August 2013 Recipe Line up

Seriously is your summer just zipping by at the speed of light? Because, our totally is - Tom and I don’t even have the excuse that we use the summer to vacation, we both been working and/or going to school like crazy and barely have time to come up for air.

The last days of summer are upon us and August belongs to Tammy and Greg from The Foodie Couple.  They travel, have the most adorable dog EVER (ok, pssttt. don’t tell Rufus) love Mexico and they cook up a storm as well.

I know that every time I do these posts, I tell you that the host for the month is really bringing their “A” game, but, so help me god, when I see the choices you are sending me its like you all are really trying to top each other out.  And this month Tammy and Greg are challenging us with recipes from my favorite show (theirs too) Top Chef and Top Chef Master. 

In their own words:

We are huge fans of Top Chef. Have watched every season, every episode. The challenges they endure teach us so much about flavor profiles and different cooking techniques. Of course each season we have our favorite chefs too. It’s just good foodie fan fun.

I tried to find a mix of recipes from different seasons and recipes that were not overly complicated or required too exotic or hard to find ingredients. But these are recipes from Top Chef chefs so a few are pretty ingredient heavy.”

Have you seen the new season of Top Chef Master? If you are not, do it, because BRAVO is pulling all the stops with this season twists, and me think its going to be one of the best one yet.  And for real, that Hugh Acheson makes me go all weak at the knees, I can just serve him with whipped cream and .. wait were was I? Oh yes… the choices… 

Week of August 4Kale Salad with Brussels Sprout leaves and Lemon Vinaigrette from Chef Brooke Williamson Season 10 - We were excited to hear that Top Chef would be filmed in Seattle for season 10. We ended up being somewhat disappointed to see so few Seattle food spots highlighted in the season and that the last 4 episodes were actually on a cruise and in Alaska. We felt a bit short handed. Few women have won Top Chef so it was exciting when Brooke Williamson won the season. This is her recipe for a great, bright salad that the judges raved about.

Week of August 11: Grilled Pork Chops with Wild Mushroom Sauce from Chef Marcel Vigneron, Season 2 - Season two became known for the villain chef, Marcel Vigneron. I couldn’t stand his obnoxious arrogance and just rude treatment of others. But the judges consistently loved his food. He is a molecular gastrologist type of chef so typically his recipes didn’t do much to excite me but this looked pretty fabulous.

Week of August 18:  Queso Fundido Burger with Trio of Guacamole from Master Chef Rick Bayless, Top Chef Masters Season 1 - When Top Chef Masters began we were so excited to see so many of our favorite chefs competing against each other. And of course Rick Bayless, Greg’s cooking idol, won the season. This episode where these Master chefs made burgers was so fun to watch to see their creative recipe minds in action. Rick Bayless is our go to chef for recipes that match our favorite flavor profiles. We’ve been to all of his Chicago restaurants and have many of his cookbooks. We know this burger will be a hit.

Week of August 25: Chocolate Cake with Salted Basil Ganache from Chef Stephanie Izard, Season 4 - Stephanie Izard was the first women to win Top Chef. She was our season 4 favorite from the start, likely because she is a Chicago gal who loves to cook meat. We ran into her at the Taste of Washington in 2010 and have eaten at her Girl and the Goat restaurant in Chicago. Our meal at her restaurant was amazing. We are definitely fans. This cake sounded absolutely delish

So are you ready to be a TOP CHEF this month? I do hope all of you step up and give us some amazing dishes and of course enjoy them with your families during the last days of summer.  As always remember to post your recipe links in the comment section of this post or use our Gutsy Cook Pinterest Board.

July 2013 Recipe Line up

Here we are mid year.  I’m sure everyone is saying the same thing.. how that happen? Was it only yesterday we were choosing the month to host here at Gutsy Cooks? 2013 seems to be sneaking up on us.

This month belongs to Marie from Weekend Viands.  Like Raymond, I meet (or virtually meet her) during my Heavenly Cake Bakers phase as we made our way through Rose’s Heavenly Cakes book.  She basically was the brain behind the whole operations and we bonded over our love/hate affair with the piping bag.

She called July as her month and like her Gutsy Cooks peer before her, she is bringing her “A” game to the table. In her own words: 

Attached are my recipes for July’s Gutsy Cooks.  All are from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan.  This is a book I’ve wanted to get into to for a couple of years, but most seemed a little too elaborate for my normal weekday cooking.  I tried to pick relatively simple recipes, but they are a little fussier than the usual casual Italian recipe.  (She reminds me a little of Rose in her attention to detail and her insistence on method). …  The bread recipe (bonus, in case anyone wants to make their own bread for panzanella salad) goes with the salad recipe.  I typed these all directly from the book, headnotes and all, so you can get a feel for her prose.

I’m excited with these options this month, they are shouting at my Italian roots, plus, her line up is pretty awesome and challenging.

Week of July 8 -  Panzanella Salad - I have tried many, in the States, in various South American countries and in my beloved Italy. I have never tried to make it at home since I always been afraid to muck it up.  Marie has given me a challenge, specially if you follow her suggestion and make the country bread - Mantovana Bread recipe. I think she paid attention and tossed it in there just for those of you that wanted to overcome your fear of using yeast.

Week of July 14 - Risotto with Spring Vegetables, Tomato, and Basil - One word - YUM!  I made risotto before, and trust me is less complicated than our heads make it be and oh, so rewarding.

Week of July 21 - Roast Chicken with Lemons - I bet all of us have roasted a chicken and stuffed it with lemons in our cooking lifespan.  But I also bet you, this one will be “the one” that we will keep coming back to over and over again.

Week of July 28 - Scallop Sauce with Olive Oil, Garlic and Hot Pepper - I’m so happy that Marie gave us a “seafood” option.  Italy is not only pasta and meat dishes.  Having lived in a small town on the Adriatic Sea and Sicily, I know what the italians are capable of doing with anything coming from the sea and its glorious! 

So there you have it folks, a pretty good line up this July.  I do hope all of you step up and give us some amazing dishes and of course enjoy them with your families during this summer month.  As always remember to post your recipe links in the comment section of this post or use our Gutsy Cook Pinterest Board.

June 2013 Recipe Line up

Here we are smack in the first month of summer and with it another 4 great recipe line up from our next feature Gutsy Cook – Steph from Orangespoken.  I meet Steph about 4 years ago, she invited me to her holiday cookie exchange and since then we have formed a friendship over Chica Brunches, dinner parties, Trader Joe trips, dirty girl time, divorce, new boyfriends and she held me during my wedding planning – which was no small feat – I had lots of freak out moments. 

If there is anyone gutsier in the kitchen than her I have yet to meet them, this girl can take a recipe and substitute ingredients that I would not even dream about.  She has chosen to highlight other bloggers with her recipe choices and added a very special recipe her mother loved – which I’m crazy about trying. I’m excited to see what she does with her own choices.

So here we go from Steph herself:

Week of June 2Fiyuelos: My mother loved to eat these Spanish pancakes stacked with butter and granulated sugar. As a girl growing up, she’d beg her mother to make them. I remember her referring to the recipe in Clarita’s Cocina as her favorite one. I scoured the web looking for “fiyuelos”, but not even Google was able to track them down. I’ve taken a picture of the recipe straight from my very very old copy of Clarita’s Cocina that my grandmother (Abuelita) passed down to me, in case you don’t have your own copy of the cookbook.

Note from Monica: I have done research and found out that they can go by various names – Fayuelos is one, but their correct name is Frixuelos, which is from the Spanish provinces of Asturias and Leon in the northern part of Spain.  There are tons of different recipes, but they are all pretty much standard – egg, flour, liquor (usually anise), milk whip it up and then cook as you do a crepe.  Fillings are also savory or sweet.

Week of June 9Cedar Planked Salmon and Zucchini Fritters with Tzakizi: I’ve never tried cooking on cedar before and have been wanting to. I came across this recipe and thought it sounded scrumptious (especially the sweet and salty rub!). I’m also a huge fan of zucchini. What better way to use this summer squash

Week of June 16Maryland Crab Cakes: I’m in a love with a very, very picky eater. However, he LOVES crab cakes! This week’s choice is just for him. What kind of dipping sauce will you make to go along with these? I cannot wait to see how gutsy you guys get!

Week of June 23Carnitas Caldo (Carnitas Soup): This recipe from Gimmie Some Oven Blog was a pinned a few weeks ago on Pinterest. It looks scrumptious. Well anything made with pork looks scrumptious, in my opinion. Even though it’s summer, this seems like it could be a fresh, summery soup to try.

Extra Credit!Minny’s Chocolate Pie (minus the secret ingredient): I was a big fan of The Help, and came across the recipe for “that” pie. Of course, the secret ingredient is missing (thank goodness!). I’ve been wanting to make this, so what better way than through the Gutsy Cooks Club!

So there you have it June’s line up.  Remember to come back each week and post your links in the comment section of this post or use our Gutsy Cook Pinterest Board.

April 2013 Recipe Line up

So this month is my month and I have been itching to try the recipe from 2 of Lucinda Scala Quinn books - Mad Hungry and Mad Hungry Cravings. I love the way she cooks, it’s to the point, simple and always full of yum.  So I decided that I’m going to choose 2 recipes from each book. 


Let’s start wtih MAD Hungry first

Week of April 7th - Bake Chicken with Honey-Whole Grain Mustard Glaze

Week of April 14th - Steak Pizzaiola

And finish off the month with 2 more from MAD Hungry Cravings

Week of April 21 - Sun-Dried Tomato-Parmesan Crips

Week of April 28 - Malaysian-Style Mussels

Bonus round, because I wanted to make this for a couple of weeks now - so why not? - Greek yogurt Cake

So there you have it, April’s menu.  I hope you enjoy them, and I cannot wait to see how everyone fares with the choices!

Get ready, set and get gutsy!

April Menus 72 to 75 - April showers go away...

April is associated with the season of spring, when trees and flowers begin to “open” and we shed the winter blues and start to prepare for loads of outside playtime.  It may bring April showers too, but we don’t need to worry about getting stuck inside and be bored waiting for the sky’s to clear.  April is a month jam pack of food celebrations: national bake week, egg salad week, chocolate mouse day, hot cross bun day, pecan day, it’s the national grilled cheese month, picnic day, blueberry pie day and so much more that I don’t think we can NOT come up with some awesome choices for us to get gutsy on April.

You can put away those umbrellas; you are staying in and cooking up a storm.

Week 1, to post week of April 2nd 

  • Peanut Butter and Jelly Day needs to be celebrated with a different take of the sandwich – Peanut Butter and Jelly Pie Sticks via Spoon Fork Bacon
  • The 4th is cordon blue day – I have not had one of these in so long, I’m thinking its time to bring them back – Chicken Cordon Bleu via Martha, via Emeril.
  • There is a Coffee Cake day too, not that we need that excuse to make one.  Like this Honey Lemon Olive Oil Whole-Wheat via Eat the Love.  Or if you are to lazy to wait for anything to rise you could go with King Arthur Flour favorite Sour Cream Coffee Cake.

Week 2, to post week of April 9th 

  • Did you know there was a Grilled Cheese Sandwich day! I got all sort of excited with this – let’s see what we can come up with, here are some ideas to get you started via Tasteologie. Go ahead, pick one and surprise us!
  • I love mushrooms and you can incorporate them in pretty much anything.  But these Balsamic Green Beans & Cremini are calling my name via What we’re eating.
  • Let’s do the technique post, this is what’s next on my kitchen bucket list – Beef Wellington via Chow 

Week 3, to post week of April 16th 

  • The apple pie worked (sort of), maybe its time for Blueberry Pie in a Jar via Babble.
  • Shrimp has a day too this week.  I’m thinking Shrimp Au Gratin via Cooking in Sens
  • Because Monkey’s holds a special place in my heart, I cannot hold myself back from trying these – Monkey Bread Minis via shutterbean 

Week 4, to post week of April 23rd 

  • Celebrating National Picnic day should not be hard with these menu options via Epicurious.  Then pack it and take your family to the nearest park and enjoy. 

So there you have it a bit of everything to celebrate April. How Gutsy are you going to get this month?

March Menus 58 to 71 - Spring is in the air...

March, how did we get here? Because it seems only yesterday that we were celebrating new years.  But, here we are – MARCH.  And with it a new set of menus.

Not going to lie, this one was a tough one.  I have no idea why, usually the monthly recipe line up come to me pretty quickly, but March was proving to be a bit of a challenge.

Besides, green beer celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. March, marks the beginning of spring, which means for most of us, the gardens are waking up…

Carrots, cauliflower, leeks, spring onions, oranges, salmon, mussels, oysters, parsley are at their best…

So how about building some of our menus using these ingredients?

Week 1, to post week of March 5th 

Week 2, to post week of March 12th 

Week 3, to post week of March 19th 

Week 4, to post week of March 26

Lets throw in here a recipe from scratch challenge – DONUTS! 

I’m really looking forward too these, I hope you are too.  Let March madness begin!

February Menus - The second Act

So we continue with February and I think I’m going to mix it up with a couple of options to try new techniques as well.  I had several emails from the group members that they wanted to try baking more with yeast, or making pasta from scratch, or even their own cheese… I figure why not make the second part of February a technique month?

Here we go…

Week 3, Post Feb 20 – Let’s make it fresh, as in Pasta! And then pair it with your favorite sauce.

Basic Fresh Egg Pasta – from Lidia’s Italy (this is my GO TO recipe - has never failed me)
Whole-Wheat Pasta may also be an option – from A full Measure of Happiness

Sauce options are plenty, but these sounds too good to pass up:

Porcini Mushroom Fettuccine – from 101 Cookbooks
Norcia – from Madonna del Piatto
If meat is what you want, here are 10 different options from theKitchn

Week 4, Post Feb 27 – From scratch, why not? I’m craving Croissants, how about you?

How to make them homemade – from theKitchn
JoCooks has a really good post about them, plus a pretty good recipe too
Need more tips? Press for time? The Fresh Loaf Forum has a good post from a reader about making them with minimum effort.

So there you have it, the choices for the end of February, both options are a bit time consuming, but like all of us cook know, anything made from scratch is a gazillion time better than store bought.  And in some cases we learn that what we thought was going to be a huge time effort turns out to be not such a big deal after all.

Ready for the second half?

Ready, Set, COOK!

February Menus 54 to 57 Game on, Sweet Days

You guys! You rocked it in January.  I have seen so many of you guys getting back on the cooking horse and participating, we had a least 2 gutsy cooks every week posting something.  It was great.  I love visiting your blogs and seeing your suggestion and gustiness with each of the recipes.

We also had new members joining us, so make sure you visit and give a bit of a welcome and some comment love - Anna from Making Ends Meat , Anusha from Tomato Blues and Janis from The Kitchen is my Shrink

I’m still working on the last 2 weeks of the February Menus and they will be posted by the end of the week. But for now, how about if I give you the first 2 weeks so you guys can start to plan it out… 

Week 1, Post Feb 5th - Its Game time!  This week I’m going to leave it open for all of you to share your favorite game/party dishes.  I for one, going to try these:

Game Day Chili - from Cooking Channel
Bourbon Onion Dip - from Cooking Channel
Loaded Bake Potato Dip - From Brown Eye Baker

Week 2, Post Feb 12 -
Let’s be sweet and spicy with our beloved.
Frozen Peanut Butter Pie - from Cook Republic
Breakfast Galette - from A Cozy Kitchen
Flammkuchen with Red onions - from Delicious Days

I hope these are just as inspirational as the January options were - I cannot wait to see what you will all come up with this time.

Ready, set.. GO!

January Menus 50 to 53 – Healthy Start

2012 is here folks.  365 clean days to fill up with new successes, new recipes, new adventures and everything in between. I for one has promised myself to be more bold in the kitchen, to try to cook more greens, make things from scratch and put myself totally out of my comfort zone with techniques and ingredients. 

2011 was a year of indulgence, lots carbs, cheese, pastas and the desserts really topped most of my post, as well as some of my fellow bloggers.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and pretty much say that a healthy start is probably the most anticipated trend we will see in the new year. So this will be the theme for our January Menu line up.  Veggies recipes, natural foods, and maybe in between, because we are all going to be good, a couple of sweetbites.

And off we go - remember you can cook one option, two or all four.  Posting should be up by Sunday, or at the latest on Monday.

Read More

November Menus 45 to 49 - Inspiration - Warmth and Comfort Food

Here we are folks, the November line up – sorry it has taken me this long to post and I totally understand if anyone takes a pass this week!

Since it is November (HOW DID THAT HAPPEN!?) I could not think of a more appropriate inspiration than food that gives us warmth - for some of you who are already enjoying snow and everything that comes with cold weather (including us Floridians) and comfort.  Nice long cooked stews and comfort food - hearty and warm and filling the entire house with the smell of something good in the oven. Perfect for days where you want to crawl into a soft couch with fuzzy socks and snuggle with your favorite person. 

So I mixed and matched some stews, and soups and threw in a couple of recipes made with corn, because, well I’m not going to lie, I been craving it and it just so happen that I ran into a couple of recipes that I been dying to try out.

As always, you are free to do as many of the recipes as you like and experiment by using them as a jumping point to creating your very own version. Since this month is also hosting the great FOOD FEST HOLIDAY – other wise known as Thanksgiving, you can take a free pass the week of Nov 20 or 27, since I’m sure you will be up to your head in turkey and leftovers. (Tip: Try Bobby Flay’s Kentucky Hot Brown, which is an open face sandwich using roasted turkey and savory French Toast).

I also want to welcome another Gutsy Cook to our circle.  Kavi, from Edible Entertainment, has decided to be a bit more gutsy in her kitchen and what better place to start than with us. Take a couple of minutes for a quick peek at her blog and give her a quick hello!

Here we go:

Week Nov 6 

Week of Nov 13 

Week of Nov 20 

Week of Nov 27

And there you have it November line up.  Hope you guys enjoy it. 

And I cannot sign off before I share this hilarious site that I came across one Sunday during a boring internet click fest – I have been in need of some comic release and Hanna Hart has given me that in large quantities over the past few weeks.

Hart is a food video star who got famous online. This girl is funny and while the appeal isn’t the food she cooks, it’s her persona - cool slacker geek, complete with glasses, self-deprecating humor, and real comic timing.  Her writing is just as good as her videos.

So for now, I leave you to it.  Looking forward to seeing your gutsiness every week this month.

Make me proud!

Ready? Set… Be gutsy!

October Menus 40 to 44 - Ingredient: Rice

Thank you all for the participation in last months Mexican theme, I was so happy to see the different takes on the chosen theme and I can tell that everyone is much more exited with the new club model.

But, before I let you on the October Menu.  We have a new member in the club – Andrea from Adventures in all things Food has joined our virtual kitchens. And if you have time, please give her blog a little visit and say “hi”.

Last month I choose the theme.  This month I decided to let luck picked our ingredient for the whole month.

And out came the most important staple food for a large part of the world’s human population, specially the East and South Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and West Indies.  It is the grain with the second-highest worldwide production, after maize (Corn).

Oh glorious rice!

So there you go – October recipes will all involved one common ingredient – Rice.  And for it not to get boring, I decided to give you all different techniques and/or themes in how to cook it.

You can cook any of the recipes that I suggested, or venture on your own, as long as you stay within the theme of the week

Ingredient: Rice

Week of Oct 2 - Theme: Unusual and out of the box Use 

Week of Oct 9 - Theme: Stuffed into something or with something

Week of Oct 16 - Theme: All in one dish 

Week of Oct 23 - Theme: Let’s make it Sweet!

Week of Oct 30 - Theme: What came first? The Risotto or The Paella? 

There you guys have it, hopefully I got your Gutsy-ness flowing and we will be treated to wonderful takes on any of the above themes.  Can not wait to start!

So are you guys ready? Get Set, and GO

Menu 38 & 39: Mexican

And we are back to cooking folks.  After all of the suggestions, I decided to start off with something that everyone seems to like.  Most ingredients are not hard to find, and it lends to creativity galore and can be a bit of a chanllenge.

Ready to go Mexican?

ARRIVA then!

I wanted to give us all an option to try something new and I always wanted to try my hand at making Tamales from scratch.  All of the recipes are from one of my favorite Mexican Chef - Rick Bayless.  I have two of his cookbooks and I have never had the chance to cook anything from it - this will give me the opportunity to do so. Then I included two types of Enchiladas - one vegetarian and the other is not.  I’m thinking of trying them both, since they both sound good and I’m a huge fan of mushrooms. 

Here are the links to the recipes for the menu for the next two weeks - you can choose what you want to do either week and remember posting dates are Sept 18 and Sept 25.  If you have questions, tips and simply want to share, leave a comment in this post.

Remember these are our staring points, you can follow the recipe to the letter or be daring and play with it, you can take something that you like from one and incorporate in the other, or change it totally around… 

Are you guys ready?

Get set, and be Gutsy!


Menu 36: Sopa de Tortilla and Arroz con Pollo

The hosts for June are Tammy and Greg from The Foodie Couple.  Have you checked out their blog? It’s awesome.  They always giving you the perfect wine pairing for each recipe they post and  since they have joined Gutsy Cooks, my kitchen corner devoted to wine has gotten a bit robust with their suggestions.  And along with their high suggestions of wine brands, the follow suit with their Gutsy Cook menu selections to kick off June recipes.  I’m really loving this week’s choices, mainly because one of the recipe  is dear to my heart - I dare you to guess which one? 

  • Sopa de Tortilla - page 115
  • Arroz con pollo - page 294

First up is Sopa de Tortilla, or Tortilla Soup, which is a Mexican classic, according to my south of the border friends.  The nearly ubiquitous soup now refers to almost any brothy concoction that is garnished with crispy tortilla strips, chiles, and cheese.  Variations are expected based on the different regions, cooks, family recipes and what is at hand in the Kitchen.  I first came across it when one of my co-workers joined my cooking club and brought her mom and she took over my kitchen and made this as our Mexican Fiesta Night menu.  My house never smelled as good.  She had me, along with 10 other, at their edge of their seat waiting for these bowls full of goodness.  Plus is always fun to mix and match what you want to put on the soup.

Looking at the TKB recipe, I can recommend two things - First really try using the Queso Fresco, instead of the other option of ricotta salata as the cheese, today, most local supermarkets have a good selection of Mexican cheeses in their Latin section and you will have no trouble finding this cheese.  The second is to make sure the tortillas that you are using are from the day before, my friends mama told me that they need to be a bit old - but then she brought freshly made tortillas that she made the day before, so it may be a wash if you buy the ready-made or you can really go Gutsy on the group and try your hand in making them fresh, this is a good place to start  and if you are visual like me, do a search under “making fresh tortilla” and find video after video to help you along with the steps.

The next recipe is Arroz con Pollo - Chicken and Rice.  And if you guess that this one was my hear recipe, you were right.  My mom is famous for her Arroz con Pollo. In the Latin home, everyone’s mom knows how to make Arroz con Pollo, but my mom’s is the undisputed best ever. There are millions of ways to make this dish, with each country and region laying claim to a different “authentic” variety.  And if you have any Latin friends, I bet you they will swear up and down that theirs is the most authentic and the most delicious.  They are wrong.  My mom’s recipe is the most delicious. It just is.

At this point you are probably shouting at the screen - SHARE IT!  I will, eventually.  But this week I will make the TKB version and see if it even comes close.

The only tip I can give you here, is replace the very expensive Saffron with Annato [Achiote] seeds, which taste great, gives you a beautiful color and will save your wallet. Paprika is unnecessary when Annato is used. Once more scout your supermarket Latin section and you will find it in the spice isle. The seeds can be added directly to a cooking liquid or infused in hot water until the desired color is obtained and then used for stocks or coloring rice. It is also common to fry the seeds in oil (my way of doing it) for a few minutes (best done in a covered pan as the hot seeds jump), then discard the seeds and use the bright yellow/orange oil. Try using one teaspoon of seeds to 4 tablespoons of oil.

So there you have it.  Since I will be without a kitchen over the weekend, I will be posting my GCC a bit late in the game.  For the rest of you, put on that Latin hat and go gutsy on us!

Menu 35: Chili Tofu Stir-fry and Thai Coconut Rice

This week menu is going to be a nice twist for any vegetarian out there, since one the main ingredient being use is tofu and lots of vegetables along with some tradional Asian accompaniment.

  • Chile Tofu Stir-Fry – page 221
  • Thai Coconut Rice – page 215

Do you like tofu?  Unfortunately, on my end that will be sad no.  And believe me that I have tried to like it, but I just cannot seem to like it. Tofu or bean curd is a food made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into soft white blocks.  Tofu has very little flavor or smell on its own, so it can be used either in savory or sweet dishes, and it is often seasoned or marinated to suit the dish.  In the case of this stir-fry, the combination of stock (chicken or vegetable), soy sauce and chile sauce will add the punch to this dish full of crispy vegetables.  The trick here is to make sure your saucepan (or wok if you are lucky to own one) temperature is always nice and high so the vegetables sear quickly without overcooking them.

And then we have the Thai Coconut Rice.  And if you know me and my preferences by now, you know that I probably will be over this this dish.  Coconut – YES! And Rice? DOUBLE YES!  Together – this combo is a match in heaven, but then I totally bias.  The ingredients are pretty straight forward until you get to the Kaffir Lime Leaf, or as its most known in the Asian culture “the makrut lime Leaf”.  The Makrut or Indonesian lime is a native of Thailand and Indonesia. There is not much juice in the fruit, and what little there is has a very bitter flavor and is not used in cooking, although it is considered a good hair tonic by the locals and is touted as preventing hair loss.

 In contrast to the lime we are accustomed to in North America, it is the leaf of the tree, and not its fruit that is prized by cooks for making Thai dishes. The zest is also used to a lesser extent, and is an important ingredient in red curry paste. Both the leaves and the zest contain a form of citronella which imparts the characteristic lemony-floral aroma and flavor. This beautiful scent is like an exotically perfumed room freshener.

It is likely that even a year ago you would have had a hard time finding fresh leaves, but they are quite readily available at any large Asian or Vietnamese grocery store. The difference between using dried and fresh lime leaves can best be compared to using dried Bay leaves versus fresh: there is no comparison.

Once you have found fresh leaves, freeze some for later. They will last for several months in the freezer. In fact, you can sometimes find them already frozen in the stores. The kaffir leaf is used like a Bay leaf: added whole during cooking and then removed before serving. The leaves should be bruised before adding to the pot to allow their full essence to get out.  If you are not lucky enough to find them, you can substitute with several dried. If you can=t find the leaves at all, you may substitute with regular lime zest or juice, but most of my Asian friends guarantee that you will never be able to replace exactly the perfumy note that the kaffir leaf is recognized for.

So ready to take an Asian culinary trip?  Looking forward to it!

Get set, ready, COOK!

Menu 34: Chicken with Herb sauce and Potato Gratin

I’m thinking this weeks menu makes it perfect for a quick dinner.  What is not to love?

  • Chicken with herb sauce - page 303
  • Potato Gratin - page 242

First up is a quick chickent with herbs and if you have read the recipe, these herbs are my all time favorite, I dare you to say no to basil, parsley, capers and anchovy for the base of this herb sauce! I can even see it as a sauce for pasta.  I’m a huge fan of pesto, and i’m thinking this is a glorify take on it.  On top of chicken breast that has been poached in the oven slowly…yes, I have to say that this is going to be a good one.

And of course a punchy sauce needs something rich and creamy, so I can totally understand Marie’s pairing choice of a potato gratin - which by the way is my all time favorite side dish.  I can eat that alone, in a corner and will fight you for it too.  I’m going to make the variation, using cheese (hello Gruyere!) and adding anchovies to the cream, which will perfectly call out to the herb sauce being used on the chicken.

So how gutsy will you go with this simple menu? Let’s see the results folks! 

Menu 33: Pad Thai and Mango and Papaya Salad

This menu reminds me of the upcoming summer.   Here in Florida we are feeling the heat and both of these choices can be refreshing and quick, so less time spent in a hot kitchen.

  • Pad Thai – Page 203
  • Mango and Papaya Salad – page 481

Pad Thai has been known in various forms for centuries – it is thought to have been brought to the ancient Thai capital of Ayuthaya by Vietnamese traders – it was first made popular as a national dish by Luang Phibunsongkhram when he was prime minister during the 1930s and 1940s, partly as an element of his campaign for Thai nationalism and centralization, and partly for a campaign to reduce rice consumption in Thailand. The Thai economy at this time was heavily dependent on rice exports; Phibunsongkhram hoped to increase the amount available for export by launching a campaign to educate the poor in the production of rice noodles, as well as in the preparation of these noodles with other ingredients to sell in small cafes and from street carts.

Then we have a dessert made of Mango, Papaya and for good measure some pomegranate and melon you know you cannot go wrong.  I love mango, I grew up around it - in fact my family home in Venezuela had four mango trees in the backyard and I learned to climb them, sitting pretty high up, eating their sweet flesh and then licking my sticky hands clean.  We ate them in ice cream, in desserts, in juices, in “merengadas” or “batidos” (shakes/smoothies) there was not place in my country that you could not find this fruit utilized in its tropical cuisine.  The same can be said for the Papaya. 

This ripe fruit is usually eaten raw, without skin or seeds. The unripe green fruit of papaya can be eaten cooked, usually in curries, salads and stews. It has a relatively high amount of pectin, which can be used to make jellies. Green papaya is used in south East Asian cooking, both raw and cooked. The black seeds are edible and have a sharp, spicy taste. They are sometimes ground and used as a substitute for black pepper. In some parts of Asia, the young leaves of papaya are steamed and eaten like spinach.

Put these two together and just like the book said, it becomes a quick refreshing dessert, perfect for a day at the lake, or beach.

Are you ready to welcome those hot summer days?  I know I am.

Let’s get cooking guys.

Menu 32: Spanish Meatballs and Pisto Machego

Our Gutsy Cook Marie from Weekend Viands is the host for the month of May and boy does she start the month with a great menu.   I for one, when I saw it, thought of nothing more than to add bottle of wine, crusty fresh bread, a plate of olives, maybe a wedge of local cheese, friends and ahhh…isn’t life just grand!  I know she just came back from Europe and my only guess is that she wanted to hold on to that feeling by giving us two perfect dishes that go great as a tapas party.

  • Spanish Meatballs – page 320
  • Pisto Manchego – page 248

Every country has it’s own culinary version of these little morsels.  In our case Marie tapped in the ever-popular Spanish meatballs (albondigas) in tomato/wine sauce, which is usually served as tapas in bars up and down Spain.  Made with any type of mincemeats like pork, beef, turkey, chicken or the even popular Bacalao (Cod) or in some cases a combo or both. This is a dish that originated with the Moors so you will usually find some exotic spices in most recipes, especially those from the Andalucian region where the Moors had the most influence.  In our recipe, ground veal and pork are used along with a hearty red wine for the sauce – nothing can beat that combination.

And to balance the rich “albondigas”, why not use the summer bounty of onions, garlic, red bell pepper, zucchini and tomatoes for Spain’s version of the French ratatouille?

I say we must.

The French version of pisto - the ratatouille - always uses aubergines (eggplants) and the Spanish pisto may or may not, depending on which Mama and her recipe is the definitive authority.  Reality is, the addition of aubergine or not just depends on if you have one at the time and if you like them in the pisto.

Spanish pisto is not so fussy.  Some cooks do remove the skin and deseed the tomatoes and peel the aubergine and some do not.  Onions and garlic are gently sautéed in plenty of olive oil with the peppers, and then the aubergine is added until most of the oil is absorbed.  Then come the chopped tomatoes, salt and pepper and often a good pinch of sugar and some cooks add a bay leaf.  All is allowed to cook covered about 15-20 minutes depending on size of vegetables and personal preference.  It is done when the vegetables are very soft but not mushy.  This is not a dish for al dente preferences.  Think very thick sauce with good texture.

I had the pleasure of tasting many variations of both of these dishes when I visited one of my best friends in Spain a couple of years back and I can attest to the fact that they make a great addition to any tapa menu.

So are you ready to call some of your friends and invite them over?  I know you are… Happy cooking guys!