Red Peppers Get Real

Okay so red peppers were $1 each this week… we’ve seen that all winter.  HOWEVER for those who are ready to move a bit beyond the everyday RBP slivers on their salad, here you go.  It’s not so much what you do with the pepper, but what it does for other things!  First, the number of times you actually cook them are, well, never.  They blend well, but all by themselves, they sometimes need “something”.  Here’s why: they can be a bit alkaline, and if you taste closely, you’ll notice that soapy-ness… that’s the alkalinity.  So they need to be combined with other foods that impart acidity or an umami element.

My favorites include dishes like thinly slicing the RBP’s on a mandolin, then thinly slice some other items to combine for a composed salad (I LOVE composed salads) or a non traditional non cabbage slaw.  Combination ideas: super thin raw celery, thinly sliced grilled onions (sweet!  Vidalia’s are coming in now), raw yellow bell’s, grated raw or pickled carrot, preserved lemon (not too much) and cilantro, cilantro, cilantro.  Let it all meld together for an hour at room temp or a few hours in the fridge.

Photo to come soon – it’s almost midnight and my lighting wouldn’t be too swell right now.

Send me your Red Bell Pepper ideas!  I’m thinking something with low fat cream cheese, but the pepper would need to be wilted a bit first.  What do you think?


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Shishito Peppers now at Whole Foods

Those of you in different parts of the country may have more sophisticated produce markets available, but here in Denver, the only place I have been able to buy shishito peppers is at Whole Foods.  They are $7 per pound, and a decent sized appetizer for two would be about a third of a pound, or 6 ounces.  This works out to be about half what you’d pay in a restaurant.

They are super simple to prepare… try to locate a source and enjoy!

Fresh shishito peppers

Choose a fry or sauté pan so that you can cook in one or two batches, without crowding the pan.  Once that decision is made, heat 1/8″ of good oil in the pan and bring to 375 degrees.  If you don’t have a laser thermometer get one!  In the mean time, it is the traditional description of bringing the oil to a “shimmering” but not smoking point.  Get your metal tongs ready.

Also have on hand some fresh lemon and flaky sea salt.

Make sure the peppers are clean, but completely dry (you might do that step ahead so there will be no moisture remaining.  Do not seed or cut before cooking.

Fry for about 2 minutes on each side, or until they blister a little.  If you cook them too long they will just be soggy and soak up oil

Remove to paper towels for a few moments to remove excess oil.  Put on a plate, sprinkle with lemon juice and sea salt.

Tastes great with a Rioja or Chianti, but creates no argument with a Cab or other full bodied red.  Sorry to be wishy washy, but I would also like this with a Pinot Grigio, as long as it is not too cold, but just below room temp.

Let us know how this worked for you!!

Fresh shishito peppers, ready to be pan-fried

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Filed under easy, Vegan, Vegetables

Fresh Garbanzos

shell them in batches if you loose your patience

They are finally here, without any warning – fresh garbanzos.  This is a flavor and texture charmer like no other – it is even hard to describe.  Creamy smooth, not grainy like many beans, and a fresh taste like – what?  Please tell me, I cannot find an analogy.  They are time consuming to shell – let me know if you find a short cut!  Please scarf them up when you see them; you may not have another chance for a couple of years.

What’s fun is that they are not beige like the dried ones, but a sparkling spring-green that is as tasy as they are visually appealing.  Boil or steam for 5 minutes, then let them rest for 5 or 10 minutes before tossing with a little EVOO, salt and pepper.  I threw in a little parsley for some extra acidity.  It looks like there is a lot of waste from the shells, but they are light – 16 ounces unshelled = 13 ounces shelled.they are as bright and creamy as they look

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Balsamic Vinaigrette So Simple

Why on earth would you EVER buy pre-made balsamic vinaigrette?  KISS !!!!  All you need is the right four or five ingredients, an empty squeeze bottle and about one minute.  Keep the dressing simple – add complexity by adding more things to the salad itself, including freshly ground black pepper.

Balsamic Vinaigrette

Alessi Balsamic Vinegar    1/4 cup
Salad oil (I use Canola)     3/4 cup
Dijon mustard                     1 generous teaspoon
Sugar, powdered (opt.)     1/2 teaspoon
Sea Salt                                  1 teaspoon

Mix everything well and chill.  The sugar truly is optional, I just think it does bind the flavors together nicely.  It is an especially helpful flavor element if you use softer baby lettuces – they do not have as much natural sugar as iceberg or even romaine.

My daughter’s favorite salad: crunchy plus baby lettuces, crumbled goat cheese, fresh strawberries and homemade balsamic.


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Perfect Chicken Breasts

Perfect Chicken Breasts!

please view our videos for instruction helpIt is  a plea heard throughout civilized kitchens – how to prepare chicken breasts that are consistently juicy?  The answer lies in several steps, some of which are not intuitive.  So, as it is with many things in life, if it were easy, everyone would do it.  This is not a process you have to read every time; for the most part, once you’ve done it one or two times, you’ve got it.

A few givens:

● You cannot avoid a little oil or fat – but I will show you how to use it so that only the required minimum remains.

● You cannot do the cooking part of the process while overly distracted. Much like certain sports, the attention requirement is intense but short lived.

● Skip steps at your peril; there are not that many, and they go quickly with practice.

Executive Summary: start with breasts which have been trimmed of excess fat and have been pounded to a fairly uniform thickness. You then place just a thin bread crumb coating on them, give them an intense sear on both sides, then lower heat and pan-roast a bit.

Please look at the videos – some of this is tricky to put in words.

1.Œ Using a very sharp smaller knife (paring knife, if you have it) develop a quick style to remove visible fat, cartilage and sinew from the meat.  Ideally, you should plop the trimmings into a little saucepan and cook up a bit of broth a la minute.  If you are using complete, bone‑in breasts, you must first de-bone them and separate the tenders.  The tenders could be cooked during this process also (no pounding) or set aside for another day.  See a separate video or instruction if you are not comfortable with boning a chicken breast.  Your broth-making saucepan will then also include the bones and probably some additional trim.

 2. Place the breasts with the shiny, smoother side up, one at a time, on a cutting board (preferably one that is flush to the countertop).  Take a heavy mallet.  Using the side with tiny pyramid-shaped spurs, create a pounding motion (about 2 strokes per second) on the thickest part of the meat, only raising the mallet eight inches or so off the surface.  You are looking for quick strokes that are both light and firm at the same time.  You don’t want to take all day to do this, but you also don’t want to punch holes in the meat, either. Experiment with your technique a bit until you get the hang of it.

Ž 3. As you’re done with each breast, put it aside on a plate.  When done, wipe the cutting board with a fresh paper towel and discard the towel.

4. Lay out the breasts in one layer on the cutting board (if you don’t have enough room, do this in as many batches as needed).  Sprinkle each side with a little sea salt (use tongs or a fork to turn them over).  Optional additions are pepper, paprika, smoked paprika, celery salt, chili powder.  My strongest recommendation, though, is to do none of those – save them for your sauce or other treatment.  If you plan to serve these without any sauce whatsoever, you might include one or more of those seasonings, though.

5. Sprinkle each side with plain bread crumbs, flipping them with the tongs or fork.  Press the bread crumbs in a little with your hands or the back of a large spoon.

‘ 6. Heat a ¼” layer of vegetable or grapeseed oil in a large, heavy skillet to 450° to 475°.

’7. Wear an apron or other clothing protection.  Place breasts in the hot pan, making sure they have at least ¼ “ around them, probably 3 or 4 at the most.  You should be getting an intense sizzle, but no splattering or popping (the bread crumbs should have absorbed surface moisture).

“8. Cook about 2 minutes, until you have a nice brown.  Increase the fire if your temp starts dropping.  Flip the breasts, browning the other side for about two minutes.

”9. Lower the heat quite a bit, and loosely cover the pan.  Cook in this way for about 10 minutes.  Very thick breasts may take as much as 20 minutes, but it’s unlikely.  You will know they are done when you press on the thickest part and it springs back quickly, without any hesitation.  This takes a little practice, and if you really don’t want to overcook them, you will occasionally find yourself wanting to cut into one of them just to make sure.   You will also get some carryover cooking from this treatment, but not a lot – don’t depend on it.  Because they have been so nicely seared in the pan and sealed with the bread crumbs, the bad effect of a tiny bit of overcooking will be minimal.  Everyone hates to see even the slightest bit of pink in chicken.

• You also can flip the breasts about halfway through the step 9 cooking phase.  This promotes evenness both in doneness as well as exterior color.

Here’s the Brilliant Bit for the breasts; you can do any of these treatments next:

  • Piccata
  • Marinara
  • Parmesan
  • Buffalo
  • Teriyaki (you might use Panko for your bread crumbs)
  • Marsala
  • Feta and Calmata chopped on top, with a bit of flat parsley
  • Salsa, cheddar, cilantro (run under the broiler before topping with the cilantro)
  • Sauteed mushrooms with a dash of red wine
  • BBQ sauce and slivered celery or slaw on the side

Also, the reason I usually cook the breasts with nothing more than S&P, is that they make great leftovers, cold or reheated.  So if you’ve kept them plain, more options are open to you.


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Filed under Chicken, Make ahead, Savory

Food Humor 1.1

I love Mark Bitterman’s wry description of ordinary table salt in his wonderful volume,
Salted: A Manifesto:

Type:       Industrial

Crystal:   Homogenous cubes

Color:      Abandoned factory windowpane

Flavor:     Phenolic paint followed by rusted barbed wire

Moisture: none

Origin:     various

Substitutes:  anything

Best with:     shuffleboard lubricant

Visit The Meadow’s lovely web site and be amazed:

My favorites for everyday use are Maldon, Lemon Flake and Himalayan Pink.

Salt Rocks! (I can’t believe I said that)

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The Gumbo Series: Episode 1

Confession, but no remorse:  I have a 30+ year addiction to cooking and consuming gumbo.  It is labor intensive, takes a dedication to advance planning, and a ton of care, attention and experience to pull it off.  The payoffs: when it’s done, it does not look effortless to the trained cook, and (be prepared) you will develop an army of devoted followers, who will unashamedly ask you from time to time when you are going to fix it again.  Hint, hint.
celery the great aromatic

Step 1: Roux. The tricky part of gumbo advance planning is having the roux done.  Episode 2 will be an entire post and probably a video on how to make roux.  There are probably roux-making videos out there already, too.

Here’s the story behind this particular gumbo encounter.  I became possessed of the idea, on Saturday night, that I wanted to make a small pot of gumbo for the next day’s expanded-family lunch.  Other food was already in the works.  Sometimes I make main-course gumbo and it turns into a gumbo party, but this time it was going to be just a starter or side dish.

Step 2: General procurement.  As I lay awake that Saturday night, wondering how I would pull it off, I ran through the ingredient inventory in my mind.  I knew I had roux already made, or the whole plan would have been scrapped.  Roux takes too much time and attention for one cook to do both in one day.  The next ingredient most likely to NOT be on hand was okra – was I going to have to make a mad dash to the grocer as soon as I got up?  I couldn’t sleep through that one, so I dragged myself out of bed, went downstairs and dug through the freezer.  Amazingly, it’s there! When I made the roux I must have thought ahead that the two should always appear simultaneously.  I pulled it out of the freezer to thaw overnight along with a couple of other ingredients.  Another time I will discuss the controversy around okra in gumbo.

Step 3: Wake up and get a pot of coffee going.

Step 4: The rude awakening: gumbo usually simmers eight hours and I only have four.  But many soups are well developed and finished in four hours or even  much less.  Why was gumbo different?  The answer was that, to achieve the desired consistency, the fibrous veggies (celery, okra, onion) needed to completely disintegrate.

A revelation: my new pressure cooker.  The perfect tool to simulate the natural softening effect of long simmering in much less time.

So, without belaboring it here, I got the base made, then threw it and the okra in the pressure cooker for 30 minutes (I could have gone longer but didn’t want to risk any scorching).  Took it out and – yes! – everything was as soft and mellow as if it had been simmering for about two hours.

Step 5: everything else needed went in the pot and although I still held my breath a couple of hours later, as I lifted the lid, to my relief, everything came together beautifully, and the flavor and texture had no hint of my tiny shortcut.

Conclusion: Let’s shake up our standard routines and add a little innovation to make our favorite dishes easier so we can enjoy them more often!

What is a shortcut you have discovered that didn’t hurt the end result in a favorite dish?

Do tell!
Subscribe by email on the right and I will let you know when the remaining Gumbo episodes are posted.

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Filed under Advanced, Cajun, Make ahead, Savory, Soup