Tuesday, January 21, 2014

invincible summer: apple pear salsa

Sundays when I do not work always mean a slow cruise through Whole Foods after church or yoga (or both).  This past Sunday, following form, I stopped by the crushed ice tables of guacamole and salsa for a little sampling even though I know perfectly well that Whole Foods make very good guacamole and salsa.  But this time their seasonal offering caught my eye:  apple pear salsa.  Hmmm.  Kind of white.  Kind of fruity.  Read the ingredients:  apples, pears, red onion, jalapeño, ginger, cilantro, lime juice and salt.  All right, that could be good.  Try it.  Yep, delicious.  Refreshing.  Light.  Sweet, tart and salty.  I'm in.  I can make that.  And so I did.

Sunday night we were the lucky guests of  Paula and Danny for cocktails and football.  Always say yes when they invite you over.  Great company and always good food and drink.  I asked if I could bring a little something to share.  You have to love Paula's answer, "as long as it goes with cocktails".  Since I had everything needed for the salsa except pears, I bought four big fat just ripe ones with cocktail hour in mind.

Being me, I just grab everything from the refrigerator, line it up for a photo and start chopping.  You honestly do not need a recipe but that is the whole point of a cooking blog.  Here's a little tip for you:  the big apples and pears when peeled and chopped in small dice make a lot of fruit.  I used two pears and two apples and that was more than five cups of fruit.  I kept getting out bigger bowls.  Not a problem because I took half on Sunday and we enjoyed the second half with my BFF, Susan who we were so happy to have with us Monday night as she makes the rounds during a week visit to the states. Two very festive days in a row that happened to be a Sunday and a Monday.

Mix it up a bit and take this to your Super Bowl party or just make a batch just for snacking.  So many good multigrain, sweet potato, blue corn and etc.  chip options now everywhere.  The Late July chips were on sale at Whole Foods and they rock.  Trader Joe's sweet potato tortilla chips are yummy too.  I bet you could dice an avocado into the salsa too.  Put it on a bed of lettuce and toss with a bit of light sour cream and add a protein for a good meal (grilled shrimp would be fabulous, but rotisserie chicken or crispy tofu would be great too).  Add brown rice and beans to all of that and make super hearty bowls.  Do you see where I'm going here?  Layer it up.  It's freezing.  Literally freezing.  Eat something bright and refreshing and find your invincible summer.

This recipe is half of what I made.  Family size.  Party size would just be doubled.  The key to this salsa for me was to juice one fresh lime for each big piece of fruit.

Apple Pear Salsa

one large apple, peeled and cut in small dice (I like sweet-tart apples:  pink lady, tango, honey crisp)
one large pear, peeled and cut in small dice (look at my nice pears here, nice and plump)
half of medium red onion
one jalapeño pepper, cored and diced fine (avoid the seeds, that is where all the heat lives)
one tablespoon minced fresh ginger root
handful of cilantro, cleaned, stemmed and leaves chopped fine
two limes, juiced
1/2 tsp kosher salt (to taste)

Toss all ingredients together and taste for salt.  The lime juice will macerate the apple and pear a bit so it will get juicier as it sits.  Refrigerate until serving.


trick for small dice:  section the apple and then cut into two horizontal planes.  Dice them together.

tossing the salsa

serving the salsa

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Bowls! Sweet Chili Chicken (or tofu) Bowls

So I've met lots of awesome people over the holidays and every time someone else chimes in with "she writes a cooking blog, you should follow her," there's a little cringe.  I know you see the twinge in my eyes and mouth.  I am well acquainted with the fact that I have absolutely no poker face.  None.  Ask my kids.  I believe I have solidly surprised Sara one time in her life and I believe the fact that she did not see my face during the planning (and probably never heard my voice since texting is pretty much our main mode of communication when she's at Duke) is the reason she was totally shocked when Kelly appeared at her Theta initiation.  One time.  If I've winced a little when we've discussed Blue Skies and a Squeeze of Lime, yeah I was feeling guilty.  I've missed writing.  Heaven knows over the past month I have not locked up the kitchen or gone on some fast.  Ha.  The girls were home, I worked a little, I cooked a lot, we made an Ikea run, we baked cookies, we watched movies (Catching Fire and American Hustle both great), we traveled home to Chagrin Falls, we enjoyed Christmas, we had the band from Detroit for a sleepover (there's a story for you) and we moved Sara back to campus.  There's other stuff in there, but there was very little yoga (you might hear me creak if your mat is next to mine these next few weeks) and there was absolutely no posting to my blog.

But now there is posting and I promise to work through a substantial backlog.  That will require cooking and baking things one more time because there just aren't enough pictures in the 25K of photos idling in my iPhoto library.  I've downshifted at lulu to part-time.  I need more time to organize our life around here before it completely gets away from me.  I need more time to sit and write.  I need more time to read with a cat next to me on the chair.  Honestly, when was the last time I did that?  Geez.  I know my friends with young kids are probably getting a little panicky that their empty-nester years won't be full of unstructured time that allows you to accomplish everything or nothing.  It will be okay. You can possibly do this all more gracefully than I have done.  Here's a hint:  keep up with it all.  Keep a routine and get stuff done.  Move.  We haven't moved in 12 years and there was never a sense of urgency to keep it all streamlined.  Big house.  Plenty of room.  But I can do it, chipping away at it slowly but surely.  For now I'm tackling a little posting.  Tomorrow it's housework day.

You know I love the whole "bowl" way of serving and eating food.   And if you've been reading you know that my love grew immensely when Kelly introduced me to Chego around midnight EST just off my flight to LA.  Roy Choi of Kogi food truck fame knows how to blend cultures together in a very LA and tasty way.  Chego moved to Chinatown so we've yet to make a return trip, but if you're traveling find it or one of his other magical dining experiences.  He's recently published a book with his story and some of his recipes.  Probably will need to add that to my collection.

Anyway, here is a fairly accessible grossly adapted version of one of his recipes modified for quantity and most importantly, ingredients actually found in my kitchen and pantries.  I set out to make this dish and quickly realized I had some gaps.  Alright.  The beauty of cooking regularly for 30 years is that I have the confidence to just wing it.  Recently I've learned to sit down after dinner and sketch in the recipe so I can share it with you.  This sauce would work great with crispy tofu (drain, cube, toss in cornstarch and lightly fry in a little vegetable oil browning all sides) or oven baked tofu too.  I was supposed to be making buttermilk oven fried chicken (new recipe coincidentally also from LA coming soon), so Greg had bought lots of Coleman boneless skinless breasts and thighs at Costco and I stole some thighs for this recipe.  Roy Choi marinades his chicken for a whole extra layer of flavor, but I prepared it simply and let the sauce reign supreme.

I had leftover polenta so we based our bowls on polenta.  Clearly, Roy Choi is a rice bowl guy so steam some rice or do what I do and buy brown Jasmine rice and cook it (50 minutes) or go the fastest route with Trader Joe's frozen brown rice (3 minutes wins).

Sweet Chili Chicken Bowls

Sweet Chili Sauce
1/2 C bottled sweet chili sauce
3 T Thai/Italian basil leaves
3 T cilantro leaves
3T fresh orange juice
1 small white or yellow onion, coarsely chopped
5 or 6 scallion, coarsely chopped (white and green parts)
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tsp Sriracha sauce
2 tsp Sambal Oleek or other chile paste
1/2 tsp ground ginger or 1 T fresh ginger peeled and chopped
1 tsp sesame oil
1 T diced green chiles
1/4 tsp kosher salt or more to taste

1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 jalapeños (optional)

Bowl things
brown rice or polenta
crispy onions (found really yummy ones in a plastic tub at Whole Foods)
sour cream (light sour cream is awesome and fat free is an abomination)
lime wedges

Combine all sauce ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until mostly smooth.  That was easy.  Taste for salt.  It's sweet but super spicy.

Heat about 1 T neutral vegetable oil (soy or canola) in a non-stick frying pan over medium high heat.  Liberally salt and pepper your chicken (boneless skinless breasts work too, pound them thinner or cut into smaller pieces to prepare quickly).  Cook about 5-7 minutes on each side until cooked through.  At the same time over your gas stove open flame or in a very hot oven (450 degrees) roast jalapeños until charred.  Handle carefully and slice off into strips working around core and seeds (the seeds are where the heat is).  If you get jalapeños on your hands, wash them with yogurt (or other dairy) and sea salt as a scrub or you'll rub your eyes or go take out your contacts and suffer some super uncomfortable burning).

Assemble your bowls.  I like the spinach on the bottom with all the warm rice or polenta and chicken (or tofu) on top to wilt it a bit.  Pour over a good 1/4-1/2 cup of sauce.  Top with sour cream, cripsy onions and roasted jalapeño slices (jarred slices would be fine).  Squeeze limes on top.

Makes 2-4 bowls