Thursday, June 23, 2011

Summer Dinners

It's nearing the end of June... and for me, it's finally starting to feel like summer. And although I am a fan of Fall, I do like summer evenings because they are long and the air is warm. The evenings where you get home from work and there's still plenty of daylight left to drag out the BBQ, fix up dinner and enjoy it slowly out on the porch. Pour a glass of wine, talk about your days and just soak up the summery scents and warmth of the air.

 Last night Scott and I threw dinner together with only the food we had at home. Starting with a Caesar salad with homemade croutons. We had 50/50 salad mix (half baby spinach half spring mix) I don't usually have croutons, but we did have some leftover sourdough bread that I cut up into pieces, drizzled in olive oil and baked in the toaster oven until they resembled croutons. Lightly dress the salad with Caesar dressing and sprinkle with Parmesan. Simple but delicious.

I love Trader Joe's frozen colossal shrimp. They're perfect because they thaw and cook fast. Defrost in a baggie with some olive oil, garlic and cayenne pepper and put them on a medium grill for 2 minutes on each side until pink. Scott BBQ'd the shrimp while I made the polenta- sort of a shrimp and grits dish.

There's something very fancy to me about eating simple meals. Not a lot went into this meal, the ingredients were few and simple. This style of cooking really makes your quality ingredients shine; lets the food speak for itself. And it seems like more and more people are migrating toward simple these days. Getting down to the basics. Eating whole foods and seasonal ingredients. I am a fan.

PS- I am taking a new approach to my blogging here. I am going to post everyday food, like I like to eat it among the posts about sewing projects and special recipes. Photos are being taken with my iphone. Because I rarely feel like lugging out the big boy camera.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Best Fish Tacos Ever!

Fish is super good for you. But unless you really like fish, it's difficult to incorporate it into your dinner rotation. I know I don't ever feel like fish. I never have a craving for a certain kind of fish. So in my case, a filet of Salmon, no matter how dressed up, is not going to be a regular meal staple. Anyone else in that boat with me? Then there are people with super-human resolve to eat healthy no matter how much they hate the flavors. Where the desire for a smaller waist outweighs the desire for that slice of pizza. I wish I had that kid of drive.

But these fish tacos are the perfect antidote to battle between healthy and tasty. They are made with any mild white fish (I used Talapia) cooked so simply that the meadly of flavors from the other ingredients shine right through. You get the lovely flavor of peppers, cilantro and corn tortillas with the health giving properties of the fish.

Let me intorduce you to the star of the show: The Green Sauce. I found this recipe on Sprouted Kitchen. As always, I will list the full recipe below.... but here is a quick run down of the tasty (and healthy!) ingredients that go into making this sauce:

cilantro, poblano peppers, plain yogurt, garlic, lime juice, olive oil, and cashews.

Hello, Super Foods galore!

Add in there some shredded cabbage which is a classic fish taco pairing, some roasted red bell pepper and you've got an intensely flavored, perfectly filling and healthful meal. Plus, you get a serving of fish.

The original recipe calls for some peaches to be thrown on the grill while the fish is cooking. Have you ever had grilled peaches? Do you know that here in California, peaches are ALL OVER the farmer's markets right now and the weather is just screaming for you to rip the cover off your BBQ and get to grilling? Start with grilled peaches if this whole fish taco thing is too intimidating. You'll be glad you did.

I just love recipes that flow. Like a dance, the timing of each step is in perfect harmony with what is going on in another aspect of the prep. Let me explain: You meander on outside and crank up the BBQ. While that is heating up, go back inside and prep your fish - add salt, pepper and lime. Cover and pop in the fridge. Grab your peppers, go outside and put them on the grill. Back to the kitchen- take a few minutes to gather and measure the ingredients for the green sauce. Put everything into the blender and mix it up. Go outside and rotate the peppers. Take them off when they look charred. Put them in a zip top bag and let them hang out while you slice up the peaches....
Grab your fish and peaches, stroll outside and put both on the grill. While those cook, go back in and take the pepers out of their plastic bag cacoon, de-seed them and remove skin. Blend poblanos into the green sauce, put the bells in a dish for serving. Go outside and flip the fish & peaches, add the tortillas to the grill. Go back inside and shred your cabbage. Put in a bowl for serving. Take everything off the grill and you're ready to assemble.

Very rhythmic. Very relaxing.

Assemble them as you like- a bed of cabbage on the bottom is preferred. Layer the fish, the red bell peppers, green sauce, and if you like a little heat, I added some Sriracha to each bite as I went along. We ate the peaches as a side, but I suppose they would be a nice addition to the tacos themselves.

So if you've ever been intimidated by cooking fish, or you just aren't really a fan of fish to being with:
Try these tacos. You will be so happy you did.

Fish Tacos- adapted from Sprouted Kitchen.
4 to 6 corn tortillas
12 oz. white fish (use whatever is local and fresh)
2 cups of shredded green cabbage
1 lime, zest and juice
1 peach, cut into eigths
1 red bell pepper
Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper

For the green sauce:

1.5 cups cilantro
2 cloves of garlic
1 lime, zest and juice
0.5 cup of plain yogurt
1 tbsp. olive oil
0.5 cup cashews (walnuts, pistachios, whatever not you have on hand will work)
2 Poblano peppers, roasted and seeds removed
Salt and Pepper

Here are the details:

~Sprinkle each side of the fish with salt and pepper. Rub the lime zest and juice into the fish, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate.
~Put the bell peppers and the poblanos on the grill and char on all sides, total time should be about 8-10 minutes. Remove peppers and put them in a plastic bag about 5 minutes. The steam in the bag will make the skin come off very easily. Take them out and peel the skin off using your fingers or a paring knife. Remove the tops and the seeds. Chop them up, keeping them separate.
~Put the cilantro, garlic, lime, yogurt and olive oil in a blender or food processor. Blend it up. Add the poblano and blend again. Add whatever nuts you are using and belnd until smooth.

~Put the fish on the grill on top of a piece of non-stick foil, or regular foil if that's all you have. Put the peaches on the grill, cut side down. Close the lid and grill for about 6 minutes. Flip the peaches and the fish and grill for about 4 more minutes. Place the tortillas on the grill to warm (watch them, they will burn quickly!)
~Remove the fish when it flakes with a fork.
~Assemble your tacos and enjoy!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Perfect Cake for my Awesome Father in Law

My father in law's birthday is this weekend.
And what do you get the man who has everything??
A cake!

Obviously that would be the answer coming from someone who loves to bake, right? But I have to say that I have a sort of love/hate relationship with baking. The love part comes in the form of the actual process: the scouring over my favorite cookbooks (or blogs) for the perfect recipe, the gathering and measuring ingredients, sifting, stirring, scraping and baking. It is a very enjoyable process for me. The hate part comes in when I end up with a pile of chocolate chip cookies / box of cupcakes / pan of pound cake sitting on my counter... and ZERO willpower to resist the urge to eat it all. Can anyone relate to that?

 So let's focus on the love part for a moment here. Step 1: finding the perfect recipe. I've mentioned my trusty copy of Baking Illustrated before. I adore how much information they give you on how to make the uber-scientific process of baking work out just right. I could spend hours flipping through this book, reading recipes and discovering special techniques for piping meringue, shaping Ciabatta or assembling Baked Alaska. Nerdy? Maybe.

The only problem with my beloved cookbooks is that I spend the majority of my day at work, and unless I lug them into the office with me, my main source of inspiration comes from cooking blogs. Enter my inspiration: Piece of Cake. Shauna has a recipe for a Birthday Cake from Baking Illustrated. Yellow Layer Cake with Chocolate Cream Frosting. Perfect for two reasons. #1- I knew I could look up the recipe when I got home. #2- because my father in law is fond of the classics. He's a no frills kind of guy. Just pure and simple deliciousness.

 In the midst of my sifting and stirring and spreading, I took a moment to hand the paddle attachment covered in cake batter to my husband so he could "test it to make sure it wasn't poisonous". He asked if it was frosting. Yes, it is that good. And the (actual) frosting is so silky smooth, it's hard to resist eating it by the spoonful. 

As for the hate part of my love/hate relationship; this is the perfect way to make amends: Always share with your friends, family & co-workers. And do what you need to do to make sure you don't come home with the leftovers!

Happy Birthday, Mike!

** I must give credit for the first, last and second to last photo on here to my sister in law's husband, Mark. He does amazing things with a camera. I hope to start taking some pointers from him in the future.

Recipe from Baking Illustrated.

Yellow Layer Cake
1 3/4 cups (7 oz) plain cake flour, sifted
4 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 16 pieces

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease two 9-inch round cake pans, and cover the bottoms with parchment or waxed paper. Grease the parchment and dust the pans with flour, tapping out the excess.

2. Beat the eggs, milk and vanilla with a fork in a small bowl. Measure out one cup of this mixture and set aside. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of stand mixer. Beat on low to blend, about 30 seconds. With the mixer still running on low, add the softened butter one piece at a time, mixing until the butter and flour begin the clump together, until it looks pebbly with pieces about the size of peas, 30 to 40 seconds after all the butter is added.

3. Add the reserved one cup of egg mixture and mix at low speed until incorporated, 5 to 10 seconds. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the remaining egg mixture in a steady stream with the mixer running, taking about 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl and beater. Beat at medium-high speed again until the batter is thoroughly combined and just starts to look curdled, about 15 seconds.

4. Divide the batter equally between the pans, spread to the sides of the pan, making sure the surface is even and smooth. I used an offset spatula here. Bake until the cakes are light gold in color and a toothpick comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cakes may mound slightly here, but not to worry, they will level out when cooled. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes then run a knife along the edges to loosen them from the pans. Let cool completely before icing.

For the Frosting:
16 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped fine (or use chips)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

Place the chocolate in a bowl. Bring the heavy cream to a simmer over medium-high heat in a small saucepan (Don't let this boil over! It makes a mess). Pour the cream over the chocolate, add the corn syrup and let the mixture stand for 3 minutes.

Whisk gently until smooth and then stir in the vanilla. Refrigerate for 1 to 1.5 hours, stirring every 15 minutes, until the mixture reaches a spreadable consistency. Ideally this would not be made ahead of time as it does not keep well. It should be consumed within a day. You can also whip the frosting with the whisk attachment on a stand mixer to create a frosting with a fluffier texture.