey Jack & Cheddar).  Not my favortie cheese, just too mild for me.  Here's how I zipped it up and made something a lot jazzier!
This makes quite a bit (about 3 cups) but this stuff keeps well and tastes great after sitting for a week or so.

Makes about 3 cups

16 oz cheddar cheese, cubed or grated
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp horseradish
1 garlic clove
6 oz amber, or dark, beer

In a food processor, add the cheese and the garlic clove.  

Process until the cheese is finely chopped.  Add the mustard and horseradish. 

With the machine running, add your beer in a slow stream until the mixture starts to smooth out.  Pulse the machine to make sure its all smooth, plus the pulsing actions helps to incorporate some air into the mixture making it more fluffy.

Serve at once, or make ahead and chill.  Have it come to room temperature for an hour or so.

Serve with pretzels, crackers or even veggies.
This would also make an amazing spread on a roast beef or pastrami sandwich.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Preserved Lemons

I love everything lemon. No lie.
Preserved lemons may sound a little weird to you if you haven't heard of them, or tasted them.
Honestly, this takes loving lemons to a whole new level.
The recipe below is from an old post in the Seattle PI paper.
Making these takes 30 days... sorry, no way to hurry the process along.
After "preserving" for that amount of time, the lemons are completely soft and easy to mince. You use the whole thing... peel, pith and juicy part.
Some suggestions for using them?  Mince them small and add them to pasta salads, risotto and braised meats. They are salty and tangy, so be sure to omit salt in any recipe you add them to, you can always add more if you need it. I've got some recipes to post on ways to use them coming up and will link them here.

Preserved Lemons:
7-8 lemons, unwaxed
1-2 cups kosher salt

Wash lemons well and dry them. Half the lemons will be juiced, so if any of yours have defects/marks, set those aside and use them for the juicing lemons.

Cut 4 lemons into quarters from the top, being careful not to cut all the way through.

I also picked out as many of the seeds as I could see and reach, as these lemons were especially "seedy".

I cut a bit off one of the "pokey" ends so that they sit flatter in the container. 

I didn't really "pack" each lemon with salt, just added about a heaping tablespoon.

You have to really wedge them into the container tightly.

Juice the rest of the lemons over the top of the "packed in" lemons.  You need to have enough juice to completely cover them.  Add a couple more tablespoons of salt.

Pack salt generously into the cuts and place lemon into a sterilized glass pint jar. Continue procedure, packing the lemons into the jar as tightly as possible. Squeeze juice from remaining lemons. Add another 2 tablespoons of salt to the jar and top off with the lemon juice, make sure the lemons are completely covered. Close the jar with a non-metallic lid and set aside in a cool, dark place or the refrigerator for one month. Preserved lemons will keep for 1 year. Refrigerate after opening.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Spicy Apricot Shandy

It's hot, hot, hot out.
What to do?
Cool down with a beer on the deck.  Hmmm, needs something lighter, less boozy and more refreshing?
Try a shandy... recently very popular to buy, but SO easy to make. 
I also object to spending $7.99 for a six pack of "half beer", what about you?

This one is spicy and delicious, but if you are not into the "lip burn" go ahead and omit the jalapeno.  Great with chips and salsa on the deck

Makes 2 

1 can (12 oz) Pellegrino lemon or orange soda, or other citrus soda
1 12 oz beer (amber, pale ale or lager)
1 Tbsp apricot brandy
1 jalapeno, thinly sliced (optional)

Add one slice jalapeno in the bottom of two large beer glasses, then pour each half full with the beer.  Add a bit of the apricot brandy (triple sec might work too...).  Add the lemon soda and serve.  We removed our jalapeno's quite quickly, to only add a "hint" of spice.