Thursday, June 26, 2014

Seafood Meal FL Style!!!!

As you know, I (Pam) moved to Fl in Oct ’13.  Since that time my roomie introduced me to a wonderful couple, Linda and Gregg.  Over the months I have been lucky enough to get to know them.    

Linda & Gregg
May was a big month for Linda & Gregg, they celebrated both their birthdays and anniversary.   So what do you get two people who have traveled to many places and have many beautiful things?   A meal to remember, that is what you give them! I am a true believer in the fact that cooking for someone you like, care about and/or love is one of the greatest gifts.

So off I started planning a meal from Kelly and me.  I knew this was going to be a challenge.   Linda loves a variety of flavors both subtle and bold.  Gregg, on the other hand, loves bold in your face flavors.   The challenge of finding a balance was HUGE.   But first I had to figure out what to make... 
  • Do I pick from the “go to recipes” that we all have?
  • Do I work on a dish that we are perfecting for the cookbook?
  • Do I do a favorite of theirs and hope I do it well?
  • Or do I pull out all the stops and be brave and bold and jump in head first with something new that I have always thought was out of my league?
I picked the last one! Yet the question is what to make?  What is it that I think I cant do but really want to be good at?

Chef T (Terry) makes a killer clams linguine dish.  I could swim in it all day, it is so good.  But I know that dish has been perfected over the years and that is one of her signature dishes.  I decided against it.  However there was something about a seafood pasta dish that I couldn't let go of.  There it was, the dish I always wanted to make.  My challenge was the perfect sauce.  I knew what seafood I wanted in it, but that sauce had to be just right  because after I decided on the dish I found out it was one of Gregg's favorites. (yikes!)

I search the internet for days trying to figure out that sauce.  OOOOHHHH it was giving me a headache.  As my frustration increased I got mad, which meant I just had to make a test of it to see what I liked and didn’t like about it.   First time around was ok, but how can you mess up a wine and butter reduction?  It was a fun taste testing day for Kelly and I.   Even the mistakes were tasty...LOL!!!   Then I decided I was going to do what I do best.  Make it up as I go alone.  I knew the ingredients for the dish.  I just had to make it mine.   I felt I was ready to wheeled my mad skills for this meal.

Again I was spinning this meal around in my head for days and days.  Cant tell you how many times I changed what was going to be served.  Then the light bulb went on and I had it.

Here is what I came up with.

Hummus Appetizers
Hummus Hummus Hummus… who doesn’t like a great hummus!  So flexible and easy to make.  You can make it in so many wonderful flavors.  Sky is the limit!  I made three flavor profiles.  Garlic, horseradish and roasted red bell peppers.

Crab Salad
I wanted something light with a hint of citrus and spiciness.  Linda loved all the subtle flavors in it but Gregg thought it needed more of a punch.  I went with Linda's comments :-)

Tomato Soup
Terry and I started our quest for a tomato soup that didn't taste like a can about a year ago.  It is still being developed but every time I make it, it gets better and better.   This soup had a surprise at the bottom which made Linda smile.   I placed a bit of crab at the bottom of the cup and then topped the tomato soup with some creme fraiche.  Gregg said it was perfect and not change anything about it.   I interrupted that as a gold star!  I kinda knew he would like it since it had a big spicy kick to it.

Mango Palette Cleanser
Always have to make time for a palette cleaner.   They are fun and a nice surprise since they are not the norm for the daily meals.  

In the bottom of a shot glass put about a tablespoon of Vanilla Ice Cream.   Puree Mango and a bit of lime juice together and spoon on top the ice cream.  It can sit in the frig for a few hours before serving.   How easy is that?

Seafood Pasta with Garlic knots
Here it is Gregg's favorite dishes.  I have cooked a few times for him, he has been great at critiquing the dishes for the cookbook.  When I placed the dish in front of them I got the “Gregg Grin”.  I thought I was just making him happy because it was a pasta seafood dish.  I didn’t know the full meaning of the "grin" until later when Kelly informed me of its meaning.   I was pretty proud of that dish when all was said and done.  He said it could be on a menu in a restaurant and the sauce made the dish!  Now that is a Gold Star ladies and gentlemen in my book! 

Though Tiramisu is a very traditional dish that one should not mess with… be bold and do it anyway!  Linda is not a coffee fan so I made hers with Rum Chatta and spiced rum.  Do I have to even tell you how good that was?   I think she was getting a little buzzed... LOL!!!  She kept asking me how much rum was in it.  I wont tell her, not like she would remember anyway... that's how much rum was in it Linda :-)

And a recipe as promised...

Seafood Salad Recipe

Here is what you need
1/2 cup crab meat, either fresh or canned
1/4 cup chopped mangoes
1/4 cup chopped red, yellow or orange pepper
1/4 cup chopped jicama
1 - 2 chopped jalapeno peppers
salt & pepper to taste
2 - 3 avocados
2 limes

Here is what you do
Cut avocado in half and removed the pit.  With the skin still on cut the meat of the avocado into chunk and then scoop out the avocado meat. Place in a bowl and toss with the juice of one of the limes.  Place in the bottom of individual serving bowls.

In another bowl mix crab meat, mangoes, peppers, jicama, jalapeno pepper, salt, pepper and the juice of one lime.  Place the crab meet onto the avocados and chill until ready to serve.

*be creative with the ingredients.  Use more or less of the listed ingredients or add others.  There are endless possibilities for this dish so that means no rules.

Even Ms Bella joined in on the meal. My dogs were complete gentlemen (who knew) and shared their bones with her. Though I am not sure Gusie was happy about that since he kept taking the bone from her, only for her to take it back...LOL! Good girl Bella!!!!

When all was said and done it was a great meal. In my humble opinion I elevated my our skills to knew levels. That means I know you can do the same thing.

Now go out there and make something great for the ones you love!!!!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Turning things UPSIDE-down!

When we hear the words upside-down cake, we probably all think pineapple. After all, that is a most common way to make this type of cake. And that is because in 1903 James Dole and the then Hawaiian Fruit Company began canning and selling pineapple. In 1925, a contest was held by Dole for the best pineapple recipe. There was a promise that the top 100 winning recipes would be included in a cookbook. Over 60,000 recipes were submitted and 2,500 of them were for pineapple upside down cake. Dole took full advantage of this and ran a major marketing campaign for their pineapple. And the great American Pineapple Upside-down cake took its place in American dessert history.

Canned pinneapple

While the use of pineapple in upside-down cake is common, don't go getting the idea that turning a cake upside down is a wholly American idea. We are here to tell you differently. An upside down cake has been documented in Europe for centuries. It gets its basic start as an unleavened cake made in a skillet that had fruit added. Any true upside-down cake has fruit of some sort. The cake batter was much like a pancake and would have dried fruit if fresh was not available.

This tradition of making a cake in a skillet and then turning it over on a plate or serving dish came to the Americas when the settlers arrived. They called their upside-down cakes spider cakes because they made them in cast iron skillets that had legs on them and sat over a fire. This was standard fair and quite unassuming; that is until pineapple found its way into a can.

Spider Skillet
So who invented the first upside-down cake? Who knows!? We don't. While cake wasn't as popular as tarts and pies in the 18th century, it did have its place. But the true history is a mystery, so let's just say that someone had a slippery hand and somehow manage to accidentally turn their cake, "splat," on the counter. Making the best out of such a mistake, the baker rallied and put the newly designed cake to good use. And the upside-down cake was born. It could have happened that way! Who's to say it didn't? Besides many a mistake leads us to the next new way to do something.

Let's look at some variations of upside down cakes.  First there is the tarte tartin, which is a French tart that has apples caramelized in butter and sugar with a tart pastry on top.  The cake is more like a short cake.  It is baked and turned over on a serving plate.  

Tarte Tartin
The we have Bolo de Banana from Brazil.  This upside down cake has a more cake-like texture with caramelized bananas.  

Bolo be Banana
So this brings up to our mother's upside-down cake.  While American tradition tells us to use pineapple, our mother chose to use pears.  And so today we are extending our family tradition to you and giving up a lovely recipe for Pear Upside-Down Cake.  

Pear Upside-Down Cake

Here's what you need:
12 Tablespoons butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2-3 fresh (but not too ripe) pears
1 1/4 cup flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Here's what you need to do:

Melt 4 Tablespoons butter in small pan.  Add brown sugar and heat until bubbling.  Pour the butter and sugar mixture into a 9" baking pan.  Spread the mixture out evenly.  Set aside and cool completely.

Peel, core and cut the pears into even 1/4 inch slices.  Arrange slices in a circle over the brown sugar mixture.  Place a few small slices of pear in the middle of the pan.

In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, spices and salt.  

In a large bowl, cream the sugar and remaining 8 Tablespoons of butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and combine.  Add vanilla and mix thoroughly.

Add half of the flour mixture to the wet mixture and mix just to combine.  Add the milk and combine.  Now add the rest of the flour mixture and mix just to combine.

Spread the batter on top of the pears evenly.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Cool for 20 minutes on a rack. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. \ Place a serving plate on the cake pan and invert the cake on the plate.  

Serve warm with a dollop of creme fraiche.

Pear Upside-down Cake with Creme Fraiche
Upside-down cakes are beautiful and can be adapted to your taste.  Maybe you could try some berry combination.  This is a lovely dessert and is sure to impress your family and guests.  

Now, go out and make something good.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Tacos, tacos, tacos, and more tacos!

We did a blog post a few weeks back on quesadillas. We are sort of following up with that post and extending it to talk about tacos. How many of the 85 billion tortillas consumed per year are in taco sales alone? Well, let's see. In 2012, Americans ate 4.5 billion tacos. That is enough tacos, if placed end to end, to measure 490,000 miles. That would be the equivalent of one trip to the moon and back. That adds up to 775 million pounds, which is the weight of two Empire State buildings.      Yikes!!!    That's a lot of tacos!!!

America has a love affair with tacos. The love affair has a very humble beginning.  The first recorded mention of the word taco was in 1905. This is when Mexican migrants started to come to the U.S. to work in mines and on the railroads. Mexican food was considered street food, food for the lower classes. But when the railroads started bringing tourists to places like San Antonio, they were very interested in seeing the Alamo, not to mention their culinary interest in tacos and other Mexican delights.

The origin of the taco begins with a story of the word itself.  Taco described the little charges that were set off in the silver mines of Mexico.  Taco means "plug" or "wad," such as what would be used to fill a hole in a mine wall.  These charges were pieces of paper that they would wrap around gunpowder. The first historical reference to the taco was late in the 19th century. This taco was called tacos de minero, or the minor's taco.

Traditional tacos have their own variations.**  For example:

  • Tacos de Asador (spit or grill tacos) - grilled until crisp.  
  • Tacos de Cabeza (head tacos) - made from the steam head of a cow, including the brains, tongue, cheeks, etc.
  • Tacos de Caz0 - made with meat deep fried in lard.
  • Tacos sudados (sweaty tacos) - soft tortillas with a spicy meat, placed in a basket covered with a cloth that traps the steam (sweat) which softens them.
  • Tacos Al pastor/de Abobada (sheperd style) - made of thin port steaks seasoned with adobo seasoning then flame broiled.
  • Tacos dorados (golden tacos) - also called flautas because of the "flute" shape, deep fried until crisp.
  • Tacos de pescado (fish tacos) - made with grilled or fried fish, lettuce pico de gallo, sour cream or citrus mayo sauce.
  • Tacos de camarones (shrimp tacos) - much like fish tacos only with grilled shrimp.
**accompaniments to tacos traditional include whole or sliced red radishes, lime slices, salt,  and pickled or grill hot chili peppers.

Maybe the taco doesn't have the long history of some Mexican dishes, but there is no denying is importance in the economy of the American culture. 4.5 billion sold is nothing to sneeze at.

In fact, now a days, there are many alternatives to the whole taco experience.

There are:

Hard shell tacos - in the early 1900's the hard shell taco was most common.  They are crisp fried corn tortillas filled with seasoned ground beef, cheese, lettuce, onions, salsa, sour cream and guacamole.  The first patent for the device to mass produce the U-shape crisp shell was issued to Juvenico Maldonado in 1950.  (U.S. Patent No. 2,507.305)

Hard Shell Tacos
Soft shell tacos - traditionally, as we know, this shell was a corn tortilla cooked to a soft state by grilling or steaming.  These days flour tortillas are more commonly used and manufactured to keep up with demand.  The fillings are common to the hard shell tacos.

Soft Shell Tacos
Crispy Tacos - is mostly a California variation where corn tortillas are fried or deep fried. The meat filling can be anything from ground beef to steak to chicken and pork.  This is topped with jack and/or cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomato with salsa on top.  Avocado and sour cream may be added.

Crispy Tacos
Puffy Tacos - uncooked corn tortillas are quickly fried in hot oil until they expand and become puffy.  Fillings are similar to hard shell tacos.

Puffy Tacos
Indian Tacos - also known as Navajo tacos, are made using frybread instead of tortillas. Invented in the 1860's they are commonly served at pow-wows, festivals, and other gatherings.

Indian Tacos
As with all foods that find their way across the country and across the world, tacos also have transformed and morphed through their travels.  Today you can build tacos with anything you like.  You are only limited by your imagination and tastes in options.

Today we are making our very own version of fish tacos.  More specifically these tacos have salmon and cucumber sauce.  The combination is excellent, refreshing and easy to make.

Salmon tacos with rice and grilled avocados

What you need:
Soft Shelled Tacos
1 lb Grilled Salmon

Cucumber Sauces
3 Peeled and Sliced cucumbers
1/2 Cup Sliced Red Onion
3/4 Cup Creme Fraiche
3 T Fresh Dill Chopped
Salt & Pepper

What you need to do:
Grill your salmon. Careful not to over cook your salmon.   If it is dry you have over cooked buy a few minutes.   Break apart the salmon and place on the taco shell.

Make Cucumber Sauce:

Thinly slice cucumbers and red onion.  Place in bowl and season with salt to pull the water out of the veggies for about an hour.  Drain in colander until no more water comes out, this could take a bit of time.  Place veggies in a bowl, add creme fraiche, dill and salt and pepper to taste.

Place cucumber sauce on top of salmon.

Serve with some of your favorite sides.  This dish is served with Mexican rice and grilled avocados.

Now that it is summer time and the weather is hot and the grills are fired up, come up with your own combination of tasty ingredients to build your own tacos.  Make iced tea, margaritas, sangria, or cerveza and enjoy!

Now go out and make something good.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Little Twine? Little Worms? Angel Hair? It's all about Spaghetti!

Once again, the 2 Prickly Pears find themselves trying to sift through a controversy. This time it has to do with the historical origins of spaghetti. We all associate spaghetti and pasta with Italy. Certainly Italy is famous for its many dishes using pasta made from semolina, which is made from durum wheat. It seems they were the first to use semolina. But were the Italians the first to mix grain flour with water to create pasta? Is there any sort of evidence of the first making of spaghetti anywhere?

In answering those questions, we look to evidence from Qinghai, China. In 2005 actual preserved remains of spaghetti-like noodles were found. They were long and cylindrical and are estimated to be about 4000 years old. They are recognized to be the oldest historical record of noodles in any culture, and they were made from millet flour. So does that mean that we found the origins of spaghetti? Are noodles and spaghetti essentially the same thing? And what about pasta? Where does that fit in to the equation?

Different kinds of pasta

To begin with, pasta in a more generic term and includes those things made from unleavened dough. It also refers to an assortment of Italian dishes. It's sort of an umbrella word, but it doesn't include noodles. Noodles are in a category all their own.

It might be best if we start with a couple of definitions.

If we are talking about spaghetti in the Italian tradition, it is made with semolina wheat grown in regions of Mediterranean. This is considered a hard wheat and makes a dried spaghetti that has a long shelf life. Spaghetti is long and cylindrical in shape, with a golden color, more elastic texture and a firmer bite. Here's a list of the types of spaghetti:

  • Spaghetti - "little twine," is the spaghetti we often find in the pasta isle of the store
  • Spaghettoni - "thick like twine," is thicker than regular spaghetti
  • Spaghettini - "thin little twine," is much thinner than regular spaghetti
  • Fedelini - "little faithful ones," is not as well known and thinner than regular spaghetti
  • Vermicelli - "little worms," is much thinner than fedelini
  • Capellini - "fine hair," is thinner than vermicelli
  • Capelli d'ngelo - "angel hair," is the thinnest of all the spaghetti
And that's just the spaghetti's....whew!! We won't get into all the other pastas today. :)

Wide egg noodles
If we are talking about noodles, they are made from different flours including rice or buckwheat, and other softer wheat. This wheat gives the noodles a lighter color and a smoother, silkier feel. They cook quickly. They can be long and cylindrical or they can be flat. Often they contain eggs and salt. Here's a list of some types of noodles:

  • Soba noodles - a chewy Japanese buckwheat noodle, often served chilled
  • Cellophane noodles - referred to as glass noodles, made from mung bean starch and commonly found in Asian cuisine
  • Egg noodles - based on egg and wheat dough, are chewy and mellow in flavor
  • Udon noodles - fat, tender and chewy, wheat based served in soups stews and stir-fries
Does all that information on spaghetti and noodles get us any closer to knowing where it all started? No. What it does tell us is that, once again, many cultures around the world have been putting wheat together with other ingredients to make food to feed their families. We accept that the Chinese have been making noodles for centuries. We also accept that the Italians have been making spaghetti for centuries. And we are so glad that they did because we now have access to all kinds of lovely dishes that make our tummy so happy.

Because we are to the S's in our never ending desire to learn about culinary terms, today we are talking about spaghetti.  How many times have you seen in a movie or on television a plate of spaghetti that is topped with a ladle of tomato sauce?  Dozen of times, maybe hundreds depending on how many times you've seen The Godfather.  While we may think that is classic Italian, it is, in fact, NOT authentic at all.  In true Italian cuisine the sauce is always incorporated into the pasta before serving.  And the amount of sauce is just enough to coat the pasta.  We learn something new every day, right?

The wrong way to serve spaghetti with sauce
The proper way to serve spaghetti with sauce
Now that we know how to serve the spaghetti, timing becomes a major factor in our preparation.  It will important that your sauce be ready when your spaghetti cooked and hot. As will all things culinary, there are a few rules that will help you make your spaghetti perfect.  Here they are:
  • Use a big pot with lots and lots of water.  You want to give your spaghetti (or pasta) plenty of room to bubble around and cook evenly.
  • Bring the water to a hard boil and then add salt.  Your water should be salty like the sea when cooking spaghetti.
  • Add your spaghetti to the boiling water and stir occasionally.  This keeps the pasta from sticking.
  • Don't over-cook the spaghetti.  "al dente," means "firm to the bite," but still cooked through.
  • DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT rinse the pasta.  Why?  Because the starch that remains on the pasta keeps the sauce in place when combined.
  • Your sauce and spaghetti should be ready at the same time and served immediately.
  • Reserve some of the pasta water.  When you combine your sauce and spaghetti in a pan, the water will help combine everything making it thicker or thinner depending on the sauce.
  • Immediately serve your spaghetti on a warm serving plate.
  • Enjoy!
Instead of the classic spaghetti with red sauce, we thought it might be nice to mix it up a bit. So today we chose a spaghetti recipe that include a herbed ricotta and garlic sauce.  Don't worry; you don't have to make your own spaghetti.  There are dozens and dozens of ready made, dried spaghetti in the store.  Go to a place that carries handmade pastas and you will be pleasantly surprised by the quality spaghetti.

Spaghetti with Herbed Ricotta and Garlic
What you need:
1 lb spaghetti
5 cloves garlic (less if you like)
1/2 cup fresh basil cut in ribbons (chiffonade)
1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves
1/2 cup chopped chives
2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese
1 Tablespoon olive oil
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

What you need to do:
Cook the spaghetti according to the package directions until al dente.  Drain, reserving about 1 1/2 cup of the pasta water.

Combine the basil, parsley, chives and ricotta in a medium bowl.  Set aside.

Thinly slice garlic cloves.  In large skillet add the olive oil and garlic and cook until garlic is soft, about 2 minutes.  Add the cooked pasta and 1 1/2 cup of the herbed ricotta and 1/4 cup of the pasta water.  Toss everything together and season with salt and pepper.  Add more of the pasta water as needed to make a nice sauce.  Heat and toss the pasta until the cheese has melted and a sauce has formed.

Transfer spaghetti to a warm serving platter and top with remaining 1/2 cup herbed ricotta.

This dish is so yummy, we can hardly stand it.  If you like spaghetti and ricotta, this is the dish for you.

Now that you know about spaghetti, get creative and make you and yours a lovely dinner that can include a little garlic bread and some wine and candle light.

Now go out and make something good.