Friday, April 30, 2010

AMOR y TACOS---Modern Mexican Tacos, Margaritas, and Antojitos

Good tequila, and a few traditional Mexican recipes that have been shaken (not stirred) just enough to yield exciting new flavors—sounds like a party to me! Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner. But really, do we need a special reason to break out the Cabo Wabo? I don't think so.

A new book, AMOR Y TACOS, by Chef Deborah Schneider, contains everything you need to know to create a little 'Mexico' right in your own kitchen. While there are big plate recipes aplenty (don't miss the Shrimp Tacos Dorado!), some of my favorites are the antojitos (little bites—Mexican tapas). Our old 'heavy hors d'oeuvres' have become all the rage, but now we're calling them tapas or small plates. What has changed is the expansion into many different ethnic cuisines, and Mexican is surely one of the best.

Toritos (little peppers, stuffed with garlic, shrimp and oaxaca cheese) are colorful and delicious. Topped with mango salsa and pomegranate seeds, the flavors go from sweet to hot and back again. They can be prepared well in advance, and cooked just before serving, which also gives them extra credit on my score card.

Makes 8 stuffed peppers. Test the collective machismo of your gathering with these delicious little peppers oozing with cheese, garlic and sweet shrimp. I like to use different colors of small peppers--an ensemble of yellow guero, jalapeno, and red lipstick or other sweet miniature peppers looks particularly attractive. If you use jalapenos or gueros, they will definitely be spicy. Toritos take just a minute to make, and they can be prepared ahead and finished in the oven. The fillings can be varied according to the season; sauteed sweet corn is a very good addition.

8 small pointed peppers, about 3 inches long

1 T butter

1 1/2 tsp. minced fresh garlic

1 green onion, trimmed and thinly sliced

4 oz. medium raw shrimp, peeled, deveined, and coarsely chopped to yield about 3/4 cup

1/4 tsp. salt

3/4 cup shredded good-quality Oaxaca, Jack, or mozzarella cheese

Mango Habaerno Salsa*

Pomegranate Seeds or Toasted Pepitas (optional)

Cilantro sprigs

1)Wash and dry the chile peppers, leaving the stems on. Wearing disposable gloves to keep the hot oil off your skin, cut a slit down one side of each pepper. Use a slim blunt knife or a tool such as the handle of a teaspoon to carefully scrape out all the seeds. Work carefully so you don't break the pepper or dislodge its stem.

2)In a 10 inch saute pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and green onion and cook until fragrant, but not browned. Add the chopped shrimp, season with salt, and cook, stirring often, until the shrimp are pink and firm. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes.

3)Stir in the shredded cheese. The mixture should hold its shape. If it is too crumbly, turn it out on a cutting board and chop until it sticks together.

4)Use a small teaspoon to gently fill each pepper with about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the shrimp mixture. The filling should be generous. At this point, if you wish, you can refrigerate the stuffed peppers, covered, for up to 24 hours.

5)Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat an ovenproof cast-iron griddle or pan over medium-high heat. Lay a sheet of foil on the griddle and set the peppers on top. Roast the peppers on all sides until they are browned in places and are starting to get soft and wrinkled.

6)Transfer the griddle or pan to the oven and bake for 5-7 minutes, until the filling is hot and bubbly.

7)Arrange the stuffed peppers on a warm serving plate and top each with a spoonful of mango salsa. Scatter with the pomegranate seeds or pepitas, if using, and serve right away with cilantro sprigs.

*Mango Habanero Salsa

(Habanero chile is very spicy--that's part of the fun--but you can substitute a milder chile, or leave it out altogether, if you prefer.)

3/4 cup firm but ripe mango, peeled and cut into 3/8 inch dicd

1/2 cup roma tomato, cored and cut into small dice

2 T finely diced red onion

1/2 tsp. minced habanero chile

1 T fresh-squeezed lime juice, or to taste

1/2 tsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. rice vinegar

1/2 tsp. chopped fresh mint leaves

1 T chopped cilantro

Combine all the ingredients. Taste for seasoning; the salsa should be full-flavored, both sweet and very hot. You may need to add more lime juice or salt. This salsa should be used within 2 hours.

Another favorite is Chef Schneider's Carne Asada Taco Vampiro (you'll have to read the book to better understand the name—has to do with being so good, it needs to be immortal). In this recipe quesadillas are married to tacos, the offspring being quesotacos, and super-delicous. Just imagine a cheese quesadilla topped with carne asada and finished with grated Jack cheese, thinly sliced chiles and green onions, guacamole, pico de gallo, chipotle salsa and a little cilantro (did I miss anything?). I guess you could be a pig and eat the whole thing (that's what I did), or you could half or quarter and share.

Pair all this deliciousness with a Mexican Mohito or Sangria and the rest will take care of itself!

(Deborah Schneider is a chef and author of the award-winning Baja! Cooking on the Edge (Rodale) and Cooking with the Seasons (STC), nominated for a 2009 James Beard Award. She is the executive chef and partner in SOL Cocina in Newport Beach, California. Schneider lives with her family in San Diego.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Coconut Cream Tartlets

Celebrate Spring with Delicious Little Coconut Cream Tartlets

May is filled with activity. We're all as busy as the bees swarming our blooming shrubs and trees.

There are school parties, bridal showers, graduations, parties of every kind. It's the perfect time of year, as we enjoy the natural progression of spring, to break out the party hats.

I suggest you begin by remembering your Mom on Mother's Day. This is a delicious way to say 'thank you' .

And by all means, grace your upcoming party table with these sweet spring treats. They taste as scrumptious as they look.

The ease of this recipe makes it perfect for such a busy time. The Pillsbury Bake-Off awarded $1,000,000 last month for a similar recipe using refrigerated sugar cookie dough to make cookie cups, but the million dollar recipe cups were filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with a raspberry. I'll admit I had a bad reaction. It's a great recipe, but for $1,000,000 I would hope for a little more.

So, if that was a million dollar recipe, this could be worth, oh, at least two million!

I was enjoying the musings of my friend Warren Bobrow, editor of the Wild Table in the Wild River Review, when I came across an article with a picture of a luscious piece of Coconut Cream Pie. It took me back to my childhood, and the Coconut Cream Pie they served at the Hub, a diner just outside Galax. I wonder if it was really as good as I remember. Anyhow, it just so happened that the picture that started my culinary day dreaming turned out to be the pie of Warren's wife, Julie, who is a pastry chef in New Jersey. So, I emailed Julie, and begged her for the recipe. She was gracious, and not only shared her secret with me, but gave me permission to share it with you.

Turns out, she used to make the cream custard all from scratch until a catering friend of hers suggested she try this little trick. I think you're going to like it! And believe me, they ARE delicious. They look and taste like you spent hours, but really they only take minutes!

Coconut Cream Tartlets

(makes 48 tartlets)

2 (16oz.) packages (24 each) of refrigerated sugar cookie dough (I use Pillsbury)

2 tsp. granulated sugar

3 cups heavy whipping cream

1 cup half and half

2 (3.5oz.) packages Instant Vanilla pudding

1 T almond extract

1 small package shredded coconut, toasted*

*(Spread coconut on sheet pan. Place in 275° oven, stirring occasionally until beginning to brown, about 15 minutes. Remove and cool.)

Preheat oven to 350°.

Spray two 24 space mini-cupcake pans with butter flavored Pam.

Fill pans with raw cookie dough pieces and bake for about 16 minutes, until cookies are lightly golden brown.

Remove pan from oven, and very gently press each cookie down with the end of a wooden spoon dipped into granulated sugar, just enough to make a little cup indention. (There is a wooden kitchen tool made for this, but your wooden spoon end will work just fine.) Let cookies completely cool in pans.

Gently remove cookie cups from pans.

Add whipping cream, half and half, instant pudding and almond extract to mixing bowl. Whip until the consistency of firmly whipped cream (completely holds its shape), about 3-4 minutes.

Fill each cooled cookie cup with cream filling. Dip each tartlet top into the toasted coconut. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Asparagus Benedict Risotto Cakes

Leftover Risotto? Probably not. You may have to make risotto with this recipe in mind. However, I always try to make a little extra thinking about the possibility of a delicious meal the next day. This is a great spring version taking advantage of the beautiful, locally grown asparagus that's available this time of year. Mushroom risotto would be equally delicious, or pea, or artichoke—be creative—I really can't think of a bad choice!

This can be served as is for a lovely breakfast, or add baby mixed greens under the risotto cake for brunch or a light dinner.

8 Asparagus Risotto Cakes (from leftover Spring Asparagus Risotto*)

Reserved Blanched Asparagus Tips for garnish

1 cup Hollandaise-like Dressing

8 Poached Eggs

Shaved Fresh Parmesan

Crispy Pancetta

Traditional risotto* made with sauteed asparagus stems, white wine, broth, and finished with butter and parmesan cheese.

Reserved Asparagus Tips

When making risotto, remove asparagus tips and blanche in broth. Drain and set aside, or refrigerate, until ready to garnish.


8 serving sized pieces of pancetta, diced. Saute until crispy, drain to remove excess oil.

Asparagus Risotto Cakes

Traditional risotto made with sauteed asparagus stems, white wine, broth, and finished with butter and parmesan cheese. Refrigerate for several hours, or overnight. Form into patties (about 1/3 cup each) and saute on both sides in butter, just until outside is browned and inside is warmed through. (When you put patties into hot butter, don't disturb them until they move on their own to get a nicely browned crust.)

Hollandaise-like Warm Dressing

4 egg yolks

1 T lemon juice

One-half cup olive oil

1 tsp. Dried Herbs de Provence

salt and pepper

In a double boiler, bring water to a gentle boil, add egg yolks and lemon juice to top pan. Whisk over hot water until yolks turn a paler yellow and become creamy(three or four minutes). Remove from heat, and whisk in oil. Add herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.

Pour into an insulated thermos-like coffee cup with lid, and close to keep warm until eggs and risotto cakes are ready (or, you can pour warm dressing into a cup and sit cup in a pan of very warm water).

Poached Eggs

Fill deep pan with one inch of water. Add 1 tablespoon white vinegar and bring to a gentle boil. Slip 4 eggs into gently boiling water. Reduce heat to simmer. Poach about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove eggs to ovenproof warmed dish greased with melted butter, and cover. Set aside while poaching remaining eggs. When all eggs are poached, add to buttered warm dish and cover until ready to serve.

Place warm risotto cake on serving plate. Top with warm poached egg. Add asparagus tips, and then dressing Finally, garnish with pancetta and shaved parmesan cheese.


2 cups Arborio rice

4 T olive oil

4 T butter

1 large sweet onion, chopped

1 cup dry white wine

About 6 cups chicken broth

16 asparagus spears (tips removed for garnish)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup parmesan cheese

2 T butter

Sauté onion in oil and butter in large pot over medium heat.

Cut tips from asparagus and boil until ‘al dente’ in lightly salted water, about 5 minutes. Reserve tips.

Dice asparagus stems and add to onion. Cook until tender.

In separate medium sized sauce pot heat chicken broth just to a simmer.

Add rice to butter, oil, sautéed onions and asparagus stems and stir until rice is well coated with oil, about 2 minutes.

Add wine to rice and stir to combine. Let simmer until most of the wine is absorbed. Begin adding warm broth one cup at a time, stirring occasionally. Continue to add one cup of broth at a time, stirring and letting the broth be absorbed before adding the next cup of broth. Enough liquid has been added when rice has a tiny firmness in center of grain, but most of grain has softened. This takes about 18 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

When rice is done, remove from heat. Stir cheese and 2 tablespoons butter into rice. Cover and let rest for maybe five minutes. Serve garnished with asparagus tips and extra shaved parmesan cheese.

(8 servings)