Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Corn and Green Chile Quesadillas

Corn and Green Chile Quesadilla
I discovered quesadillas during my first year of college in Arizona. In Illinois Mexican food was virtually unheard of unless you bought those crisp taco shells that came in the package. Never liking those made me think I didn’t like Mexican food. Plus I had a father who claims and still does, that all Mexican food looks alike so it doesn’t matter what you order. Guess what? He is wrong but Mexican food just ain’t his thang.

 Anyway in Arizona I had a Mexican friend who quickly turned me on to the delights South of the border. My first discovery was a chimichanga (which is a giant deep fried burrito) that at this restaurant was rolled in guacamole and then sour cream. I mean what was not to like? My second discovery was the cheese crisp which is really just a giant tortilla toasted with lots of cheese that we ate at a place somewhere in Scottsdale called Dr. Munchie’s. Yes, that was the real name. I think it went up in smoke a long time ago.

Well, a cheese crisp is really another way of making a quesadilla which I quickly became a fan of. A quesadilla makes a great meal with a salad and they are also a great way to use up any leftover tidbits you may have in your fridge. I often make them for my family and also for appetizers when company comes. Generally, I make them on the grill which I preheat to low and then cook the tortillas until they are crisp and the cheese is gooey. I fold them half way over after the tortilla has softened and then use tongs to flip them so that both sides are good and crisp.

 Toppings include leftover chicken, steak, chorizo, ham or shrimp. I’ve even used leftover salmon. Vegies include onions, mushrooms, peppers, green chilies, corn and potatoes. Potatoes are yummy on a quesadilla. All varieties of cheeses can be used and one combo that I’ve often enjoyed is Brie with mangos and chorizo. I often set up a Topping Bar, similar to a salad bar and let everyone design their own. You can top with salsa or use salsa as a base like tomato sauce on pizza. We put them on paper plates and then when it is your turn we slide them on to the grill to cook. This is a quick fun way to make anyone happy. You can also cook them on the stove or under the broiler or in a convection oven. The idea is to get them crisp on the bottom and baking them tends to make the bottoms a bit soft.

 Recently I discovered something new. Well, at least it was new to me. Quesadillas are great cooked in a waffle iron. Another use for a gadget so seldom used. They get all toasty and instead of needing to buy a panini press, well - this is the next best thing. Plus it makes all these cute little pockets that can hold more hot gooey cheese. See for yourself.

 Anyway – when I discovered I had all that corn leftover from yesterday’s Avocado Corn Soup– well I knew I would use it to make quesadilla or two. Now you don’t need these to make a quesadilla as a little corn and chilies and onion would be just fine, but I don’t like anything to go to waste. Plus, Hatch green chilies have started arriving in Denver and well – Hatch green chilies are kind of like corn to me. I love them. I love the way they smell and I love the way they taste. If you can’t find Hatch green chilies and you want green chilies on your quesadilla pick up a few fresh Anaheims at the grocery and roast them on the grill until the skins are almost black. Let them steam in a plastic bag until they are cool. You can then slide the skin of the chile right off. Don’t forget to slice off the stem and take the seeds out. Once you do this you will be a chile convert meaning you will never want to eat canned chilies again.

There is no real recipe for these quesadillas but I will tell you what I did …

Corn and Green Chile Quesadillas

1 8” flour tortilla (Don’t be a glutton, you can have more than one!)
Pureed Corn from yesterday’s soup OR some corn kernels and a little chopped onion and some sliced fresh hot peppers for a bit of a kick
3 roasted green chilies – seeded and peeled
Grated cheddar and jalapeno cheese

Smear tortilla with corn mixture. Place green chilies on one half. Top with grated cheese. Place on heated waffle iron and fold in half. Close iron and let cook for about two minutes. Now you can top with salsa and cilantro or sour cream or just eat this the way it is. These are so good I’m ready to make one for dinner. The first was my breakfast!

Sprinkle with some cheese before you shut the top.
P.S. The refrigerator is fixed. My repairman told me (just FYI) that older fridges are better than newer ones. New ones now only have a lifespan of 5-7 years because of the electrical components inside. Whether this is true, I don’t know, but, he is a great repairman!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Avocado Corn Soup and a Starry Night

Chilled Avocado Corn Soup
I’m feeling lazy today. It is gray outside and though it is not raining, it feels like a rainy day. 90 degrees has disappeared and now it feels like 70. Usually this tempts me into baking cookies but my refrigerator is broken and I’m too disoriented to bake. The refrigerator repairman comes tonight and I am praying it is repairable as I really would hate to buy a new one.

So…I’ll tell you what I cooked yesterday. My neighbor friend came for dinner so I could practice my cooking skills. This is no joke. Not cooking regularly seems to always throw off my timing or my concentration or even my taste buds. Plus cooking for someone gives me something to look forward to. And it also gives me leftovers so I can eat for the next few days.

My menu:

Not to long ago I had dinner with a friend and we were served a chilled soup. We both agreed that chilled soups were not our fave. Then the Brazilian cucumber soup was served that came with our entrees. It was so good we  licked the bowl clean. That led me to try the above soup as it had many of my favorite ingredients like corn and avocado and garlic. Needless to say, I think I am now a fan of cold soups. At least until I meet one I don’t like!

It was a relaxing night with a soft breeze that soothed us during dinner. Or maybe it was the taste of summer; a summer that is quickly coming to an end. Soon I’ll be heading to South Africa where it is winter. Maybe I am just trying to hang on a bit longer to my favorite summer foods or maybe to the delicious summer nights. In any case, we had a peaceful evening with talking and eating and stars to fill our soul.

Enjoy this soup. You would never guess that it contains not a drop of cream, well, except as a garnish. Silky and refreshing and green... Oh, it is so pretty. And perfect for a stunning summer evening.

Chilled Avocado Corn Soup (adapted from the yellow Gourmet cookbook)

2 ears of shucked corn
4 c water
1 ¼ c chopped white onion
1 smashed garlic clove (I say make it a big one)
1 serrano chile, stemmed, but not seeded, chopped
2 firm, but ripe Haas avocados
3 T fresh lime juice

¼ c crema (Mexican sour cream) or sour cream

Cut kernels from cob. Save cobs for broth but cut in half.

Combine kernels, cobs, 4 c water, ½ c onions, garlic and salt in pot. Bring to a boil and boil until liquid is reduced by a cup. This takes about 20 minutes. Cool broth and discard cob.

Puree mixture with remaining onions and chile in a blender but I don’t have one, so I use an immersion blender. Works great! Pour mixture through a fine mesh sieve placed over a large bowl. Press hard on solids to extract all broth. (You can now throw this delicious corn mixture away but don’t. In this house we waste no corn of any kind. I’ll show you what you can do with it tomorrow. It is sooo cool.)

Now halve, pit and peel one avocado. Along with the lime juice add to blender or use your immersion blender and puree until smooth. This is like magic.

Cover with plastic wrap placed directly on the surface of the soup. Chill.

NOW! Make your cilantro oil.

Garnish of Cilantro Oil (or buy cilantro pesto and use the oil for your drizzle)
1 c coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
¼ c olive oil
½ t salt

Combine cilantro, oil and salt in a large mixing cup. Using your favorite blender, puree this well. Now take this mixture and put through a fine mesh sieve which is place over another smaller cup and let it drain. Don’t press on it, but feel free to give it some good stirs to extract the oil. It is sooo good.

To assemble your soup:

Cut remaining avocado into pretty slices or using a melon baller make pretty little balls.

Ladle soup into a bowl. Place pretty avocado balls or slices on top. Drizzle with cilantro oil and a dollop of crema.

Perfect for a starry night!

Friday, August 10, 2012

My Boy at the Sebastian in Vail and Mexican Shrimp Cocktail

                 It's  Friday!
I love Fridays. Maybe it is because the weekend is ahead and I love weekends. Not that it matters when everyone is gone- but I still love weekends. Friday always lets me reflect on the week that has past and I had a good great, fabulous week. My sister in law came to visit from Chicago. We went to Vail and spent an awesome weekend at my son’s hotel. Well, it’s not really his hotel but we can pretend, can’t we?

We started last Saturday with a great breakfast at The Original Pancake House and then walked through the Paris Flea Market. Alas, it was not in Paris. We than came home and had a lovely lunch of the basil/cheese bread we bought at the market and this revitalizing Mexican ceviche.

Easy and low-cal!

 I love this stuff. Filled with avocados and baby shrimp and of course some  summer sweet corn; it takes me back to the beaches of Mexico which unfortunately I haven’t been to in a long time. That helped prepare us for a Saturday afternoon nap which we awoke from in time to have St. Germain cocktails with icy gin and sour lemons. Ahhh. That relaxed us enough to drive over to Federal Blvd and get cheap massages at Bamboo Forest. Massages on Federal must always be followed up with Vietnamese at New Saigon…which is where we ended our day perfectly sated with Goi Ga (Vietnamese chicken salad) and Pepper Garlic Shrimp and crispy, golden egg rolls.

Sunday found us rising early and driving to Vail for a stay at The Sebastian. We were greeted warmly and I don’t think it was just because I was bringing up his stuff! It was so good to see his new room

Diane and Alex
and meet all his hotel compadres. I’d be hard pressed to meet a nicer group of people and I’m not saying that just because he works there. There, even housekeeping, goes out of its way to engage and talk with you which helps make your stay so much more memorable. A magnificent, understated art collection, a cushy library with great books,

an intimate bar with a superb cocktail selection, and a restaurant that serves warm donuts (they call them beignets, but they are really just cute little donuts!) with caramel and crème anglaise to dip them into  help make this small, comfortable, boutique hotel luxurious. I also got a great tan while drinking a bottle of prosecco that my incredible son sent down to the pool

for his aunt and mother to sip gulp.

And so it continued… Now Diane is gone and I am home again with my two dogs who are always happy to see me. AND I have leftover Mexican ceviche to satisfy me while I dream of good times, charming people and beautiful hotels. It could be worse! And, if you ever visit The Sebastian, check in with Alex at the front desk and tell him his mom sent you! He won't give you Mexican Shrimp Cocktail but he does have good cookies!

Mexican Shrimp Cocktail (This is not a true ceviche because the shrimp does not cook in the lime juice. Feel free to substitute poached fish)

3/4lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (I used cooked baby shrimp because I like them!)

1 ½ c chilled Clamato juice OR 1 c chilled tomato juice plus 1/2c chilled bottled clam juice
1/4c ketchup
1/4c fresh lime juice
1 t hot sauce such as Tabasco
1 t salt or to taste
½ c finely chopped white onion
1/4c chopped cilantro

1 firm, but ripe avocado, peeled and cut into small chunks
1 ear cooked corn sliced off the cob

If your shrimp aren’t cooked cook them in 6c boiling salted water about two minutes. Do not overcook! Drain and transfer to a bowl of ice water and cool for 3 minutes. Pat dry.

Stir together everything except shrimp, avocado and corn. When ready to serve stir in and spoon into parfait or martini glasses.

(Adapted from the green Gourmet Today cookbook!) I also have used V8 juice and some extra ketchup or tomato paste makes this a bit more tomatoey-which I like! And of course, hot sauce to taste.)

Alex and Me!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Two Bodacious Appetizers

Manchego Cheese and Dried Fruit Salami

“If more of us valued food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

It is already Thursday and I am can’t wait for the weekend. My sister in law is coming to visit and we are heading for the mountains to see my son and have a nonstop talkathon for a few days. Hopefully the weather will be good but if not I know the company will be. Though I won’t have much of an opportunity to cook we do plan to do a lot of eating and solve the world's problems. Of course we will also have to have a few cocktails, which makes the world a more peaceful place, and cocktails only work with really bodacious ( definition- remarkable and noteworthy) appetizers. Therefore today’s subject class is Bodacious Appetizers. Get your pencils out!

What makes a good get together? Well, for starters it is the people that get together. And what helps them to have a good time? Of course. The food, the music, the drink, the candles, the flowers, etc. Give them something they will remember. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into someone that I haven’t seen in ages and they say that they ate such and such at my house and I have no idea what they are talking about but they remembered. My theory is the more special you make someone feel, the better your time will be. Many of my friends may not consider themselves great cooks but they know how to shop the grocery to pick out a great cheese or they’ll buy your favorite wine because they want to make you feel special. And we all need that once in awhile, don’t we? Anyone can put together a great salsa and find some good tortilla chips. Add in a pitcher of thirst quenching  margaritas made with fresh lime juice and now you have a better than average get together.

But how to be different? Unusual? How to make something that shows someone you thought about this with forethought? That you didn’t just run to the grocery at the last minute. Well, it helps to keep a few things on hand. It also helps to have things that will keep awhile in the refrigerator.  So, let’s cut to the chase. Let me give you a few ideas.

Dried Fruit Salami

Dried Fruit Salami

(I saw several dried date and walnut confections at Whole Foods recently that are made to serve with cheese. This is better.)

12 pitted dates
1/4c dried cherries
1/2c walnuts
1/2t smoked paprika
1/2t black pepper

Throw into food processor. Mix until nuts are finely chopped. Turn out onto plastic wrap. Roll into a 6” log. Wrap tightly. Refrigerate. Slice into thin slices and serve with a wedge of manchego cheese. (Don’t worry if the slices aren’t perfect. Just use your hands to mush them back together!)

Pate sounds fancy, doesn't it?

 Smoked Trout Pate 
1 smoked trout fillet with the skin peeled off (These can be found next to the smoked salmon near the seafood case. There are two to a package. Eat the other one on a salad.)
4oz cream cheese
2 green onions
1/2t Dijon mustard
1T capers drained
1/4t smoke in a bottle (if you have it)

Throw all ingredients except  peeled trout into food processor. When onions are chopped well and cream cheese is somewhat fluffy, add your trout. Do a few quick on/offs in the processor and you are finito!

Garnish with thinly sliced radishes and finely chopped green onions. Serve with crostini toasts. Leftovers taste great on an everything bagel on Sunday morning!

P.S. Just a word to everyone out there. I consider anyone who cooks for me a great cook.  I love to be cooked for and I don’t care if it’s just hotdogs, though I do prefer kosher!