Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Salsa Mexicana

For the past several days the weather has been wonderful. Unseasonably warm, dry, and perfect for those outside chores which I had been delaying.

We have been eating dinner outside as well, enjoying the chorus of insect sounds and the soft breezes that still don’t contain even a bit of the chill of autumn. Since it is getting dark earlier, and with working outside I am preparing dinner later, we also are able to enjoy the patio in torch-light. This really is a perfect time of year!

I still have tomatoes in the garden, and zucchini as well. Tonight’s dinner was quick, grilled vegetable fajitas. I grilled zucchini, red pepper, onion, and mushrooms until slightly softened, then cut them into chunks. I mixed these with corn which had stripped from the cob and froze a few weeks ago, and also some pieces of poblano chili pepper which I had roasted over charcoal, peeled, and froze earlier this summer. I chopped avocado, made salsa, and served this all with whole wheat tortillas. The vegetables were very good, but the charcoal-roasted poblanos peppers added a smoky taste which was fantastic.

The salsa recipe which I used is from Rick Bayless’ Authentic Mexican (can it be—this book is 20 years old???).

Salsa Mexicana

1 very ripe, large tomato

Fresh hot green chilies to taste

1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped

8-10 sprigs fresh cilantro, chopped

salt, about ½ teaspoon

1 teaspoon cider vinegar or (best) freshly-squeezed lime juice

Finely chop the tomato and scoop into a small bowl. If you want a milder salsa, seed the chilis then chop the peppers very finely and add to the tomato. Add all remaining ingredients and allow the flavors to mingle at room temperature for at least a half hour.

I like this recipe because it allows you to be creative with the quantities. I usually use more garlic, and always use lime juice (I tried the cider vinegar once and didn’t care for it). This time I used just one very hot pepper which a friend had given me from his garden and the after-effect was enough to burn your lips but not so much that your mouth felt seared. :)

More longing for the beach and a great grilled fish recipe

I’m continuing to suffer from beach-deprivation…

I’ve listed the highlights (lots) and lowlights (hmmm, were there any?) of our recent trip.


Good heavens, how can I choose? And I’m not certain if I could remember them all:

  • Arriving at the beach house, that first few seconds after opening the door, smelling that unique beach house smell, knowing that there are 13 full days of wonderful times ahead. The sensation was quite dizzying. :)

  • Gorgeous weather every single day, gorgeous sunrises (practically at the foot of our bed) 13 of 14 mornings

  • Being able to run on the beach almost every, single morning

  • The 6-hour sail between, and lecture on, some of the historic lighthouses on the Delaware Bay. And the boat we sailed on! A restored 1928 oyster schooner (canvas sails which I helped to raise) with a very personable crew.

  • The visit of our friends, George and Tammy, and the myriad of fun things that we did!

  • Discovering the incredible pleasure of eating Roquefort (again, my unending appreciation to George!)

  • Watching a wild fox on the sand dune just feet from our deck. We had heard that they were around, but in the past 4 visits had never seen one.

  • Finding a horseshoe crab on the beach in need of my assistance (long story, but it made me feel good)

  • Finding silver horseshoe crab earrings (some things are better left unexplained)

  • Bicycling in Cape Henlopen State park (the views are awesome!)

  • A ferry ride to Cape May and, especially, the fried shrimp basket at Henry’s on the Beach

  • The safe trip both to and from our vacation


  • Unthinkingly nudging a sliver of Scotch bonnet chili pepper back onto a cracker then, hours later and after washing dishes, trying to insert contact lenses. Pain! Incredible pain! I had to toss that lens…

  • Walking 3.72 miles from Herring Point to the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk for the single purpose of consuming fried shrimp baskets at a particular restaurant, and the restaurant was closed when we arrived. Then we had to walk back to the car!

  • Bicycling for 6 miles, mostly through a nice trail system, but which suddenly ended on a major highway and necessitated the sharing of our lane with cars and trucks (which we have never done, and we don’t have helmets), also for the single purpose of those fried shrimp baskets at that particular restaurant. Yes, this time the restaurant was open. But they had removed the fried shrimp from the menu! Enough said.

  • Leaving! Definitely a lowlight. And 358 days until we could return!

I wonder if #2 and #3 could be considered “lowlights” since no damage was done (except emotionally) and it did make for a fairly amusing story…

We consider ourselves to be quite fortunate to have located such a great house to rent (we call it BB). Since we are there for 2 weeks, some cleaning has to be done during that time, and it’s even a pleasure to do that. Washing the windows, my dreaded chore at the lake house since they’re so huge, is actually nice when doing it to the sound of waves and seagulls. Then, the best part, the views to the bay are so much better afterward. I guess that I’m that “instant gratification” type of person!

While at the beach house, there were a minimum of 4 different kinds of rum on the counter at all times, and after a trip to the liquor store that number increased. We had bought flavored rums in the past, but had decided that, with the exception of coconut rum, the other flavors tended to get lost in the daiquiris so we had decided just to purchase plain rums and coconut-flavored rums in the future. Enter George, who made us a very simple drink one evening. Flavored rum and club soda. Vanilla rum was used that time and it is still my favorite. Why hadn’t I thought of that? Cherry rum and soda, pineapple rum and soda, mango rum and soda, etc., etc. Even the Jamaican Appletons rum and the dark Haitian rum called Barncourt, neither flavored, were delicious with soda. I believe that I’ve discovered a whole new summer food group!

One of the dinners which I prepared for George and Tammy was a local fish, rockfish, marinated in spices and grilled then served with a peppery sauce. I prepared the marinade and the caper sauce a couple of days ahead and added some of George’s searingly hot Scotch bonnet chilies before using.

* Exported from MasterCook *

French West Indian Grilled Snapper with Caper Sauce

Recipe adapted from Cooking Light

Servings : 4

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

-------- ------------ --------------------------------

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon fresh thyme -- or 1/4 t. dried

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

3 large garlic cloves -- chopped

1/2 teaspoon minced Scotch bonnet pepper

24 ounces snapper fillet -- or any other firm, white fish

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon capers

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon minced Scotch bonnet pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 large garlic clove -- chopped

1 large shallot -- chopped

Mix first 6 ingredients in a small bowl. Lay the fish fillets in a single layer in a shallow glass or plastic covered container or casserole dish. Pour marinade over fish, turning to coat. Marinate for an hour, turning once or twice.

Puree remaining ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth. Set aside.

Prepare grill.

Remove fish from marinade (discard marinade), spray with cooking spray, and grill until fish flakes easily with a fork (about 3 minutes per side). Serve fillets with caper sauce.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 245 Calories (kcal); 9g Total Fat; (34% calories from fat); 35g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; 63mg Cholesterol; 796mg Sodium

Food Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 5 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

NOTES : The Scotch bonnet has a well-deserved reputation for being the world's hottest chili pepper. Substitute habanero pepper if you're not into the searing effect, or even jalapeno for a similar, though much milder, flavor.

This dish goes best with a dry white wine which has citrus undertones, such as a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Well, I must slap myself back to reality. It’s time to go outside and resume painting. *whimper*

Only 347 days until we go back to BB!!!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Back from the beach! Tomatoes and tacos...

I am back from vacation. And partially out from under that post-vacation pile of stuff to do.

Two weeks at the beach can really sap my desire to do any more work. Ever. :)

And two weeks in a beautiful beach house where you are expected to do only minimal work has really spoiled me. I spent the first couple of days back just dealing with excess garden produce (so what do you do with a bunch of 7-pound zucchinis? Fling them into a faraway field!) and weeding flower beds (didn’t I do that before we left?) and cleaning the house (ditto). Now, it’s hedge-trimming, gutter repair, and scraping loose paint to prep the wood siding on the kitchen addition to be painted. I WANT TO GO BACK TO THE BEACH. *whimper*

In addition to zucchini, there were about 20 pounds of tomatoes in the garden. Normally I would buy a couple of more bushels to supplement, fill every large stockpot I have with homemade spaghetti sauce, and can. However, there was too much else to do this week. So I simply roasted the chunks of tomato with garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper then scraped this into freezer containers for a quick marinara base for winter meals. I freeze whole leaves of fresh basil and all I will need to do is thaw a container of the roasted tomatoes, add a little tomato paste to thicken the juices as it simmers, and toss in basil (sliced into strips while still frozen). Served over pasta, we will be able to close our eyes and almost think that it’s summer again. That is, until we open these eyes to a dreary winter landscape out of the window.

Before being roasted:

And after they came out of the oven:

Another use for the tomatoes this past week was for an incredibly quick pasta sauce. SautĂ© garlic and finely chopped onion in olive oil until softened, add chopped tomatoes and allow to cook for just a couple of minutes, add a handful of shredded basil and a splash of red wine or balsamic vinegar. Serve over whole wheat linguine. Sprinkle with shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. It can’t be more simple or delicious.

Another way I’ve used these tomatoes is to toss hot (whole wheat) fettucine with pesto and add a couple of finely diced tomatoes. And maybe some cooked shrimp. Incredible.

I have to make more pesto. Pine nuts are available at our local Sam’s Club for a much better price that in the Italian grocery store and I bought a bag and they keep in the freezer for a year. I made 2 pint jars before going on vacation and there’s enough fresh basil in the herb garden to make at least twice that much. Pesto uses up a lot of basil, but I also planted a lot!

I took a jar to the beach house and made a few meals with it there as well. Grilled chicken breasts stuffed with tomatoes and mozzarella and spread with pesto before serving are yummy.

Okay, beach house cooking. We adore our house so much that we don’t want to spend much time away from it, so our activities are done in the day, maybe including having lunch out at a restaurant, and we will then return in late afternoon for rum drinks on the deck. I’ll make dinner with the windows thrown wide open to catch the wonderful sound of the surf, and we either eat at a table just inside those windows or, if the bugs aren’t too annoying, we will eat on the deck.

The first year we went there I brought almost all of my groceries for 2 weeks, not knowing what kind of stores were in the area. That was pretty stupid. Since realizing that most grocery stores carry almost everything we need for a few weeks’ worth of meals (even the smallest one has decent “basics”) I simply pack spices, oils, vinegars, basmati rice, my own pancake/waffle mix, plastic containers of flours & sugar, a couple of bottles of vinaigrettes and marinades which I make a few days before we leave, some packaged and canned items and enough groceries to get us through the first couple of days. I dislike grocery shopping and would rather not do this on my first days of vacation.

For the last couple of trips, our first meal at the beach house was Beer-Marinated Chicken Tacos. I make the marinade the day before we leave and have the chicken marinating in it, in the cooler, as we travel. After the unpacking is done, we usually head to the beach with a container of daiquiris on ice to toast the start of vacation, then it’s very simple to put together dinner. Make guacamole, chop tomatoes, heat tortillas, grill chicken—done! J

I love the kitchen in this beach house. Mostly because I can open the windows and hear the waves and the seagulls, but also because it’s quite well-equipped.

Who wouldn’t love cooking in this kitchen?

I take my own knives (sharpened prior to leaving) and a few other things like a silicone whisk and basting brush, potato masher (for the guac), microplane, scale, and shrimp deveiner. Everything else I could possibly need is there. Last year I made use of the slow-cooker for the first time (for pulled chicken, an Eating Well recipe) and was impressed. I had never used a crock-pot before. This year we were expecting guests to join us for a few days and, since we knew that they would arrive in the early evening, I made a Vietnamese Chicken Curry in the crock pot. I didn’t have to be in the kitchen cooking just after our friends arrived, the curry was kept hot until dinner time (all I needed to do was soften rice noodles and chop some cilantro and cashews for garnishing) and a snap to get it on the table. I may have to buy one of these things… Oh darn. I need a new piece of kitchen equipment!

Beer-Marinated Chicken Tacos

Serves 6

Ingredients for the Marinade:
1 cup dark Mexican beer (I use Black & Tan most often, but you really do need a dark beer)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Ingredients for the Guacamole:
2 ripe Haas avocados
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

12 corn tortillas

2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped

Place chicken breast halves in a large, shallow plastic container. Mix the marinade ingredients in a small bowl and pour over chicken, turning to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 8 hours, turning the chicken occasionally.

Prepare the grill and cook the chicken breasts until the meat is firm and the juices run clear, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once halfway through grilling time. While the chicken is cooking, make the guacamole. Cut the avocados lengthwise around the pits, twist the halves apart, and remove the pits. Scoop the flesh into a medium bowl. Add the lime juice and salt. Using a potato masher or the back of a spoon, mash the ingredients together. Stir in the chopped tomatoes. If not using immediately, press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole to prevent browning.

Preheat a dry, heavy skillet and heat the tortillas, turning once after about 15 seconds, for a total of 20 seconds or until soft and pliable. Keep warm in a towel or a tortilla warmer.

Arrange the sliced chicken inside the tortillas. Divide guacamole between the tortillas. Fold. Serve warm.