Sunday, August 30, 2015

Bleu Cheese and Hazelnut Figs

There's nothing like fresh figs to make a summer evening a little extra special. These green figs (Adriatic) are from my own yard and I just picked them this morning. Here are several ideas for fresh figs. 

  • Eat them right off the tree!
  • Slice in half, stuff with bleu cheese, wrap in prosciutto and bake in an oven until ham becomes slightly crisp (this is better with black figs).
  • Toss them in your favorite salad.
  • Cut them up and serve over fresh goat cheese; drizzle with honey.
  • Eat with toast and jam.
  • Or try this fun idea:
Cut figs in quarters and place in a shallow bowl
Add 1/4 cup bleu cheese crumbles.
Add 1/2 cup hazelnut halves.
Drizzle with white balsamic vinegar.

Enjoy them while they are in season. They don't last long!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Beet and Fennel Salad

I have only recently become fond of beets and my husband and I are committed to cooking and eating them at least once a week. While I can eat them just plain or toss them onto a green salad, I've been experimenting a little with some alternative ideas. This is a simple recipe with just two ingredients. Yes. I said TWO.

6 medium sized beets
1 medium fennel bulb with fronds

What's a fennel bulb? Yeah, that's what the checker asked me when he picked it up and said, "what is this thing?" 

I told him it was fennel. He said he had never heard of fennel and couldn't find it in his produce book of codes. "Try anise," I said. He did find it listed as anise; a common mistake in most grocery stores. It's like yams and sweet potatoes. So similar, it doesn't really matter.  What you need to know about fennel is that you can use the stalks just like you would celery and you can use the leaves, or fronds, just like you would fresh dill. At least that's how I think about it when deciding how to use it!

I use two different methods to cook beets. Remove greens and trim bottom from any extending root tail.

1.  Wrap each beet in aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet. Place in the oven and cook at 400 degrees for about an hour.

2.  Boil in a large stock pot. I have a "waterless" stockpot which is great for cooking vegetables and retaining most of the nutrients. The "quotes" are there because despite the name, you do need about an inch of water in the bottom of the pot.

In either case, cook the beets until they are easily pierced with a knife. Rinse and let cool. Peel beets by simply rubbing the skins under cold water. Cut beets into bite sized pieces.

Cut the bulb of the fennel as if it were a celery stalk. Remove hard bottom part and slice the rest of the stalk portions into thin slices.  Chop up about 1/2 cup of the green fronds.

Mix the fennel and beets together.  That's it! I like the purist version of this dish without adding any kind of dressing or sauces. If you want a little something to add, try a little balsamic vinegar.


Jalapeño Potato Salad-hold the mayo

Ever get tired of the same old potato salad? This is a great twist on a summer BBQ potluck favorite. It will add some kick to the table and you don't have to worry about the mayonnaise spoiling.  And did I mention it has less than half the calories, too?

2-4 jalapeñoes (depending on your level of heat preference)
2 tomatillos
4 cloves garlic
1/2 bunch cilantro (about 1/2 cup packed)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 T red wine vinegar
Salt to taste
5 medium sized yellow potatoes

Place jalapeños and tomatillos on a baking rack pan and place under the broiler for 4-6 minutes or until the skins begins to blacken and bubble.
Remove from oven and let cool.

Peel potatoes. Cut in quarters and cook in boiling water until you can pierce them easily with a fork. Do not overcook or they will become mushy.

Drain potatoes and let cool.

Take cooled jalapeños, slice in half and remove stem, veins and seeds.

Place jalapeños, tomatillos, garlic, cilantro, oil and vinegar in a food processor or blender. Mix on high speed until well blended. Add salt to taste.

Cut cooled potatoes into smaller bite size pieces. Toss while still slightly warm with the green sauce. The warm potatoes will absorb the flavors of the sauce better.

Serve at room temperature.

Note: I use this green sauce for several dishes including putting over the top of fish tacos and flat iron steak. It's a summer staple in my house and my kids all love it.



Paella: pronounced (pie-aye-yuh) or as I like to call it (yuminess).  Paella is a Spanish dish that is the rice equivalent to a fisherman's stew and served the same purpose in origin; take whatever meat and seafood you have and cook it with a bunch of other stuff to serve a large group. Many paellas are cooked with chicken and seafood and all are made with a saffron rice base. I am more partial to this chorizo version. It goes so nicely with the saffron and creates a sharp contrast to the seafood. 

I first had paella at a Spanish restaurant in downtown Portland called Fernando's Hideaway. It has since closed and I began searching paella recipes until I found one that substituted a dry smoked paprika Spanish chorizo for the chicken. I had to try it and over time have perfected this flavorful dish which has since become my "signature dish" and will most likely be served if you come to my house for a large dinner party.

A note about saffron. This is the gold mine of spices and cost about as much. Saffron comes from the saffron crocus, a flower that is mainly grown in Asia and the Middle East. The red threadlike fronds are harvested from the stigma (center) of the flower and each flower only contains three stigmas each. Saffron is the most expensive spice by weight, but luckily they weigh so very little. I have had friends bring me back saffron from trips to Turkey and Asia. Otherwise, I buy it from Cost Plus World Market. 

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large white onion, chopped
1 small red pepper, veins and seeds removed and then chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 package smoked Spanish chorizo (like this one); slice into thin slices like pepperoni
1 T smoked paprika
1 T saffron fronds (.5 oz)
1/4 cup hot water
2 cups short grain rice such as Arborio or pearl 
1 cup frozen green peas
1 32 oz container chicken broth
2 pounds any combination of clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, calamari or fish pieces

Heat oil in large paella pan over medium heat.* 
Saute chopped onion, red pepper and garlic until onion is translucent and garlic releases its signature aroma.

Add sliced chorizo and continue to stir and saute until chorizo becomes a little crispy. Remove from heat.

Place saffron threads in small glass bowl, like a pyrex custard bowl. Pour very hot (but not boiling) water over saffron just until completely submerged. Let sit. This will allow the flavor and aroma to develop and release from the saffron. The water will start to turn a golden yellow.

Place rice in small holed strainer and rinse thoroughly to release most of the starch.

Return paella pan to medium heat. Add rinsed rice and stir until rice is completely coated in the oil and juices from the pan.  
Add frozen peas and the saffron liquid and fronds to the rice. Stir once more.
Add the chicken broth. Stir once again to even out the ingredients. Do not stir again.
Cook until the liquid is reduced in half. Depending on your stove and the size of your pan, you may need to cook over two burners, rotating the pan every 5 minutes to even out the cooking.
Once the liquid is reduced to half, arrange the shellfish and seafood around the pan, inserting it deeply enough in the rice and liquid to be cooked.
Continue rotating pan as needed. You may need to cover the pan loosely with foil to keep some of the heat in to allow the seafood to cook.
Once the shellfish opens up and the fish or shrimp are no longer translucent, remove from heat and serve.

*Paella pans are thin flat bottomed steel pans with handles. Don't bother buying an expensive one from a fancy cooking store. I have a  $90 pan from a specialty order store and a $15 pan from World Market. They look, feel and cook identical.