Potluck Appetizers

A group of friends get together every other month for a potluck dinner. Sometimes the dinners are true potluck. At other times, they are themed with a menu of dishes individuals may bring. It makes for pleasant evenings with good people and good food.  It is hard to beat that combo!
Our March dinner had an Italian theme.  I was asked to bring appetizers. I made a personal favorite – skewered mozzarella balls, basil leaves and grape tomatoes. Last fall, I discovered how wonderful baked feta can be, so I made baked feta with a borrowed idea for a fruit confit and and decided this was an opportunity to share a delectable treat. The warm roasted feta has a wonderful creamy texture nothing like you might expect from crumbled feta on a salad.

Skewered mozzarella balls, basil and grape tomatoes – a refreshing appetizer.

Ingredients
The name says it all.  If you need an ingredients list, you should be making reservations for dinner. (Wasn’t that tacky!)
Method
I’ll share a fee hints.  I roll the basil leaves and put them between the cheese and tomato on wooden skewers that are a little longer than toothpicks.  I used a telera roll anchored to the plate with a blob of peanut butter as a base for the skewers.  Curly lettuce leaves tucked under the roll make the plate more attractive.  Telera rolls are a Mexican sandwich roll widely available in El Paso.  You could use a brioche instead if you wish. The important thing is a half-round base for the skewers/

What wowed the group was the Roasted Feta with Blackberry and Herb Confit. It was an amazing pairing of flavors and textures best served warm.

Roasted Sheep’s Milk Feta with a Blackberry and Herb Confit served warm on pita chips.

Several months ago, I served roasted feta as the protein for a vegetarian bridesmaid luncheon in Oregon. The El Paso group dinner was a chance to do a riff on that feta with the addition of a blackberry and herb confit as an appetizer.

Roasted Feta
Ingredients
One 8 oz. block feta, patted dry (sheep’s milk feta is great if you can find it.)
2 tsp. olive oil
Method
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Brush the feta with the olive oil and place in a small oven-proof baking dish, preferably the one you can serve from.

Bake the feta until it starts to soften, about 8 – 9 minutes. Switch the oven to broil and broil for about three minutes to start to brown the top of the feta. Watch that is doesn’t burn.

Remove from oven and spoon the warm confit over the feta. Serve immediately.

Blackberry and Herb Confit
Ingredients
3 black peppercorns or a few good grinds of black pepper
4 juniper berries (or 1 bayleaf)
1 sprig fresh rosemary (about 1.5 to 3 inches)
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp honey
1 pint black berries
Method
Tie peppercorns. juniper berries and rosemary spring in a single layer of cheesecloth. They will be easier to remove later.

Place all ingredients, including the cheesecloth bundle in a small saucepan over medium heat. Be sure the cheesecloth is under the blackberries. When the mixture has begun to simmer and the berries have begin to break up and yield their juices, reduce the heat and simmer, stirring gently occasionally until syrupy -25-30 minutes. You should have about a cup of confit.

Remove the cheesecloth bundle and discard. Confit may be used immediately. If you let it chill a few hours or overnight, the flavors meld. I lprefer the texture of the berries in the confit. If desired, you can strain the confit through a fine mesh strainer and mash all the liquid you can from the confit to have a smoother, but lesser volume syrup.

Spoon warm confit over warm feta and try not to swoon.

 

 

 

Back at a New Season

It has been a while since I’ve posted.  That’s because it has been a while since I’ve cooked anything exciting that would work under the New Season goal of recipes for one or two. Browsing through the cookbooks on Amazon, one day, I found several interesting one’s that did two things: 1 – inspire me to try some new adventures in cooking, and 2 – order a few new cookbooks.  I tempered that cookbook vice by ordering a couple of e-books and others I bought using the re-sellers available through Amazon at greatly reduced prices plus shipping. As I explore the books and my experiences with the recipes for one or two they hold, I’ll share info about the cookbooks.

One I’m enjoying is Guy Gourmet written by Adina Steinman dnd Paul Kita with the editors of Men’s Health magazine.  Many of the recipes are for two, but those that serve four can easily be reduced to two servings. By using a reseller, I got a $25 dollar cookbook for $5.99 plus $3.99 shipping for a good as new hard cover book. (A couple of years ago, a friend showed me a new cookbook she bought for $30.00. I liked it and found it on an Amazon re-eller for $2.00 plus shipping. I’m still gloating over that purchase!)

This morning, I tried the Guy Gourmet Stuffed French Toast.  As a rule, I’n not that big a fan of French toast, but it read well and I could reduce the recipe from two servings to one. When I am sharing their recipe, I will provide my interpretation of the original so I hopefully won’t be sued!

Stuffed French Toast Inspired by  Guy Gourmet  – makes two sandwiches
Ingredients
4 slices day-old or stale thick bread (I used a bolillo I left on the counter a couple of days and just sliced it in half to make one sandwich.  I also use single bolillos to make garlic bread so I won’t eat a whole loaf of French bread by myself.
4 eggs
2 Tbsp milk
1 tsp sugar or maple syrup
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp butter
Powdered sugar for sprinkling on top if desired
A filling you like – I used sliced apples and bacon. Other possibilities might include a nut spread and banana slices or cream cheese and berries. Be creative.

Method
Beat eggs, milk and sugar or syrup and cinnamon together in a bowl and pour into a baking dish big enough to hold two of the slices of bread
Place topping on two slices of bread and top with the other two slices. Place stacks in batter for two minutes, turning after one minutes so both sides of the bread can absorb and be coated by the batter.
‘Melt the butter in a medium non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Places th sandwiches in the pan and cook until golden brown. Flip the sandwiches so both sides are golden. Serve with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and more of the fruit you used for stuffing the French Toast.

 

Bacon and Apple Stuffed French Toast sans powered sugar sprinkle. More savory than sweet that way!

Scavenger Shakshouka

Shakshouka, a tomato based stew topped with eggs, has been trendy for awhile as breakfast,a brunch or a light supper. I’ve made and posted traditional shakshouka, green shakshouka and even a leftover corn bread version my daughter named Corn Shouka and enjoyed them all. I was surprised this month when one of my food magazines had multiple shakshouka recipes including one in an advertisement for a diet program’s new marketing plan. There were multiple spelling including the magazine’s Shakshuka version. All that got me shukaed up, so you might find different spellings scattered through here.  Yes, it is a terrible pun; just deal with it!
I decided to make shakshuka for breakfast, regardless of the spelling. The challenge was that most published recipes make a lot, come calling for a dozen eggs!  These days, I’m cooking for one. Reading some of the recipes, I got a feel for ingredients and decided to check out the fridge and pantry to see what I might scavenge for an impromptu shakshouka. You know how I enjoy playing with my food!

Shakshouka just out of the often. Drat!!! one egg yolk broke. Not bad, though, for scavenged ingredients!

Scavenger Shashouka

Ingredients found on hand:
Diced canned tomatoes left over from another project
Onion
Garlic
Bell pepper
One foil packet (two tablespoons) tomato paste What a great convenience discovery they are! Six packets in a box so you don’t have to throw away most of a can of tomato paste.
Jarred red chile salsa (Chimayo brand is amazing!)
Greens (I happend to have some red Swiss chard)
Eggs
Feta cheese
Olive oil
My stove top blend of 60% kosher salt and 40% ground black pepper

Method
NOTE: Measurements included in the methods are eye-balled estimates. Trust your experience and instincts and play with that food! Makes two servings.

Heat up the broiler in your oven.
Add a splash (1 or 2 Tbsp) olive oil to an 8-inch non-stick sauté pan and heat until it begins to shimmer. Use a second-press inexpensive olive oil for this, save your EVOO for salad dressing or for drizzling over the shakshouka at serving.
Add chopped onions and bell pepper, about a Tbsp or two of each, and cook until tinder.  Lower heat if needed to keep from burning the onion.
Add a minced garlic clove or two and let them soften, but not turn golden, stir in the packet of tomato paste, but don’t include the foil. When paste is soften and blended in, add a cup of so of drained diced tomatoes. My pan was filled to about half an inch short of the top. Stir in the salsa (as much for Chile heat as you think you can take) onion, bell pepper and garlic and let it all simmer until reduced and not soggy wet. Add chopped greens to the pan, stir into the mix as the greens wilt and be come tender.
Make two wells in the tomato mix and crack an egg into each. When eggs begin to set, transfer pan to the oven under the broiler. Check it frequently and remove the pan when the egg whites are just set. The yolks should be just set.
Remove pan from the oven and sprinkle crumbled feta cheese on the tomato mix an eggs. Let it set up a couple of minutes and the cheese soften a little, salt and pepper mix to taste, then plate and enjoy.

Half an 8-inch plan and a side of toast was just right for breakfast. The good news is I get to have the second half today!

Bulletin: Left overs were more flavorful than the first time around!  I may have to experiment making it a day ahead.

Welcome 2018!

The Gringo Gourmet has a new look with an easier to read color scheme.  Please feel free to comment on it.

The end of the year us always hectic and 2017 was no exceptions.  A number of things got me way behind in posting here. One of my New Year’s Resolutions is better organization of time and tasks and more posting here.  Wish me well on that one!

I’ll start off with a recipe for an amazing and colorful slaw that looks and tastes as bright as fireworks welcoming in the new year, even if I’m doing it a couple of days early!  In the next day or so I’ll post an interesting vegan dish we made for Christmas.  It was a recipe from Jamie Oliver and all the measurements were metric.  Fortunately, my daughter had a scale that could to metric weights as well as the weights we are used to in the U.S.! Keep an eye our for that one.

My pre-happy new year treat was part of a birthday party for one of my great grandnieces who turns 3 on New Year’s Eve.  (Note: I have 10 great grand nieces and two great grand nephews.  The consensus is I am a great, great uncle!) There was a luncheon featuring brisket, beans, fruit, guacamole, chips and salsa. Good TexMex eating on the border.  I made a standard Cole slaw with a. creamy dressing and then, go fiesta with a Red Slaw with Spiralized Beets.

Red Slaw with Spiralized Beets.
Even when they heard the word “beets”, they seemed to like the salad!

Red Slaw with Spiralized Beets

Ingredients
1 tsp lime zest, grated
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove(s), medium garlic clove(s), crushed through a garlic press
1 tsp cumin seeds, crushed
1/2 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
3 medium uncooked beets, peeled (about 3/4 lb)
2 cup(s) uncooked red cabbage, thinly sliced
2 medium uncooked scallion(s), thinly sliced
3 or 4 sliced shishito peppers
3 Tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
6 Tbsp queso cotija, or Parmesan cheese, coarsely shredded
3 Tbsp roasted salted pepitas, (pumpkin seeds)

Method
In a large bowl, whisk together lime zest and juice, oil, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper.
Spiralize beets; add to dressing.
Add cabbage, scallions, shishito peppers and oregano to beets; toss to coat. Sprinkle with cheese and pepitas.
Garnish with a few additional spirals.
 

 

 

 

Who’d a Thunk It… Cauliflower = Seafood?

Vegetarian ceviche that’s really good!

It’s always fun to run across a recipe that my vegetarian daughter might like. I think this one qualifies.  It is a vegetarian ceviche made with cauliflower instead of sea food.  I took it to a Thanksgiving dinner as an appetizer. A couple of people asked me what kind of seafood was in it. I had to convince them that it was all vegetables!

Cauliflower Ceviche

Thanks to Beatriz Barranco, El Paso, TX and Taste of Home Magazine, November 2017

Ingredients
1 medium head cauliflower, finely chopped
1 cup catsup
1 cup orange juice
3 medium tomatoes chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
½ cup minced fresh cilantro
½ Tsp each salt and pepper
3 medium avocados, peeled and cubed
Lemon wedges, tortilla chips, hot pepper sauce, optional

Method
In a large skillet, bring 1 cup water to a boil. Add cauliflower; cook uncovered until crisp-tender – 5 to 8 minutes.  Drain, spread out and blot pat dry.  While cauliflower is cooking, mix together catsup and orange juice.

In a bowl, combine cauliflower with tomatoes and onion.  Add catsup and orange juice mixture, cilantro, salt and pepper, toss to mix well.  Refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.

Before serving, gently stir in avocado cubes. Serve with tortilla chips, lemon wedges and optional hot pepper sauce.

Note:  I had to mess with it a little, of course. I prefer lime juice and lime wedges over lemon for this dish.  I found it to be a little too sweet for my taste, so I added the juice of a lime when I added the avocado cubes. It might be good to compare the sugar in various brands of catsup and use the one with the lowest sugar to start out with.

I had leftovers, and I had to experiment a little more.  I picked up a handful of shrimp, boiled, peeled and chopped them and added them to the “ceviche.”  I honestly couldn’t tell they added anything to the recipe.  It stands alone with the cauliflower and I’ll be making it again soon.

Even in the Desert, You Can Get a Craving for Seafood

When you live about 1,000 miles from the coast, seafood is something exotic.  We know about shrimp and sometimes see live lobsters can be found in a tank at the grocery store.  We get salt cod and a few varieties of frozen “fresh” fish are good, but pretty mundane.  Now that we have a Whole Foods market, we see different varieties of seafood that I hope to learn how to cook someday. In the meantime, I fall back on the tried and true.  I do grill the occasional swordfish steak and I love to sear ahi tuna with a crust of crushed wasabi peas when I’m feeling exotic. I’m more likely to do a soup or stew or to try a version of baked cod.  I found a new baked cod recipe in an article on sheet pan suppers and, of course I had to try it and am happy to share it.  It was a recipe for four servings that I was able to reduce to one serving successfully in keeping with my new search for how to make one or two serving meals.  I’m including the full recipe below, but have added a couple of notes about my experience

Sheet pan Provençal Cod, Potatoes and String Beans fulfill a desert craving for seafood!

Provençal Cod, Potatoes and String Beans
Ingredients:
1 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, thinly sliced
¼ cup plus 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp herbes de Provence, Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
8 oz yellow wax beans and/or green beans, trimmed
2 small tomatoes, diced
1/3 cup Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
2Tbsp fresh lemon juice
4 6-oz cod fillets (1 to ½ inch thick)
Chopped fresh parsley for topping
Method:
Put a rimmed baking sheet in the upper third of an oven and preheat to 475°. Combine potatoes, 2 Tbsp olive oil and ½ tsp herbes de Provence in a large bowl; season generously with salt and pepper.  In a separate bowl, combine the beans, 1 Tbsp oilive oil and the remaining ½ tsp herbes de Provence; season generously with salt and pepper.

Remove the hot baking sheet from the oven; add the potatoes in a single layer on one side of the pan and the beans on the other side.  Roast until the potatoes and browned and the beans are tender – about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the tomatoes, olives, remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil, the lemon juice. ½ tsp salt and pinch of pepper in a small bowl; set aside. Season the cod all over with salt.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven. If potatoes and beans are done, remove and keep warm. If not done, push to their sides leaving a space in the middle.  Place the cod in the middle of the pan and top with half of the tomato mixture. Roast until the cod is opaque – 10-12 minutes. Sprinkle the potatoes with parsley. Serve with the remaining tomato mixture.

Notes: In my oven, the beans and potatoes were done at 20 minutes.  I left them on the the cod and the beans were a bit overdone by the time the cods was done. Check them while the cod is cooking, to be safe.

I could only find a long filet of cod with a narrow end. I folded the narrow end under the thick end sandwiching some of the olive and tomato mix in between.  It worked fine and was colorful and tasty.

This recipe reduced easily to one serving with a single cod filet and smaller portions of beans and potatoes.  I did the full recipe of the olive, tomato lemon mix and enjoyed what didn’t fit on the cod right out of the bowl with a spoon!

 

 

Adventures of a Salad Barfly

Have you ever scored a pickup at a salad bar?  It can happen.  Flattering lighting, arrays of exotic beauties calling for a closer look. Taking them all in with your eyes and finally choosing one to take home.  Once you score, you’ll find yourself hanging out at the salad bar more and more often… and maybe venturing to the hot foods bar, the olive bar, the ceviche bar and on and on.

With a focus on cooking for one or two, it is easy to get hooked on the salad bar scene.  No need to worry about planning for leftovers, pick up something fresh in a useable amount and enjoy.  It is a nice way to get variety in your side dishes and concentrate on a great main dish. It makes mealtime a pleasure instead of a chore and sure beats take out fast food or yet another sandwich supper.

For example…

A craving for cruciforms, but not for whole heads of cauliflower, romanesco or broccoli is satisfied by a few florets of each from the salad bar. Take them home, roast them on a sheet pan and your side dish delimma is solved.

Florets of cauliflower, romanesco (a green cauliflower) and broccoli pan roasted in the oven provided a healthy fiber-rich side dish without a ton of leftovers in the crisper.  Since the oven was hot, a small oven-roasted sirloin steak was a wonderful main dish treat. A bonus was the discovery of a watermelon, feta, mint and jalapeño salad that could not be passed up!  What more could a salad barfly ask?

And on another night at the salad bar…

Sometimes, it is hard to decide between two toothsome beauties, so take them both home and enjoy!  Rainbow carrots with a mix of kale and radicchio were terrific with a light vinaigrette.   And the house rule of three tiny roasted potatoes provided the starch for the meal.

Rainbow carrots atop kale and radicchio brighten up a steak and potatoes supper. By the way, steak is not an every night protein here.

 

 

Cooking for one? Play with the salad bar.

It is fun to reduce the servings in a given recipe and succeed.  We’ll be doing a lot of that in the new category “A New Season.” Still, there are those days when you just don’t want the bother of reducing, prepping and cooking. There are alternatives. A visit to Whole Foods turned up a chilled bar featuring different takes on ceviche, a cold salad in which seafood is “cooked” in acid such as a vinegar or citrus juice.  A ceviche of shrimp and scallops called my name and resulted in the creation of a cold salad supper just right for a triple digit temperature day.  A small container of the ceviche – enough for topping two tostadas,  a few large cooked shrimp for garnish, a mango for color and sweet balance to the ceviche,  and an avocado for a third tostada featuring guacamole tostada completed shopping for dinner. Since the ceviche is sold by the pound, getting just enough for two tostadas didn’t require a bank loan for shopping at Whole Foods.  There were enough other ingredients in the fridge at home to complete the meal.

Shrimp and scallops ceviche, guacamole and mango – a cool treat to beat the heat.

 

Ingredients (made without an actual recipe)

Three corn tortillas (or more if you want tortilla chips)

About four or five tablespoons of deli bar ceviche

One medium to large avocado

Five or six grape tomatoes

One or two scallions

One or two lettuce leaves

One ripe mango

Garlic powder, to taste, or one small finely minced garlic clove mushed into a paste with a sprinkle of salt and the side of a chef’s knife.

One lime, halved

Salt to taste

Olive oil or neutral oil cooking spray

Method

Tostadas, flat, crisp tortillas.  These may be bought in a package, fried in a quantity usually too big for one or two servings.  You can fry them at home or bake them in the oven for a “healthyish” version.  I’m stealing this term from Bon Appètit because they have been publish lighter recipes in the magazine and online. Sprinkle your chips lightly with salt to taste.

Preheat oven to 350°.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.  Place three tortillas on sheet, and spritz lightly with cooking spray.  If you want to make chips, cut a couple of tortillas into wedges and place on sheet with whole tortillas and spritz the, with cooking spray. Place in heated oven.  Check after 10 minutes, turn tortillas and chips over and spritz again.  After 10 minutes, check again and turn.  Return to oven.  Check every five minutes or so to make sure tortillas and chips are toasting crisp – no soft spots in middle or edges when done and not burned edges.  Rotate the sheet pan in the oven to help with even cooking. Remove from oven and let cool.

Guacamole, an avocado dip or spread that every cook swears that his/hers is best.  I assure you, mine is the absolute best!  This version is for a single guacamole tostada and slices of avocado for garnish.  If you want to use the whole avocado and sue some for dip on your tortilla chips, go right ahead.

Chop grape tomatoes into small pieces; slice scallion very thinly at an angle. Slice all the white and an inch or inch and a half of the gree.  Mince and mash garlic clove into a paste.  A pinch of salt helps to break up the garlic as you mash it.  If you wish, you may use a light sprinkle of garlic powder (not garlic salt) instead of the garlic clove paste.

One avocado, halved.  Lay one half cut side down to prevent oxidation (turning brown). Spoon the flesh from the other have into a small bowl. Cut it up with the side of a fork, then mash it.  I like to leave a little texture when I mash it with the fork.  When I’m by myself, I squish it between my fingers and then get to lick my fingers clean – chef’s bonus!  I don’t do that when making guacamole for guests – at least not where they can see me. Stir tomato, some of the scallion, garlic paste or powder and some of the juice of lime.  The lime will delay oxidation, but you don’t want to overdo the lime juice when making this small quality of guacamole. Scoop flesh from remaining half of avocado, cut into six slices for garnish and sprinkle lightly with lime juice.

Sliced mango, sweet, but not too sweet taste to balance the acidity of the ceviche.  Remove pit from mango, slice flesh and plate on a bed of lettuce leaf.  You might enjoy a couple of drops of lime juice on the mango. (The OXO mango slicer actually works and is well with a little drawer space in your kitchen.)

Serving, spread guacamole on one crips tostada, garnish with slices of avocado and a couple of large shrimp.  Place on plate.  Spoon ceviche on tostadas, place on either side of guacamole tostada and garnish with large shrimp and avocado slices.  Add lettuce leaf and mango carefully to the plate and enjoy your cool meal at the end of a hot day.

Update on what’s going on…

My old e-mail, jimhastings@elp.rr.com, is no longer working.  I had to close the Time Warner account that was in my partner’s name and also carried my e-mail.  I opened a new account with Spectrum (they had purchased Time Warner) with the assurance that my e-mail would migrate to my new account.  I have not had e-mail at that address since June 30.  The Spectrum engineers are “working” on it, but do not reply to queries to a named person about my account status.  I’m asking that if you have comments, you post them.  I trust WordPress will send me notices at eprjh1@gmail.com. You are welcome to contact me at that e-mail address.

Just an additional stress in serving as an estate executor; please be patient with me as I get posts going again.  And feel sorry for the account people at Spectrum when I appear in the office Monday with my inch-thick file of what are you doing for me since I’ve opened my account?   I will post a notice if I need help with posting bail.

Thank you,

Jim

A Detour on Memory Lane

Remember the wedge salad from the late 50′ and early 70’s? A wedge of iceberg lettuce, that must have been a quarter of a head, drenched in creamy chunky bleu cheese dressing, and if you were lucky enough to be in the right restaurant, heavily sprinkled with crumbled crispy bacon. It still appears on the occasional menu.  When it does, I look for beef carpaccio to be there, too.  Creamy bleu cheese and delicately thin sliced raw lean beef! Forget the rest of the menu, these two appetizers become my meal, and no, you cannot have a taste!

I am addicted to food magazines and websites.  When I saw a new take on a wedge salad in one, I was up and off the the grocery store.  Actually it turned out to be two stores were needed to find all the ingredients.

My excitement was a grilled bok choi wedge salad.  One small to medium bok choi, split in half and spritzed with olive oil, then grilled over low heat until the leaves wilt and get a little char and the stem is warmed through, but still retains it crunch. I topped the bok choi with halved yellow grape tomatoes, thinly sliced raw ripe shishito peppers and marinated Peruvian peppers.  Then I drenched the salad with creamy bleu cheese dressing and lots of extra crumbles.  The salad was served with a small sirloin steak, grilled to 145 and tented to rest for five minutes. It was a perfect medium rare.  I wish I had sliced and photographed it, but I couldn’t wait do dig into the plate.

My standard three baby potatoes halved and grilled provided a bit of starch for the meal.  Because I am still working on my bag of shishito peppers, I grilled a few of the ripe ones.  Their caramelized sweetness was a great foil for the slight saltiness of the bleu cheese!

I cooked this on the grill last night after the temperature dropped to 100.

Grilled bok choi wedge salad with “sides” of beef sirloin, baby potatoes and grilled ripe shishito peppers.