Thursday, March 27, 2014

Kebabs: Meat (and so much more) on a stick!

Okay.  We know what you're thinking.  While Kabobs start with "K," they really are called Shish Kabobs ad that starts with "S."  That is true, but in reality Kabobs are found in many countries and many variations, so we decided to take a world view and talk about all sorts of variations on this theme.  So you will forgive us if we are splitting an alphabetic hair by using Kabob as our "K" word this week.

We are honoring wide cultural world of Kebobs because, believe it or not, grilling season is soon upon us.  Spring will take over and all you grillers will be putting on your aprons and firing up everything from giant gas grills to small charcoal camp grills.  So we offer you a grilling option besides the classic hamburger or hot dog.

Turns out, there is more than one spelling of our "K" word.  In researching this flavorful dish, we found that it is spelled both k-a-b-o-b and k-e-b-a-b.

In Turkish, kebab means "meat."  The word shish means "skewer."   And like so many foods, many cultures have their own version of skewered meats.  Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, China, Greece,  India, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, and the US all have their own version of kebobs.

Simply defined, a kebab is pieces of meat on a skewer, grilled, baked or fried.  Customarily speaking the meat is combined with spices and cooked over an open fire.   The variations of this are countless.  

If you are eating Middle Eastern Kebabs, you are likely using lamb.   
Lamb Kebabs
If you are eating Shami Kebabs, you are enjoying beef or a combination of beef and lamb.   
Shami Kebabs
If you prefer Indonesian or Southeast Asian Satay, you are experiencing chicken or beef.   
If you are French you say "brochettes," which is French for skewer.

And if you like chicken or pork or fruit you are probably enjoying an American version of kebabs.

Chicken Kabobs

And if you able to remember back to ancient Greek times, you might recognize souvalki.  This manner of kebab is traced by the 17th Century BCE.  Remnants of stone and skewers have been found indicating that skewering meat and grilling it goes way back.


As time evolved, the possibilities of what could be included on a skewer increased.  These days, if you can skewer it, you can kebab it!
Marinated Chicken Kebabs

What you need for the marinade: ***
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
dash of red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon minced onion

Mix all ingredients of the marinade and place in zip lock bag.  Reserve 1/4 cup for basting kebabs.

What you need for the kebabs:
4 chicken breasts, cut in 1.5 inch cubes
2 sweet red peppers, cut in 1.5 inch cubes
24crimini mushrooms, washed with stems trimmed
1 pineapple, cleaned and cut in 1.5 inch cubes
12 skewers.  

What you will need to do:

Place cubed chicken in bag with marinade and set in refrigerator for 2 hours.  Occasionally turn the bag over to mix contents.  In the mean time, if you are using wood skewers, soak skewers in water for about an hour.

Place a piece of chicken, then sweet red pepper, then mushroom, then pineapple on a skewer.  Make sure you pierce each food in the center.  Don't crowd the skewer so all the ingredients have a chance to cook.  You should get three of each on one skewer. 

If you are using an outdoor grill, make sure you coals are properly prepared.  Your rack should not be too close to the coals.  Place your kebabs on the grill and watch them closely.  You are looking for nice grill marks on your chicken.  As the kebabs cook, baste them with the reserved marinade.  When chicken is cooked through, the kebabs are done.

If you don't have an outdoor grill, you can use your oven or a grill pan.  Set your oven on 350 degrees and baste your kebabs as they cook.  When using a grill pan, you can get the grill marks over a medium-high heat.  Make sure to watch them closely, turning them and basting them.  

*** You can make up your own marinade or use any other one you like.  Be bold and experiment!
Now, you've done it!  You've gone and made kebabs.  Remember, the possibilities are endless.  Combine anything you like.  Consider making Ceprese Kebabs.  Just skewer hunks of mozzarella cheese, cherry tomatoes, and leaves of basil.  Drizzle with olive oil and a bit of balsamic vinegar for a salad kebab.  Oh I know, I know, try hunks of zuchini, sweet onions, slices of corn on the cob.  Bruch with a butter sauce and grill for a vegetarian kebab or a side dish to grilled steak or chops.  Are you thinking dessert?  Maybe strawberries and bananas with hunks of pound cake and a nice chocolate genache drizzeled.  This one can be done cold or grilled, as you like.

Now, go out and make something good.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Jicama....It's starts with J but sounds like H

Jicama is a vegetable native to Mexico and South America. Jicama is pronounced Hik-a-ma or Hee-ka-ma. At first glance it resembles a large radish or large turnip. The bulbous vegetable is actually a part of the legume family and grows on vines that can reach 20 feet in length. The vines stay close to the ground and the jicama can grow up to 50 pounds in size. But the ones found in the grocery store are usually between 2 and 4 pounds in weight. Often the larger the jicama the more likely the natural sugars in the plant turn and the flesh will become woody and starchy.

Jicama has been cultivated by all major Mesoamerican civilizations. The Spanish introduced it to the Philippines in the 17th century and from there to Southeast Asia and China. Jicama was also used as a staple onboard ships because it stored well, could be eaten raw and was also thirst quenching. Today it is most prominently used in Mexico, South China and in the U.S.

Other names for Jicama are Mexican potato, Mexican yam, Chinese potato, and Chinese turnip.

Jicama has a tough outside peel that is removed before eating and cooking. The flesh is white and crunchy, similar to the texture of a raw potato but wetter and sweeter. When picking out a jicama from the store, look for a medium sized, very firm bulb with a dry blemish-free skin. Softness and dark spots may indicate rot of the vegetable. Jicama should not be refrigerated before they are peeled as cold temperatures can damage them.   However, if you have left overs, put it in a air tight container in the refrigerator as it will dry out.

Here are some nutritional facts:

2.1 ounces of jicama (60 grams) equals:
*25 calories
*0 fat
*0 sodium
*0 cholesterol
*5 grams total carbohydrates
*3 grams dietary fiber
*1 gram sugar
*0 protein
*20 % daily requirement of vitamin C
*2 % daily requirement iron

The skin of the jicama is typically peeled before eating it raw. The flesh is very similar to the crunch of an apple and a potato without the starchy texture. Because you can cut the flesh and it not turn brown, jicama is perfect for salads. It stays crunchy so it is great on a vegetable platter with your favorite dips.

When cooking with jicama it tends to take on the flavors of the other ingredients so it is a nice compliment in roasted vegetables or stir fry.***

*** Do not eat other parts of the jicama plant as they may be poisonous. Mature seeds have a fairly high content of rotenone, a chemical used as an insecticide and pesticide.

So let's get to the meat of this tasty vegetable.  How to prepare jicama for your vegetable platter?  First peel the skin to reveal the sweet, white inside. We recommend using a sharp paring knife  as the skin is tough.  Once you have removed the skin, you are ready to cut the jicama into match sticks or slices or chunks as you would with an apple or potato.

Peeling a Jicama

Sliced and chopped Jicama

Now, let's make something!! How about Chicken & Jicama Salad with Red Peppers and Pesto Dressing?!

Chicken & Jicama Salad

Here's what you need:

2 cup leftover baked/roasted chicken, chopped
1/2 medium red pepper, chopped
1 cup jicama, chopped
1 Tablespoon minced shallot
1/2 teaspoon thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup mayonaise
1/4 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
1 Tablespoon pesto (or to taste)

Here's what you need to do:
Combine chicken, red pepper, jicama, and shallots in mediume bowl.  In a small bowl, combine all other ingredients to make dressing.  Pour dressing over chicken mixture and combine.  Adjust seasoning as you like.  Chill before serving.  This recipe makes enough for 2-3 individuals.

If you haven't tried Jicama yet, it certainly is time.  You will find it in the produce section of your grocery store.  Remember, the J is really an H.

Now, go out and make something good.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Dispelling the Illusion of Infusion.

These days you can hardly watch or listen to a cooking show without hearing the word infusion.  There's beer infused ice cream, red chili infused chocolate, coffee infused cigars, and the list goes on.

What is infusion anyway?  Simply put, it means to steep an aromatic ingredient in hot liquid.  That's it, really.  If you've ever made a cup of hot tea, you've made an infusion.  
Tea Infusion
Or if you made lemonade, you infused water with lemon juice and sweetened it with sugar.  And technically speaking, using a French Press can be considered a coffee infusion.

Lemon Infusion
Often the infusing of herbs requires a hot liquid for steeping.  Again, by example, if one is infusing water with a tea bag, the best results are because the water is hot.  The tea bag is allowed to infuse the water for 10-15 minutes to get the full effect of the herbs and flowers.

Sometimes, your liquid does not have to be hot to have an infusion.  Infused oil is a great example of that. If you are looking for a savory infusion consider the most useful and versatile of all bulbs...yes, you guessed it....garlic!   Take a handful of peeled and crushed garlic cloves.  Place them in a bottle and fill the bottle with grapeseed oil.  Leave in a cool, dark place and allow to infuse for a week.  Feel free to shake the bottle up a little every once in a while .  Your oil can be used in any dish that you want to give the always welcomed taste of garlic.
If you have some fresh Rosemary and some olive oil, plus a bottle, you can infuse!  Place the Rosemary in a clean bottle and fill it with olive oil.  Place in a cool, dark place and leave for a week.  When you are ready to sauté some chicken, put some of the infused oil in your pan and sauté away.  Add a bit of salt and pepper and you have a nice addition to your big salad night for dinner.
Fresh Rosemary

Now what about that cocktail party you are planning to celebrate being fabulous?  Do you like pineapple? Do you like vodka?  Then you best make pineapple infused vodka.  Just get a fresh pineapple and peel and core it.  Slice it into rounds.  Place the sliced pineapple in a jar.  Fill the jar with vodka.  Place on a shelf and leave until you just can't wait any longer (at least several days).  Strain the vodka.  ENJOY!  You can even make a second jar and put it on your table for a very attractive part of your party decor.   You can kick this up a notch by adding some orange peel curls and then you'll have pineapple orange vodka.  Brilliant!

Pineapple Infused Vodka
If you celebrate being fabulous without alcohol, feel free to infused fresh water with any assortment of fruits like raspberries and blackberries, or strawberries and kiwis.  For a clean and refreshing summer cool down, infuse your dinner water with sliced cucumber.  It is so crisp and clean!
Fruit Infusion
So, go ahead, infuse something just for the fun of it.

Now, go out and make something good!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Palm is where the heart that just too corny?

Ready to prepare hearts of palm
Ever heard of hearts of palm? This is a most interesting delicacy. They are also called the bud or core of trees that include coconut, jucara and pejibayes.

Hearts of palm are also known as palmitos and palm cabbage.  In Florida, they are called "swamp cabbages" because they are harvested from the "cabbage" or palmetto tree. They are a crunchy, kind of sweet vegetable. Their taste is sort of a cross between artichoke heart and white asparagus.

The center of the palm tree
The largest producer of hearts of palm is Brazil. In order to harvest the hearts, a young tree must be cut down, debarked with the fibrous outer layer peeled away. Over time the destruction of the trees contributed to the destruction of the rain forest.  Areas of the rain forest are now protected from harvesting the trees.

Fortunately, in more recent times, hearts of palm have been, and are now farmed.  The farmed trees produce more crops and do not cause hazard to the rain forest.

Have you heard of the acai berry? It's a popular super berry these days. Well, the acai tree also is a source of hearts of palm.

Brazil is still responsible for nearly 50 percent of the volume of hearts of palm that are imported to the United States. Other countries like Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Venezuela also produce the hearts as well as Florida and Hawaii.

Can you guess which country imports and consumes more hearts of palm than any other nation? No, it isn't the United States. In fact, it is France.

Most of us will find hearts of palms in jars or cans in the grocery store. If that is how you get yours, make sure that you purchase those that are only packed in water. Be sure to rinse the hearts before preparation.

If you cannot find hearts of palm and you really must have some to make our recipe, which is coming up, you can order them online. Here's two site to help you out!

Local Harvest 
Puna Gardens

Hearts of palm are a wonderful addition to any salad as they add a nice crunch and a smooth flavor.  

But don't go thinking that this tasty crunchy delight is just for salads.  A lovely soup would come from simmering hearts of palm in a nice chicken or vegetable stock. Add chopped onion, and bit of chopped garlic, diced potatoes, sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. Simmer until vegetables are cooked through. If you like a thicker soup, blend the vegetables to the consistency you like. Add a drop of creme fraiche for a creamy dreamy soup experience.

But let's not forget pizza! The hearts can be sliced as a topping on your favorite cheese and pepperoni pie.

In days past, due to the cost of harvesting palm trees, Florida created a salad called the Millionaire's Salad.  Apparently, that salad was only available to the wealthy.  The 2 Prickly Pears are not millionaire's, but every once in awhile its okay with us to splurge a bit.  So we offer you our recipe for Millionaire's Salad.

2 Prickly Pears Millionaire's Salad
Here's what you need:
4 hearts of palm spears, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
1 ripe avocado, cut in bite size pieces
1/3 cup kalamato olives
1/4 cup roasted red peppers
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
1 Tablespoon fresh chopped basil
White Balsamic Vinegar
Extra Virgin Olive oil
Fresh crack black pepper

Here's what you need to do:
Using a salad plate, first arrange the olives, roasted red peppers, and hearts of palm in center of the plate. Place the pieces of avocado around the olive mixture. Sprinkle first the basil and then the goat cheese on the salad. Now sprinkle the salad with the white balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Finally add the black pepper.

The 2 Prickly Pears think this should be called the Millionaire's Salad because it tastes like a million bucks. This is crazy delicious.

So there you have it.  If you haven't tried hearts of palm, give it a try.  It is delicate and delicious, and you are worth it.

Now go out and make something good.