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!

Menu 31: Coleslaw and Toad in the Hole

Our last men for April is compose of two very unusual pairings:

  • Coleslaw – page 125
  • Toad in the Hole – page 355

The term “coleslaw” arose in the 20th century as an anglicization of the Dutch term “koolsla”, a shortening of “koolsalade”, which means “cabbage salad”.  This is the must have dish in any American BBQ or picnic event.  The “slaw” (as it’s sometimes called) is a salad made of shredded red or white cabbage, sometimes carrots are included, but many regional versions exist.  This all incorporated with a salad dressing made with mayonnaise. Sometimes it also contains buttermilk, mustard or vinegar, which are very common variations of the dressing.  There is also a barbecue slaw, which is known as the red slaw and it’s commonly found in North Carolina, which is made using ketchup and vinegar rather than mayonnaise.  

Coleslaw is generally eaten as a side dish with foods such as barbecue, French fries, and fried chicken. It may also be used as a sandwich ingredient, placed on barbecue sandwiches, hamburgers and hot dogs along with chili and hot mustard. It is sometimes seen in delicatessens on variants of the Reuben sandwich - with coleslaw substituting for the sauerkraut and dressing, the meat being either pastrami or corned beef, and the sandwich commonly called “Rachel” instead of “Reuben” (also simply “Corned Beef Special”). A variation of coleslaw made with vinegar and oil is often served with pizza in Sweden. As we dig deeper in the history of the coleslaw you come to one conclusion the sky is the limit with these ingredients, they are probably as many variations of coleslaw as there are cooks.  The only tip I can give you here is to make this a day ahead of serving so all of those flavor have time to develop into the ingredients.

If the coleslaw is typical American salad, the Toad in a Hole is representative of its English roots.  This traditional dish consists of sausages in a pudding batter, usually served with vegetables and onion gravy. In the book a popover batter replaces the pudding batter. With six ingredients needed, I have to agree that this would be the perfect Sunday brunch dish.

So are we going on a picnic adventure or a relaxing Sunday brunch?

Menu 30: Chicken Pot Pie and Waldorf Salad

We have comfort food this week.  Don’t believe me? Take a look:

  • Waldorf Salad – page 121
  • Chicken Pot-Pie – page 286 

The salad is one of does dishes that carries their name based on the location it was created in, in this case the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.  Oscar Tschirky, left his job as head waiter at the fashionable Delmonico’s Restaurant to join the staff of a new hotel being built in 1893, the new job would lead to a career more successful than he dreamed, and he would be credited for the invention of at least three foods Americans would enjoy throughout the 20th Century, although he never was, and never claimed to be, a chef. After the Waldorf Hotel opened in 1893 New Yorkers began enjoying an unusual salad on the menu, consisting of just three ingredients:  cubed apples, chopped celery and mayonnaise.  It was called the Waldorf salad, reputed to be the brainchild of Oscar Tschirky, and it was an instant hit. Cooks are forever trying to improve the salad, or put their stamp on it, but whenever one tastes chunks of apple and celery slathered in mayonnaise with bits of nuts, no matter what else is there, one is apt to think “Waldorf Salad!”

Then we have another american staple - the chicken Pot Pie, if we thought that the Waldorft had infinitive variations, the chicken pot-pie is not very far behind. Some say that it’s a variation of the “Pasty”, which is a pastry case, associated with Cornwall and Devon in the south west of England. It is made by placing the uncooked filling on a flat pastry circle, and folding it to wrap the filling, crimping the edge to form a seal. The result is a raised semicircular package.  Sounds familiar anyone? Sounds to me like a empanada. Another variation of the history is that it gets its ancestry from the Greeks and Romans. Where the Greeks cooked meats in open pastry shells called artrocreas, however it was the Romans who added to top crust making the first pot pies. During the Elizabethan era, these savory pastries — decorated with flowers, fanciful designs and heraldic devices — were elaborate assertions of the chef’s skill in the royal households of France and England. Since these pies were an elaborate dish, one that took time to make with it’s different component and steps plus add te cooking time, it’s no surprise that time issues was what lead to the abandonment of the homemade potpie in favor of the frozen variety, making this dish the original fronzen dish of the 60’s.

Fortunately, the resurgence in so-called retro foods has brought homemade potpies back to the table.  And the Kitchen Bible provides us a simple, easy version, one that can be made with ready made puff pastry and cooked chicken, which in less than an hour can be in your table for your family to enjoy. Or you can get gutsy on us and go the elaborate route by making your own version. 

So are you going to make both? Or just one of these choices this week…I for one know that the pot pie is a given, both Tom and I really love the dish.  The salad my make our Sunday beach picnic.  Guess we will have to wait and see.  Just like I will to see who choose to do what over the week.  Happy Easter guys and happy cooking.

Menu 29: Vichyssoise and Coronation Chicken Rolls

Another pick from our Gutsy cook Raymond this week.  And since I missed last weeks choices, I better get cracking in making these two:

  • Vichyssoise – page 106
  • Coronation Chicken Rolls – page 89

So you would think that with a name like Vichyssoise, we are going to make a French soup right? 

Not so fast my fellow cooks.

It’s actually a cold potato leek soup with a French name, which was invented in New York City and not in Paris (ok, by a French chef, but still in the US).  The story goes that in 1917 the fashionable Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Madison Avenue at 46th Street was about to open a new roof garden restaurant.   The head chef was a Frenchman named Louis Diat .  He often made a potato and leek soup from a recipe given him by his mother, Annette Alajoinine Diat, and he was preparing to serve it at a party celebrating the opening of the roof garden.   Whether, according to legend, the soup, prepared in advance, wasn’t re-heated in time to be served as a first course, or whether the day was warm and Chef-de-Cuisine Diat felt culinarily creative, he added cream to his mother’s soup recipe and served it cold, sprinkled with chopped chives is still up to debate.   He called it Creme Vichyssoise Glacee, or Chilled Cream Vichyssoise, in honor of the town where he was born. The soup’s popularity doubtless comes from the fact that even in the hottest weather one can enjoy a bowl of soup and find it refreshing.  In my book it has one of my favorite vegetables which is leeks, so cold, hot, warm.. its going to be made.

And who can argue that the best thing to serve with soup would be a sandwich? In this case small rolls, filled with chicken flavored with curry and apricot.  This dish was also name after a special event, in this case for the banquet of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1053. I’m so curious to see this combo.  As I was researching this British dish, I ran into various variations, some used mango chutney and a bit of fresh lemon juice, and toasted choice of nuts, like cashews or almonds.  Others added raisins, cinnamon and even pineapple.  I think the name of the game here is to offset the spicy curry with something sweet in the dressing – which I’m all for it.  And it’s wide open to full adaptation from the recipe that TKB is giving us.

Time to get Gutsy guys! 

Menu 28: Zucchini Sticks and Creamy Tarragon Chicken

This week menu comes compliments of Raymond.  This is Raymond 2nd month hosting and he is not pulling any punches. 

  • Zucchini Sticks - page  35
  • Hungarian Goulash Soup - page 111
  • Creamy Tarragon Chicken - page 288

I personally think that the zucchini sticks are going to steal the show, just you watch. These are perfect little party snacks. I’m thinking they make perfect little veggie snacks. Try to buy the small zucchini’s in your supermarket, they tend to be more tender when you cook them and had a milder flavor.  Make sure the skin is free of any bleminish and they are brigh green. You should not have any problems, since they are at their peek season during the spring.

As you may have notice his other choice was Hungarian Goulash Soup, which we already had a crack at, in Menu 16.  So I added another option, the Creamy Tarragon chicken. Which I been eye for a while now, and I think this is the perfect time to try this one out. It’s looks refreshing and fresh and very spring like dish.  Pair with a good side of rice and I think we may have a winning weeknight dinner.

Let’s get to it!


Menu 27: Spanish Lentils and Sachertorte

These choices were left over from the original picks from our Gutsy cooks – Cynthia and Sam of Samcyn’s Edible Adventures.  And oh boy do they sound good. 

  • Spanish Lentils – page 214
  • Sachertorte – page 416

Did you know that lentil is a pulse, which is a bushy annual plant of the legume family, grown for its lens-shaped seeds? The plant likely originated in the Near East, and has been part of the human diet since the aceramic (non-pottery producing) Neolithic times, being one of the first crops domesticated in the Near East. With approximately 26% of their calories from protein, lentils and generally any pulses or legumes have the third-highest level of protein, by weight, of any plant-based food after soybeans and hemp and is an important part of the diet in many parts of the world, especially in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent which has large vegetarian populations.

Lentils have a mild, often earthy flavor, and they’re best if cooked with assertive flavorings.  The best, most delicate lentils are the peppery French green lentils. These hold their shape well, but take longer to cook than other lentils. The milder brown lentils also hold their shape after cooking, but can easily turn mushy if overcooked.  Indian markets also carry a wide variety of split lentils, called dal.   Before cooking, always rinse lentils and pick out stones and other debris.  Unlike dried beans and peas, there’s no need to soak them.  Lentils cook more slowly if they’re combined with salt or acidic ingredients, so add these last, after they are cooked. 

I’m really looking forward to this dish, mainly because I love lentils and how can anyone pass a dish that not only has chorizo but bacon as well – it’s a total win-win.

For a sweet choice they picked the Sachertorte, which is one of the most famous Viennese culinary specialties. The Original Sachertorte is only made in Vienna and Salzburg, and is shipped from both locations. The only place where the Original Sacher Torte is available outside of Austria is in the Sacher shop of Bolzano, Italy.  The cake even has it’s own web site and you can read all about it’s history there and I highly suggest you watch the video, so you can drool and the covet one of those nice wooden boxes (anyone has a trip planned to Vienna in the near future?).  But if you are up to, TKB gives you an almost close second to making this at home.  The only tip I could give you is to add a splash of apricot brandy to the apricot preserved.

I was excited with each of your creations of the Cassoulet this past week, so I’m going to bet you are going to blow me away again with this weeks choices.

Be gutsy my fellow cooks!

Menu 26: Roasted Beet and Feta Salad, Cassoulet and Baked Pears in Marsala

How about traveling from Asia to Europe this week? Because this menu is all European… 

  • Roasted Beet and Feta Salad – page 221
  • Cassoulet – page 338
  • Baked Pears in Marsala – page 457

Did you know that the wild beet, the ancestor of the beet with which we are familiar today, is thought to have originated in prehistoric times in North Africa and grew wild along Asian and European seashores? In these earlier times, people exclusively ate the beet greens and not the roots. The ancient Romans were one of the first civilizations to cultivate beets to use their roots as food. The tribes that invaded Rome were responsible for spreading beets throughout northern Europe where they were first used for animal fodder and later for human consumption, becoming more popular in the 16th century. 

Tip: Since beet juice can stain your skin, wearing kitchen gloves is a good idea when handling beets. If your hands become stained during the cleaning and cooking process, simply rub some lemon juice on them to remove the stain.

I’m not a huge fan of beets, but this salad looks like a good choice as the side to the Cassoulet.

Beloved by generations of French cooks, cassoulet is a rustic, slow-cooked dish made with white beans and a lavish assortment of meats, from duck confit or foie gras to sausages and succulent cuts of pork, lamb or poultry. The hearty, meat-studded dish may be the ultimate one-pot meal. A slow-simmered mix takes its name from the earthenware cassole in which it was traditionally made. The crisped bread crumb crust atop this version contrasts appealingly with the hearty stew beneath.

Obviously if duck is too pricy in your area, you can replace with boneless pork shoulder, chicken thighs (or whole chicken will work well).  Italian sausage is used in this recipe, but I seen it made also with chorizo, but it has to be the precooked Spanish-style chorizo sausage links, not the Mexican style ones.  If you go the Spanish chorizo route, buy the softer style sausage, rather than a dry one for this dish.

The end to this meal should include something light and fresh.  So the Bake Pears in Marsala are sure to please anyone (at least those that like cooked fruit!).  I’m a fan of using the same wine in a recipe and with the dish. Here, it’s a good glug of Marsala in the pot and the remainder of the bottle served with the finished dessert. Sadly, Marsala is a much misunderstood wine – Unfortunately, most people misuse Marsala in cooking, using sweet Marsala in savory dishes – when a dry Marsala labeled “secco” or “fine” is required. In this recipe it’s asking you to use the “dry”, but I truly believe that the sweeter style, would be better – go with your gut. I use a brand called Florio and it is excellent for cooking. They have the sweet or dry Marsala and it’s not expensive, probably about $11-12 for a bottle.  Most liquor stores carries this brand and it should not be very difficult to find.

If you choose to take a sip with your baked pears, don’t be afraid to chill the bottle before. Ah, such harmony.

I’m excited to see what you guys turn out this week.

Let’s get cooking!

Menu 25: Sesame Shrimp Toast, Sweet and Sour Chicken and Thai Noodle Stir Fry

This week we have moved to an Asian inspired menu.  Just look at the options: 

  • Sesame Shrimp Toasts - page 50
  • Sweet and Sour Chicken - page 303
  • Thai Noodle Stir-Fry - page 200

Where should I even start?  Maybe by telling you that you really don’t need very complicated ingredients for these, most if not all can be found in your local supermarket.

The recipes, like any Asian dishes are pretty straightforward and fast to put together.  Don’t let the long list of ingredients scare you away.  Pre-prepping everything ahead of time and having everything at your fingertips means that all of these come together pretty fast.  If you look at the cook time all are done in less than 20 minutes.

The sesame shrimp toast can usually be found in a dim sum restaurant, I call it the tapas of Asian cusine, because they bite-sized triangles of bread topped with a shrimp paste and then deep fried until golden brown and crunchy. The dish originated in Guangzhou (Canton) in China nearly a hundred years ago, although there are those who claim it is a hybrid of a traditional Chinese shrimp recipe and bread introduced by foreign travelers. Whatever the origin, shrimp toast is now a dish that can be found throughout Asia.

There are many different versions, but my own favorite is that served at dim sum restaurant here in Tampa, where the shrimp paste-covered bread is dipped in sesame seeds before frying. This gives the end result a fantastic crunch and works perfectly with a hot, sharp dipping sauce made with chilies, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger. 

The book does not give you a recipe for the dipping sauce and I did not search for one either, since I have this one, which is the perfect pairing.  Make the dipping sauce AHEAD of making the shrimp toast.

Dipping sauce Option

  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2-tablespoon ponzu (or lemon juice)
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • 2 green chilies (de-seeded and finely minced)
  • 2 cloves garlic (finely minced)
  • 1-inch fresh ginger (peeled and sliced into thin shreds) 

(Note: Prepare the sauce in advance of the shrimp toast) Mix all the ingredients in a serving bowl and chill for at least an hour to allow the flavors to combine.

When it comes to Chinese recipes, there are a few very popular–and basic–cooking methods, and one of it is definitely sweet and sour.  Sweet and sour chicken is a simple recipe that is friendly to most people regardless of your national origin and religion. The key to a great sweet and sour chicken is that you don’t want your chicken to soak and swim in the sweet and sour sauce like what most Chinese restaurants do. The sauce should lightly coat the fried chicken cubes so they don’t turn soggy. Another secret is the use of baking soda in the frying batter, which does a great job in giving the battered fried chicken an extra crunch.   The books call for baking powder, replace it with baking soda instead.

If you don’t want to go the sweet and sour way, the other option is the Thai Noodle Stir Fry. This easy Thai fried rice noodle dish starts with very thin noodles also known as Chinese vermicelli, bean threads, bean thread noodles, crystal noodles, or glass noodles.  They are a type of transparent Asian noodle made from starch (such as mung bean starch, yam, potato starch, cassava or canna starch), and water.

They are generally sold in dried form, boiled to reconstitute, and then used in soups, stir fried dishes, or spring rolls. They are called “cellophane noodles” or “glass noodles” because of their appearance when cooked, resembling cellophane, a clear material or a translucent light gray or brownish-gray color.   This dish is known in any Thai restaurant as Pad Woon Sen, because in Thailand the glass noodles are called woon sen.

The best part of both of these dishes is that you don’t have to use the chicken as your protein.  It can be replace with seafood (Shrimp) or other types of meats – pork, beef.  You can even omit it all together and use tofu or more vegetables to turn them into healthy vegetarian dishes.

So, who is going to surprise me this week?

Menu 24: Ficelles, Irish Stew and French Apple Tart

Get ready cooks, because all of the choices this week make a perfect choice to celebrate St. Patrick’s day. You got your Irish Stew (page 342) , and Ficelles (page 79)  to soak up those stew juices. Then to finish it all off, a impressive (and easy!) French Apple tart (page 454).

Let’s break it down shall we?

Ficelles, whose name means, “string” is basically a small baguette and like it’s sister bread filled with many air pockets and boast a prime ration of crust-to-crumb – which I don’t know about you, but for me that is what the perfect piece of bread should always have.  While searching more about this bread, I found different variations, the one in the book coats it with a combo of water and salt, but I found another version that makes it with lots of poppy and sesame seeds (extra crunch if you ask me!) or you can even coat it with a bit of parmesan cheese or gruyere or…wait, I let you be the cook.  But, whatever you decide to do, it’s perfect to serve with the next item on the list the Irish Stew.

I got to tell you, when I read the recipe I was like… ok, wait, don’t you pre-cook the lamb? For a minute there I thought I found another typo error in the book (they are a few), but after doing a Google search I found tons of variations and this one is suppose to be the “original, authentic” way to preparing this stew. Apparently you do not pre-cook the meat, or the onions or the carrots.  But you layer each one in the casserole and cover with the stock and top with the slices potatoes and into the oven it goes to cook for one hour or more.  I’m still debating with myself if I should do it this way or give the meat a nice sear before hand, along with cooking the carrots and onions as well on the skillet, then layering it all down.

The last option is a French Apple Tart.  The recipe calls to use pie dough, but does not give you the recipe for it, so we will assume that you can use your own recipe for this, buy it at the store, or hunt it down in the book, which can be found in page 436 under the Shortcrust pastry.  I also recommend the pie crust from Nick Malgieri, or you can also use his pastry dough recipe as well.  I have done both and they have yet to fail me.

So are you going to put on green underwear on and drink green beer while cooking this great menu? I hope so, don’t want to be the only crazy one in the kitchen!

Menu 23: English Muffins and Eggs Benedict

New month means a new gutsy host!

Shandy of Patry Heaven has chosen our next four menus starting with the perfect options to served on a Sunday brunch – at least in my mind.

  • English Muffins - page 76
  • Eggs Benedict - page 138

To make one, you need the other, so first up in the English Muffin. Out of the all the breads that I like during breakfast, English Muffins are my favorite.  They are not too bready, have tons of holes, which mean that when toasted they come out nice and crunchy, the perfect vessel for some butter, honey, jam or become the base ingredient in the traditional New York brunch dish Eggs Benedict, which is our next choice.

When it comes to the origin of Eggs Benedict, food historians tell us, there two stories and that we will never know which one is true. Both versions take place in 1893/94 in posh New York restaurants and attribute the name to wealthy people named Benedict. All of this information is neatly summed up in this Web site (which was referenced in a recent New York Times article).

But, where it came from is not important, how to make it is.  And the eggs benedict have 2 more components besides the homemade muffins.  A poach egg and the warm hollandaise Sauce.  If you been with us from the beginning, we made the hollandaise sauce back in menu 4, which was used to top our Wild Mushroom Tartlets.  So if you chicken out then, here you go, your opportunity to give it another try is here again.  The recipes can be found in page 37, 282 or under the technique menu in page 516 - plenty of options.

Then there is the technique of poaching the eggs. The book also helps you here by showing you on page 588. Or you can run a Google search that is going to come back with over 94,000+ results, 2,000 of those are videos.  So there are plenty of references if you have never done this.  I found out that the biggest debate is weather to swirl the water or not swirl, creating a vortex  - so many options! How about if I give you one more.?

I read somewhere to use a square of saran wrap over a bowl and push it down. Then crack the egg into the bowl. Twist the Sarah wrap at the top and drop into the boiling water.  Would I be gutsy enough to try this new method?

Guess we will have to wait and see.  Just like I cannot wait to see what you guys come up with.

Lets get it going!


Menu 22: Chicken Biryani and Pear, Mascarpone and Hazelnut Tart

It seems that Cynthia and Sam must love their rice.  For the second week in a row, we have another rice dish in our menu line up.  This time from one of my favorite places,  India.  Then we have a nice and fruity, rich tart with a nutty topping.  Another great meal, if you ask me, to invite some friends over and have lots of wine.

  • Chicken Biryani - page 305
  • Pear, Mascarpone, and Hazelnut Tart - page 482

Just like last weeks risotto is known as the quintessential Italian dish, Chicken Biryani is by far the most popular Indian recipe around the globe.  Since this will be the first time I cook this, I was heavy on the internet research and found a couple of “secrets” for making a perfect Biryani.

Use only good quality basmati rice.  And apparently the key to making a good biryani lies in the way the rice is par boil.  Apparently the trick is too never over cook the rice.  It is also recommended to try to use all the ingredients, specially the spices, since they are a major element in the contribution of the final flavor of the dish. The onions have to be deep fried to a light brown color (this are called “barista”). Desi ghee (clarified butter) is also very essential. 

Looking at the recipe from The Kitchen Bible, clarified butter is not being used and the technique of cooking the onions to a light crispy brown color is also not noted.  But, I think I’m going to give them a try, since I have used Desi Ghee before and any clarified butter in a dish is a “very good thing”… also I like the idea of the onions being really brown and crispy, it should add a great texture to the final dish.  I would try to do a bit of research, since there are so many variations out there and it may give you a different take on the dish.

Then to balance all the spiciness of the Biryani, our Gutsy hosts choose the Pear, Mascarpone, and Hazelnut tart as a desert component.

I been skipping the desserts of late, and if most of you been reading Sweetbites for a while, know my aversion for cooking fruit in desserts.  But, this recipe has everything that I love to eat by itself – pears, the recipe calls to use canned, I’m going to totally go the deep end and I’m going to go for broke and use fresh and poach mine! Using either David Lebovitz poaching recipe, or Elise from Simply Recipes using Marsala which I truly believe will set off the creamy mascarpone, which I have a deep love for.  Finally, don’t get me started on the hazelnuts; they are my favorite nuts besides pistachios and almonds. Now put all of that together and I’m sure this will be a winner.

Ready to see?  Let’s get cooking gang!

Menu 21: Mushroom Risotto and Cold Raspberry Soufflé

Last week we saw some creativity within our group!  Michelle and Cynthia totally went rogue on us and revamped the Scallops & Pesto Crostini recipe and I don’t know about you guys, but their versions looked and sounded (and I bet tasted) better than the original!

That is what I love about savory cooking, the fact that we use the recipes as a springboard to be created and gutsy cooks.

With this week’s menu choices I don’t know how many of you will change it up.  We are looking at two recipes that, if followed by the book, are going to be good no matter what.

  • Mushroom Risotto - page 207
  • Cold Raspberry Soufflé - page 470

Risotto, now who does not love risotto?  I’m a HUGE and I mean humongous fan of risotto and made and posted about risotto before. I love rice, and I can eat it any which way you want to served it to me.  But, risotto holds a special place - maybe because of my Italian roots? Maybe because it’s just comfort food at its best, maybe because I’m still sick as I write this and a bowl of creamy, buttery rice sounds really good right now.  The only tip I can give you is the type of rice to use for your risotto. The principal varieties used in Italy are Arborio, Baldo, Carnaroli, Padano, Roma, and Vialone Nano.  Carnaroli and Vialone Nano are considered to be the best (and most expensive) varieties, with different users preferring one over the other (I prefer Vialone Nano). They have slightly different properties: for example Carnaroli is less likely to get overcooked than Vialone Nano, but the latter being smaller cooks faster and absorbs condiments better. 

Then you have the mushrooms to deal with.  The recipe calls for cremini, but you can also use baby portabella, or even chopped Portobello mushrooms – or go totally wild and use dry mushrooms, the recipe also gives you that option as a variation, using dried porcini.  Or why not use both versions? Dry and fresh?  The flavors will be out of this world.  Another tip that I can give you – use very good parmesan cheese, go the extra mile and try to get the best in your supermarket, which is usually Parmigiano-Reggiano, it’s expensive, but you would be surprise that a little goes a long way with this cheese.  If, it’s too pricy for your wallet, the closest legitimate cheese would be the Grana Padano and it tends to be more economical.

Last tip… I suggest you cook your mushrooms FIRST, before the risotto.

Then we have the Cold Raspberry Soufflé.  The recipe uses rose water, which can be found in any local Middle Eastern food store.  The rest is pretty straight up and simple dessert, and after many hours of baking, I have found that simple desserts tend to be the best kind.

So, let’s see who goes bold this time …. I can not wait for your versions

Go and get gutsy!

Menu 20: Scallop & Pesto Crostini and Mediterranean Lasagna

This weeks menu choices are heavy hitters folks. 

  • Scallop & Pesto Crostini - page 49
  • Mediterranean Lasagna - page 203

The scallop and Pesto Crostini’s are sounding perfect for a Valentine dinner appetizer.  I mean scallops can be expensive, specially sea scallops but, if you read the recipe, you are asked to buy 6 scallops and cut them in half, which means that it will not break your budget, if you half the recipe and instead buy only 4 scallops which will yield you 8 crostini, you can even go with 2, if they are very large and still have 4 crostini’s on your plate, the perfect size for a romantic dinner with your sweetheart.

And if is way to expensive to splurge on the scallop you other options is just as good and much more economical.  The Mediterranean Lasagna is a vegetarian dream come true.  Eggplants, portabella mushrooms, and yummy trio of cheeses is all kinds of healthy for your tummy (as waistline).  You can even be braver and try your hand at making your own pasta, instead of buying it.  The book does not have a pasta recipe, but I can direct you to Lidia Bastianich fresh pasta recipe, which can be made in the food processor and it’s my go-to homemade pasta recipe – it’s easy and fast and comes out perfect every single time.  And if you want to be lazy, my next recommendation is to get the Barilla Lasagne, Oven ready pasta, another easy option

There you have it, two great choices for an excellent Valentine’s Day menu.

So gang, let’s get to it and be Gutsy this week!

Menu 19: Lamb Kebabs and Sticky Lemon Cake

We have entered February guys!  The month of huge amounts of chocolate consumption and sappy hallmark sentiments.  But the best part? A new month of menus!

The month of February is being hosted by Cynthia and Sam of SamCyn’s Edible Adventures.  Cynthia and Sam are still newlyweds, so it’s fitting don’t you say, that they ended up with February as their hosting month.  And they started us well with their first menu choice, perfect for a cozy dinner for two:

  • Lamb Kebabs – page 348
  • Sticky Lemon Cake – page 410

Kebabs; or kebap, dabab, kebob, kabob, kibob, kebahv (whew talk about multiple personalities!).  The traditional meat for kebab is lamb (as the recipe calls for it), but depending on local tastes and taboos, it may also be made with beef, goat, chicken, pork; fish and seafood; or even vegetarian foods like falafel or tofu. Like other ethnic foods brought by travelers, the kebab has become part of everyday cuisine in multicultural countries around the globe and numerous versions can be found all around the world.

If you have trouble finding lamb to make this, you can pretty much use any other types of meat as noted above.  The book recommends serving this with a raita of cucumber and yogurt and you can find various recipes online for it – its quite simple to make it, and the ingredients needed are usually plain yogurt, cucumber, cilantro, mint some cumin and salt and pepper.  Epicurious has a good one here.

Then to cool the kebabs we have the Sticky Lemon Cake, which is perfect because it’s also made with yogurt! And if there is anything we love more in my house are desserts made with lemons and almonds, so I’m looking forward to this one.

But, before I send you guys to the kitchen to cook, I like to welcome two new (or three actually) Gutsy Cooks into our fold.  We have Tammy and Greg from “The Foodie Couple” and Michelle from “On and Off my Plate”.  They both participated in the last menu and posted their creations, so if you have a chance, mosey over to their respective blogs and say a quick hello.

So, ready for a new month guys?

Ready, set, get Gutsy!