Iceberg dead ahead!

There’s an old Kenny Rogers song that has lyrics that go something like “know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away and know when to run”–keep that in mind.

First let me say, it’s hot here today and I am only a fan of hot in Hawaii or Palm Desert, not when I have lots to do around the house/yard. I spent the day washing the windows and screens inside and out as well as doing multiple loads of laundry, some vacuuming and bathing Buster–so I’ve had a full day and I am a little tired.

Jack decided to try an Eric Ripert steak recipe from this month’s Bon Appetit for dinner, which is fantastic because A). He’s doing it and B). I could have a crush on Eric Ripert–he’s adorable, especially in print and from the waist up. I saw him walk once on a cooking show and that was less than impressive but anyway…

What to have with the ER steak? Too hot for potatoes or rice and no time to make the israeli couscous Eric served with his steak, but we have asparagus which is perfect and then I thought a cool, crisp iceberg wedge would be delicious. Problem is, it’s a little like Old Mother Hubbard’s here. Please do not judge me when you read the rest.

I used the Smitten Kitchen recipe, which is a great recipe. My buttermilk had a pull date of 5/26 but it looked and smelled fine and it’s buttermilk–it’s already sour. I had a partial head of iceberg which I almost fed to the chicken this morning but after closer inspection thought it might come in handy. I actually had a stalk of celery freshly purchased yesterday and the radishes, well, I might have dug a few out of the trash (I had just cleaned the veg bin). I did have bacon in the freezer and chives from the garden. Ok, just know I would never do this if you were coming to dinner, but it’s just me and Jack, and he will never read this.

It was all going well (?) until I opened the container of blue cheese–terrible smell, terrible color, could not do it– mind you, a few minutes earlier I pulled radishes out of the trash! So now, the dilemma, get in the hot car and drive to Safeway (Costco is closed) and pay way too much for mediocre blue cheese or bag it and have an iceberg wedge with buttermilk dressing? You guessed it, buttermilk dressing…know when to walk away, know when to run. It’s too hot to go to the store–the salad will still be yummy, especially with the Eric Ripert steak!

Smitten Kitchen Iceberg Wedge Salad

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Bon Appetit!?

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Weeds and Margaritas!

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Magartia at the Mission Inn in Riverside, CA

I haven’t been cooking much lately…I’ve been working out in the yard.  And nothing tastes better after a day of yard work than a perfect Margarita.  A cold beer is a close second but I’m not making beer yet, so I’ll stick with the Margarita.  Now, I’m not talking you mowed your lawn or dead headed your pots kind of yard work, rather your hind-end up in the air for hours, hands hurt, and you see weeds when you close your eyes kind of yard work–that deserves a reward and that reward is the perfect Margarita.

My quest began after Megan and I had a delicious Margarita at the Mission Inn in Riverside, California.  We were on our way from Palm Desert to Los Angeles and had heard they had the “best” margaritas.  We decided to stretch our legs and wet our whistles and we were not disappointed.  Their Margarita was excellent as were their guacamole and quesadillas.

I’ve been trying to replicate the recipe at home ever since, as I have not found any at restaurants that I feel are worthy of the caloric intake. The Costco mix is fine in a pinch when you are in Maui and don’t have room to pack your Vitamix in your luggage but I would never drink it at home.   I tried a few internet recipes and was disappointed or they had really expensive ingredients like Cointreau in them.  I came across the Perfect Margarita recipe in one of my Barefoot Contessa books and gave it a try…PERFECT.  So good and so easy.

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Ingredients for the Perfect Margarita

Perfect Margaritas

Barefoot Contessa

Serves 6

1 cup Tequila (the Costco brand works fine for these)

1 cup Triple Sec

1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice

2 Tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

3 cups ice

Put it all in the blender and mix until blended (any good quality blender will do if you do not have a Vitamix)

I “salt” the rims of the glass with:

2T sugar

2T kosher salt

Zest of one lime

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Cheers!

Absolutely fantastic and it will almost make you forget how much your backside aches.  Give it a try–but only if you’ve worked hard enough!

Cinco de Mayo Family Dinner

What do you serve for  Cinco de Mayo when several of your guests are somewhat picky eaters or don’t like to eat with their hands? My family can be quite persnickety when it comes to food and eating.   What could I make that would be fitting for the day, delicious, semi-healthy and  be eaten with a fork?  Mexican Paella for Six from the Rick Bayless Fiesta at Rick’s cookbook!   Chicken, mussels, shrimp, chorizo sausage,  delicious tomato sauce, poblano pepper and tender rice.  I’ve always wanted to do a full blown Paella and someday I will  (mostly I think I just want the pan–sort of like when I was 5 and signed up for ballet–it was all about the shoes).

Before dinner I served homemade  guacamole and chips and  Margaritas.  With dinner I served a romaine salad, some crusty bread, and of course, red wine. Dessert was the previously blogged Rhubarb Ice Cream with Lemon Angel Food Cake.

Prepped ingredients

Prepped ingredients

The Paella was  easy to make and I was able to do a few steps ahead like browning the chicken and prepping the tomatoes and onions.  I used  actual paella rice–the recipe calls for medium grain and the paella rice wasn’t any more expensive and came in a fun cloth bag. Since Sunday was such a warm day, I  did the majority of the cooking outside  on the burner of the gas grill.  Jack’s expertly  seasoned cast iron skillet was the perfect pan to use for this dish as cast iron fries and sautes beautifully and the rice was tender with a bit of a crust on the bottom. The recipe calls for a 12 inch,  which I thought I was using, but  it was actually a 10 inch.  It worked fine until it came time to put the chicken, mussels and shrimp in the pan with the rice for the  finish in the oven.  Everything was crammed in the pan and it took 30 minutes longer at 50 degrees higher heat.

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I can’t find the recipe on-line, but here’s his regular Paella recipe– basically the same just scaled way down.  I used 6 chicken thighs, 1/2 pound of chorizo, 1/2 pound of shrimp, etc.  Make sure you use a large enough pan, or better yet, buy yourself a pretty paella pan, they’re not expensive, just hard to store.

Paella for 6

Paella for 6

If you need a a salad recipe that is super easy and will knock your guests socks off and make them wonder why they ever order salad at a restaurant, it’s this one from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Romaine Hearts with Parmesan and Lemon Vinaigrette

2 heads romaine lettuce

1 garlic clove

Salt and freshly milled pepper

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (use the Maille if you can!)

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (the good stuff makes a difference here, too)

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or more to taste

3/4 cup small toasted croutons (if you can’t make your own, the Metropolitan Market’s garlic croutons are yummy)

Slice the bottoms off the lettuce and remove most of the leaves until you get to the hearts.  Wash if needed and put the hearts ins spacious, wide bowl.

Pound the garlic with 1/2 teaspoon sale in a mortar until smooth.  Whisk in the lemon zest and juice, the mustard, then the oil.  Pour the dressing over the leaves and roll them over each other until coated. Sprinkle most of the cheese over the leaves, add the croutons, and toss again until the leaves are coated. Divide the sale among four large plates, add the remaining cheese, and finish with pepper (perhaps if you use a ridiculously large pepper grinder, your guests will think they are at a restaurant?)

Cook someone you love something yummy today and,  cheers!

Rhubarb Roundup (part 3)

IMG_1693This past weekend I tried two things rhubarb.

First on Saturday, which was a gloriously warm day, I had a Campari and soda.  Did you know Campari has rhubarb in it ?  Campari is considered a bitter and is an acquired taste but on a warm summer (or spring) day nothing beats sitting on the back porch with a little Campari over ice and a good portion of soda water while  picturing yourself  sitting at some little outdoor restaurant in Italy wiling away the afternoon. You can make other drinks with Campari like the Negroni, which usually elicits strong opinions–love or HATE!

My second encounter with rhubarb was rhubarb ice cream for Sunday’s family dinner.  The recipe was super easy and with my Cusinart ice cream maker I had creamy rhubarb ice cream in no time.  But you can’t just serve rhubarb ice cream by itself because some in my family dislike it as much as they dislike purple onions and meatloaf.

I decided to make a Barefoot Contessa Lemon pound cake but instead of using full fat yogurt, which the recipe called for, I thought I would try using the non-fat Greek yogurt I always have in my fridge.  I wasn’t as concerned about the fat content as the ice cream had plenty of whipping cream, as I was not having to go to the store.  The recipe called for vegetable oil, which I rarely use, and when I measured it out I thought it smelled funny but I ignored my gut and carried on.  Well, my oil was rancid and the pound cake tasted terrible (though Jack ate several slices and Buster and the chickens liked it). Always follow your gut; if you think it smells or looks bad, save yourself the heartache (maybe a little dramatic) and don’t use it.  I think the non-fat yogurt also made it a bit tough.

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Earlier in the week Megan and I had a  conversation about whether angel food cake would be good served with rhubarb compote (which it would)  and I decided it would also be delicious with rhubarb ice cream.  I found the Lemon Angel Food Cake recipe in one of my Barefoot Contessa books and gave it a try. The cake turned out perfect! Light and airy and just a little lemony, which was the perfect accompaniment to the rhubarb ice cream–not to mention the Rick Bayless Paella for 6–but that’s another post.

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Rhubarb Ice Cream    

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Every  Which Way With Rhubarb by Amanda Brannon

1 pound rhubarb, finely chopped

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice (fresh)

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 cups heavy whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Place the rhubarb in a shallow baking dish along with the sugar and the lemon juice. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until the rhubarb is tender. Let it cool slightly. Pour the rhubarb into a food processor and process until you have a smooth puree. Pour into a container, cover and transfer to the refrigerator and chill. Stir the vanilla and cream into the rhubarb puree, pour into an ice cream maker and churn until the mixture has the consistency of soft whipped cream.  Freeze for a minimum of two hours or until the ice cream is firm enough to serve.

Rhubarb ice cream and Lemon Angel Food cake!

Rhubarb ice cream and Lemon Angel Food cake!

Rhubarb Roundup (part 2)

rhubarb stalks

rhubarb stalks — dino-sized snack

This year the  admission yield season and rhubarb season coincided and I almost missed rhubarb season. There was a time when I would not have been sad about that but I have changed how I feel about rhubarb over the past few years. Years ago, when Jack brought home three of his grandfather’s rhubarb plants, I was not excited or encouraging. As a child, I had an experience with a stalk of rhubarb and a cup of sugar that left an unpleasant memory. The rhubarb pies or rhubarb/strawberry pies I tried over the years seemed slimy or slimy and sour. I was always more than happy to give our rhubarb to anyone who got excited when I said we had rhubarb. A few years ago, I tried the Rhubarb Crisp a la mode with Strawberry Sauce recipe from our local newspaper which was adapted from Sylvia Thompson’s “The Kitchen Garden Cookbook”  and it changed my life.  Next was Martha Stewart’s Rhubarb Upside Down Cake–delicious!  My fear of the slimy and sour are gone and now it’s great fun to see what I can make with all my (notice it’s now my) free rhubarb!

When I was in Juneau two summers ago visiting Mitch and Rochele I picked up a cookbook titled “Every Which Way With Rhubarb” by Amanda Brannon.  Until this week the only recipe I had made from the book was a chutney and I was feeling some guilt about yet another cookbook that I haven’t really used, so I pulled it out of the cupboard and took it for a spin.  I do have a rhubarb recipe rule which is it has to use a LOT of rhubarb otherwise it’s not worth putting on the garden clogs and trekking to the side yard with a butcher knife to harvest.  This week I tried two recipes, Rhubarb Crumble Bars which used four cups and Rhubarb Cake II  which used two cups–both were delicious but I really like the Rhubarb Cake II.   It was moist and slightly sweet; a perfect snack cake!

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Every Which Way With Rhubarb by Amanda Brannon

2 cups rhubarb, diced

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs, beaten

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda (I always use aluminum free)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat over to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 9 x 13 inch cake pan.  Combine the rhubarb and 1/2 cup sugar.  Set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and 1 1/2 cup sugar. Add the eggs and beat until well blended.

In a medium sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.  In a small bowl, mix together the buttermilk and vanilla.  Add the milk mixture alternately with the flour mixture to the egg mixture, beating well between additions.  Stir-in the rhubarb mixture.  Pour batter into prepared baking pan and bake for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.  Cool slightly and serve warm or room temperature, plain or with ice cream.

Now the Rhubarb Crumble Bars were perfectly nice but vague directions involving cornstarch, water and cooking until “thick” meant my bars were more a crisp and not bar-like.  Would have been delicious with ice cream or whipped cream but you certainly could not eat with your hands. I thought they would be more like Smitten Kitchen’s Kim Boyce’s via Orangette Rye Crumble Bars which are the most amazing thing ever.

Both were taken to work,  as two people do not need to eat that much cake or crumble, despite what Jack says. -Stephanie

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