Los Angeles – Nopales, grilling cactus paddles

Last winter I was fortunate to be invited to the home of very good friends in the Los Angeles area. Being the consumate hosts that they were, we were on the go 24-7…and believe me there’s a lot to see. We covered ground from their beautiful hillside home in Long Beach to the expansive beaches of Ventura and the Mid-Century Modern neighborhoods nearby. We saw every museum and road side attraction from LA to Palm Springs ( date shake anyone?), ate primo Ethiopian food, sampled street tacos and crushed the food trucks ( Hey, there’s Cousin’s Maine  Lobster Truck selling lobster rolls!)


But the sight that really piqued my interest was a street vendor selling cleaned nopales, or prickly pear cactus paddles. He was masterful in his cleaning technique as you’ll see in the video. You do not want to run into a stray cactus needle, trust me. It was easy as pie to follow his instructions for a grilled nopale and we ate them the same day. The nopales are distinctively tart, soft yet crunchy and make a perfect foil for fatty meats. Think about pairing with BBQ pork tacos, like a relish or vegetable side dish. I’ll bet they’d also make a good salsa verde.

 Here’s the method:

Bring home your cactus paddles cleaned (ideally).

Mix up some avocado oil with good salt, fresh pepper and baste both sides of each paddle.

Get your grill medium hot and place paddles on the fire. Do not move them until they’re nicely and deeply scored, or marked, then flip them and score them again.

Grill until soft. Pull the nopales off the fire and let them rest a moment before slicing them . Finish with a good salt like Maldon and serve with almost any meat.

You’re welcome!

Roasted Pheasant

I am new to the world of Hank Shaw and his James Beard award- winning blog, “Hunter Angler Gardener Cook”. But I’m resonating like a long lost lover with his take on simple roast pheasant. My recipe differed only in that I started the bird at a low temperature after a robust seasoning with good salt and freshly ground pepper. I trussed and oiled my 3-4 pound bird, tented it with foil over the breast and let it go, low and slow for 2 hours without opening the oven.
 
I then removed the bird’s foil tent, jacked up the oven to 450 degrees and oiled the bird once again. Into a hot oven it went for another 20 minutes. I was mindful of Hank’s warning not to dry it out, so pulled it just as soon as the skin crisped.
 
It important to let almost anything rest, to keep the meat juicy, so I cover my little bird up with parchment for 20 minutes while I prepared a pan gravy, enriched with a bit of red current jelly. Hank’s suggestion of a root vegetable melange seemed perfect for winter, but I used up my green beans instead. View Hank’s recipe here.

Spring Chive Goddess Dressing

chivesIt won’t be long now before we have lovely fresh chives in abundance, and baby lettuces too! Here’s the perfect dressing for these tender young treats.

3/4 cup full fat sour cream
3/4 cup olive oil mayo
2 large cloves, minced fresh garlic
1 cup minced fresh chives
1 tsp. fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
1/2 tsp. of lemon zest
1TB. fresh lemon juice
2 anchovy filets, white or regular

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine all but the chives in a blender until creamy. Transfer to a bowl. Add the chives by hand and fold in. Season to your taste, cover and refrigerate for an hour or so before serving.

You can use this as a dip or spread. Thin with a little cream to make a steelllar salad dressing. Top you salad with chive blossoms for the best effect.

St. Augustine

Resized952017012995175819

Resized952017013095110034I was excited to visit our countries oldest city recently and I wasn’t disappointed. Not by the friendly people or the town itself, with it’s stunning Spanish influenced buildings.

The food, amply represented by many quality dining establishments, is something to crow about! From traditional, with their ubiquitous Minorcan chowder (reminiscent of a Manhattan style with a tomato-y broth), to freshly caught fish and shrimp, there really is something for everyone.

But wait, that is the difference in this food? There’s something really flavorful with a slow, sweet burn that you can’t ignore present in many dishes found here. I learned that it’s the Datil pepper, a integral part of the Minorcan influence.

Resized952017012995115106Always an active port, St. Augustine represents a culinary melting pot, with African, Creole and Spanish influences…and the Pirate trade helped too to create a lively ,unique cuisine that belongs to it alone.

Argentinian Beef Empanadas

Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 4.31.26 PMThis recipe fits the bill for hearty winter dining!

Ingredients
1/2 pound ground beef
3 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, chopped
1 green onion, chopped
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
14 pitted green olives, such as Manzanilla, finely chopped
3 tablespoons raisins
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 (17.5 ounce) packages frozen puff pastry (each with 2 sheets), thawed
1 raw egg, lightly beaten

Directions
Set racks in upper and lower thirds of oven, and preheat to 450 degrees F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cook beef in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring and breaking up lumps, until no longer pink, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer beef to a small bowl with a slotted spoon, and pour off grease from skillet. Melt butter in skillet and saute onions and green onion, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Return beef to skillet and stir in hard-boiled eggs, olives, raisins, cumin, salt, and pepper. Transfer mixture to a shallow bowl and chill until cooled, 10 to 20 minutes.

Unfold 1 pastry sheet, keeping remaining chilled, onto a lightly floured surface, dust lightly with flour, and roll out into a 12-inch square. Cut 4 (5 1/2-inch) rounds from pastry. Brush a 1/2-inch border around edges of 1 round with water, using a small brush or fingertip. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of filling onto half of round. Fold other half over filling and press edges together firmly. Crimp edges with a fork and transfer to one of prepared baking sheets. Repeat with 3 remaining rounds. Form 12 more empanadas in same manner with remaining pastry and filling, arranging them about 1 1/2 inches apart on baking sheets.

Brush tops of empanadas with beaten egg. Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through, until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Lady Apples For The Holidays

photoGet to know the lady apple for the holiday season. She’s the friend to have in your corner for both the delights of the table and for decorating. It’s bright red and green coloring have earned it the title of the Christmas apple. Long used in wreath making in England, the lady apple tastes sweet/tart when eaten raw and is a lovely addition to holiday stuffings or as a chutney to accompany roasted meats or poultry. This distinctive lady is know in France as the Pomme d’ Api and happens to be the oldest recognized apple variety in the world.

For making a holiday chutney to go with my Lady Apple wreath, I favor Ina Garten’s recipe.
I hope you enjoy it as much as we do here at Laura Cabot Catering!

Ingredients
6 Lady Apples, peeled, cored and half-inch diced
1 cup chopped yellow onion
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (2 oranges)
3/4 cup good cider vinegar
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon whole dried mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 cup raisins

Directions
Combine the apples, onion, ginger, orange juice, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard seeds, pepper flakes and salt and in a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to simmer and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Take off the heat and add the raisins.

Set aside to cool and store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Tomato Cake

TOMATO CAKE – Born of the depression this cake is delicious and can be made with either red or green tomatoes. It’s vegetarian and Vegan, yummy and an excellent way to use up the late summer’s tomato bounty, serves four

WET
11/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 TSP each baking powder and soda
pinch of sea salt
3/4 cup light brown sugar
cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

DRY
1 cup of fresh tomato pulp, blanched, skinned, seeded , chopped and drained well.
1/3 cup virgin olive oil
2 TB apple cider vinegar

Mix wet and dry ingredients, do not overmix.

Place in a baking pan, 91/2 inches works well. Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Eat this yummy treat right out of the oven to enjoy a crisp top crust.

Chicago – Big City Dining

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If ever there was a city on the radar for exceptional dining, Chicago is it right now. It’s home to some of the most innovative and award winning restaurants around (think Alinea, NoMi Kitchen, Next, The Girl and the Goat…) as well as a wealth of traditional eats, such as pizza and hot dogs.

chicago1My birthday week featured dining galore in this fun city with expert steerage from long time friends Diane and Will. We chowed down on the quintessential loaded Chicago dog, shared a great deep dish pizza and shopped a uber liquor warehouse, returning home with a cache of interesting finds. Beyond that, yes, way beyond, were the cutting edge and rather retro cocktails at numerous hot spots after an evening at Steppenwolf Theatre.

I must note a fantastical evening spent at restaurant Elizabeth, on my official birthday. A hand full of very game diners, filled the place, seated family style at three tables. A full dining room seats 24 or so guests with an option of three menus, all with a foraging theme. Owner Iliana Regan, a self taught chef,calls her cuisine “New Gatherer” and offers three menus, the Owl, the Deer and the Diamond. Diane and I choose the middle option, the Deer menu. We strapped in for a four hour, fifteen course crazy ride. The meal was so unusual, so regional and locally sourced ( for instance,one course was named for the coordinates where the food was foraged) that my description will not do it justice. I recommend learning more about this unique dining experience from their site. www.elizabeth-restaurant.com

Food Safari/Cheese Making in Rockport, ME

2013-01-09_14-45-11_472One of the things that I most like about a the slow season in Maine is the opportunity to stretch out a little and consider learning something new. So, with a bit of time on my hands this winter I spoke with Allison Lakin of Lakin’s Gorges Cheese. She’s the creator  of cheeses that I know and learned to love at many of the finer dining establishments around the area. Working presently out of a leased space in the State of Maine Cheese building on Route 1 in Rockport, she turns out lovely fresh basket molded ricotta as well as some aged beauties such as Opus 42, Morgan, Medallion, a smaller aged cheese with a bloomy rind, and my personal favorite, Prix De Diane.

2013-01-09_14-42-21_542Explaining that I had little experience cheese making, I asked whether she’d like an occasional helper.  She said yes and what fun it was! I have made plenty of tofu in times past, and turns out that it’s not so different. Especially from Ricotta cheese making, only I never used molding baskets “back in the day.”

2013-01-09_16-50-02_501Cleanliness is of the utmost importance in this process. You want to cultivate certain cultures, but not others. There are shoe dips, hand washing and hairnets involved. No fuzzy sweaters allowed either I learned.

It all begins with organic Jersey milk from Tide Mill Farm in Edmunds. Jersey milk is noted for its high butterfat content.
2013-01-09_15-35-46_542For ricotta cheese this high quality milk is warmed in a special jacketed piece of equipment then vinegar is added to create the curds and whey. Lots of whey is a by product of cheese and forethought must be given to it’s disposal. When the curds form, it’s like magic. Warm, sweet, steamy milky magic. It reminded me of Junket rennet custard, which those of us “of a certain age” got fed as children. Initially the curds are silky, then tighten up to  very cohesive curds, which mold quickly to the basket, then are turned out after draining.

2013-01-09_14-46-34_966The aged cheeses are a little more mysterious. The curds have a different quality and are ladled carefully, by hand into  their distinctive draining molds.The largest wheels, the 6 pound Opus 42 and the half pound Morgan , both mold ripened cheeses, age for up to three months. The smaller softer bloomy rind cheeses require 4-6 weeks.

All these aged cheeses rest comfortably in their temperature controlled vaults doing what beautiful handmade cheeses do….ripen to perfection under the watchful eye of Ms. Lakin, a master cheese maker.

These artisanal cheeses are available widely in better shops and restaurants or on line at www.lakinsgorgescheese.com

Spring Greens with a Yogurt Mayonnaise

greensAllium tricoccum — also known as the ramp, spring onion, ramson, wild leek, wild garlic, and, in French, ail sauvage and ail des bois — is an early spring vegetable with a strong garlicky odor and a pronounced onion flavor.[1]  Wikipedia

Directions
Steam the fiddleheads over boiling water for 5 minutes or until they are crisp-tender. Drain, then chill in a bowl of ice and cold water to stop the cooking. When they have cooled, transfer to colander to drain.

In a small bowl whisk together the yogurt, mayonnaise, lemon juice, mustard, wild ramp greens. Add salt and pepper to taste, whisking until the sauce is smooth. Serve the Fiddleheads topped with the sauce.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Fiddleheads cleaned
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
  • 3 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped Wild Ramps greens