Wednesday, May 30

Chinese Celery Salad

The Chinese culture is filled with full gems of culinary delight. I was only there a brief time by comparison and didn't get to experience even a quarter of these gems. But the ones I did I studied hard, ate often, asked questions, and tried to figure out the recipe the best I could. It has taken 10-15 years to duplicate some of these recipes but, it has been worth it.

One of my favorite hidden gems is a spicy celery salad, often served before the meal as a little snack with tea. A custom that can be seen in many places , olives and hummus in the Mediterranean , bread and olive oil in Italy, or cru de te in France. In the summer I enjoy serving cold, crisp pre-meal snacks to my guests and celery salad is perfect for this. it provides the best combination of cold and spice, to get people in the mood to eat!

Serves 3-4
Prep time: 15 minutes
Full time: 2 1/2 hours to Overnight

You will need:

1 dozen celery stalks, chilled in a refrigerator until preparing
1/4 cup sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp chili paste
1/2 tsp minced garlic

Let us begin:

In a small bowl mix salt and sugar, set aside. Honestly I don't know why, but every time I saw this made, it was done and it does make a taste difference.
In a medium bowl, whisk together sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, chili paste, and garilc. Set asaide for a moment.
To prepare the celery, wash it extremely well in cold water.

Now, you are going to want to dice it into a bite size piece. However, don't dice it too small. You want chunks roughly 1/2"-3/4" big. Think about something that can easily be picked up with a chopstick and be bite size at the same time.
If, I timed this correctly, roughly 10 minutes should have past from the time you mixed the sugar and salt till now. If I didn't then you'll need to wait it out until ten minutes have past.

Once the time has past, whisk the sugar/salt mixture into the bowl with sesame oil mixture.
Now belnd in the celery pieces. Stir them around to fully coat each surface.
Cover tightly with plastic wrap (cling film) and put in refridgerator for a minimum of 2 hours, however overnight is better.

Serve cold and enjoy!

HOW TO: Shuck and remove corn from cob

Shucking corn is a family activity in my household. I set up a "shucking station" on the outside stairs and usually eager helping hands who love to jump in show up. Occasionally, we just need to say something about corn shucking and even the game controllers or ipods get put aside! It is a fun little activity to do at home with kitchen helpers. The next time your a bout to shuck in the store, try it at home instead, see what happens. 
I have recently noticed in the store, that several people don't know how to shuck corn and are often asking other shoppers who are shucking how to remove corn from the cob. So I decided to spend a little time going over this, hopefully it will help speed up your shucking time and give you a nice easy way to remove corn from your cob. It will also help maintain the flavor and juicy quality of the corn, unless you are cooking it the same day you shuck, corn really does better sealed away in it's shuck (protective leaves) until cooking. Trust me shucking at home, will make a difference.
For the first half you will need a shucking station. This will include a  pile of corn to be shucked, a paper bag (for shuck management), and a colander or large bowl for cleaned corn.

Let us begin, look at your cob-you should see one end that has little hairs growing from it. This is the top of your cob, the hairs are the corn silk. On an interesting side note-there is a yarn that actually made from corn silk, talk about going green! Also, corn shucks make a great addition to any compost pile. Anyway, you want to work the shuck away from the silk and towards the bottom of the cob.
Start by pulling the larger leaves of the shuck one or two at a time towards the bottom.
Continue pulling these leaves back, and off if you wish, I leave them on till the end, until you get to the thinner pale leaves. They will be a milky greenish white color and very soft. Once you get to these leaves, grab some silk at the top and pull back, this will unveil the cob itself, and save you from having to go leaf by leaf.
Once you pull everything back, you will need to remove the excess stem at the bottom. If you look where the cob ends and where the shuck attaches to the bottom, you should see a white ridged stem. Apply a tiny bit of pressure here, to do so hold bottom of cob in one hand and the stem in the other and bend, as if trying to snap a twig. For thicker stems or tough ones I use the edge of the table or stairs to add a little extra pressure.
Once your cob has been removed from it's shuck and stem, twist it around in your hands a few times, this will loosen and remove any left over silk strands that are clinging. Making sure the silk is out now, will help your teeth later.
You are now ready to cook your corn or you can remove it from the cob.

Removing corn from the cob is simple, but it takes a very sharp knife. I wouldn't have smaller helping hands try this one. For your set up, you will need a cutting board or mat, a sharp knife which is at least 1 1/2" -2" wide at it's base (smaller chef knife), and a small flat bottom bowl.

Place the bowl upside down on you cutting surface.
Now place the cob, stem side down on top of the bowl.
Grab your knife and starting at the top, guide it behind the kernels and up against the cob center. You will feel resistance, the knife will stop when you hit the center as if you hit a piece of wood.
Run the knife down the side of the center to remove the kernels.
Depending on how thick your cob is, you will need to rotate it and continue to run the knife down it's center, each pass will get easier. I usually take 5 passes to get all the kernels off.
Your corn is now ready to be cooked,  if you are pan roasting just remember you will need a tiny bit more butter or oil to cook, it will brown faster than previously frozen or canned corn.

Also, you will learn something very interesting about quantity when removing your corn. On an average meal my family will each eat 1-2 corn cobs a piece, for a total of 8. But look at the amount of corn that comes off a medium cob-on a night I remove it and cook it separate we only need 3-4? I even measured a family size bag, same thing only 3-4 cobs worth. Apparently corn has a magically way of appearing smaller when on the cob and contains a larger quantity when off the cob? But, that was just a fun observation which made groceries in the summer cost less. I just buy fresh corn, remove it myself, and I usually get two dinners for the price of 1!

Dijon Turkey Cutlets

Turkey cutlets are a great way to eat healthy, cut fat from your diet, and add a nice twist to your menu. Turkey cutlets have a great flavor and love to be marinated. Here is one of my favorite cutlet dishes for you to try and enjoy.

Serves 2-4
Cook time: 20 minutes
Full time: 50 minutes to 2 1/2 hours

You will need:

1 spring fresh rosemary, fine chopped
1 pound thin slices turkey cutlets
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp salt

Let us begin:

In a zip-top bag, blend olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and mustard.

Add cutlets into the bag and squish them around carefully.

Let bag sit for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

When ready to cook. Get a saute pan heated over medium heat.

Carefully remove cutlet from bag and place in hot pan, sprinkle with salt.

Cook for 12-15 minutes, flipping half way through to ensure even cooking.

Once cooked, remove from pan and finish remaining cutlets. Serve immediately when done with all cutlets and enjoy!

Sunday, May 27

Quick and easy Mousse

Mousse: a rich dish consisting mainly of whipped cream, sugar, blended with a variety of flavors, and most often stabilized with gelatin. Now that is the technical definition for mousse, mine isn't so technical however. Mousse super yummy, easy to make, impressive, and can fill any craving from chocolate to cheesecake.

Now you're wondering how I can say mousse is easy and can fill any flavor aren't you? The trick isn't so much as making mousse as making a mock mousse. I learned this from my mother, who makes this every Thanksgiving in a scary quantity. Usually a double and on rare occasion a quadruple batch. The secret is to use instant sugar free pudding as a base. This will allow you to make mousse in under 10 minutes which is ready to each, have a variety of flavors, and not need any stabilizing fuss! Give it a whirl, you'll love it!

Serves 4-6
Full time: 15 minutes

You will need:

1 package sugar-free pudding 1 oz
1 cup milk cold (double check the side of pudding box, you need half the amount the package calls for)
1 pint whipping cream

Let us begin:

In a small bowl pour your instant pudding (I am using chocolate in photos)

Whisk in milk, remember you need to be using HALF the amount the box calls for (example: box calls for 2 cups you will use 1 cup)
Set this aside for amount to let it firm up. While this firms up, whip your whipping cream in a medium bowl. (if you have never done this before, check out my HOW TO: Whip cream)
Once your cream is all whipped up, you can blend in the pudding. It will be extremely thick, in fact you can turn the bowl almost completely upside down and it won't budge.
Scrap this pudding mixture into the center of the whipped cream bowl
Blend with your hand mixer at low speed for 2-4 minutes until color is even and no whipping cream can be seen
You can serve this instantly or store for up to a week!

Gorgonzola Tomato Salad

Gorgonzola is a blue vein cheese originating from Milan Italy. Named after a once rural small commune in the province, Gorgonzola is rich and creamy. Gorgonzola can be found either in blocks or in crumbles.

There are many ways to eat Gorgonzola, it is often found melted into risotto or polenta, and is used frequently as a topping on pizzas, pastas, or salads. I personally love using it in salads where it shines for it's great flavor. This is a very simple salad which uses the Gorgonzola to add a nice tang to fresh sliced tomatoes.

This will serve 2-4
Full time: 15 minutes
You will need:

2-3 oz Gorgonzola cheese crumbles
4 medium-small fresh tomatoes
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped fine
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp fresh basil, slice fine
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Let us begin:

Slice you tomatoes into pieces approximately 1/4" thick.

Arrange them in rows on a nice serving plate.

In a small bowl whisk your olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, salt, and pepper

Drizzle mixture over tomato slices
Top with herbs
Top with Gorgonzola

Keep cold until you serve, but don't hold for too long, the tomatoes don't like keeping their firmness once sliced. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 23

HOW TO: Steam Artichokes

Artichokes are one of those vegetables that are very overlooked. Most people only ever come in contact with artichoke hearts or an artichoke dip of some sort. And let us be honest most people don't like them, I however love them. I am eating one right now as I am typing this. Artichokes can be a great vegetable to add to you menu, they can easily be stuffed, are a impressive site, and go well with a variety of flavors.

The basics of artichoke steaming, really begin with how to properly prepare them for steaming. For the purpose of getting down the basics, I will be steaming plain artichokes. Once you give it a try, you could easily scoop out the center and steam stuffed artichokes.

Let us begin. When looking for a good artichoke, you want one even in color and with a firm feel. The leaves should appear tight together and should not pull off if you give a very light tug.
You want to start by removing the stem, if you look at the bottom of the artichoke, you will see where it connects to the bulb of the vegetable, cut and remove stem here. You will end up removing a few smaller leaves at the same time, but this is perfectly fine.
You artichoke should now sit flat on your cutting board, plate, or cooking surface.
Now the leave need a little attention. If you look at the apex of each leaf, you may see a little pricker, most varieties of artichokes contain a pricker of some sort. These do need to be removed. Carefully hold you artichoke in you hand and trim the pricker/apex of each leaf off. (again some varieties do not need this step, such as the ones in my photos but I will show you what to do just in case)

 Artichokes are best when cooked the day they are purchased, however, in life this isn't always possible. Just make sure you don't let them sit for more than 3 days before you cook them. Also, they like to occasionally suffer from leaning in the same spot sometimes, if this happens you may see some browning where it leaned. Carefully look to see if the browning is just on the surface leaves, if it is, than the artichoke hasn't gone bad it just has a bruise, snip these leaves off just like we did above.
     brown spot 
 inspect below 
snipping leaves
Once all your artichokes are ready to go, get a large pot of water ready by adding 1-2 tbsp of salt to the water.
Now add a steamer or flat bottom colander to the pot, the water may come through the bottom holes, but shouldn't go high than an inch above the bottom.
Once water is boiling add your artichokes to the steamer.
Cover and set a timer. For small artichokes start around 35 minutes, medium 45, large 55. The ones I have in the photo started at 45 minutes.
When your timer goes off. Carefully remove lid, lift away from you to avoid steam. Gently and quickly give a leaf a light tug, if it removes it is done. If not recover and retest in 10 minutes. The ones in the photo took a total of 55 minutes to cook.
When they are all cooked, carefully remove using tongs to a serving plate and let sit for a few minutes to de-steam. You will be able to see how they have developed a rich olive color.
 raw on left, cooked on right
When serving, make sure your guests know how to eat an artichoke and offer advice if needed. try to work from outside leave towards the inside, only eat the meat at the end of the leaf, if you look carefully there will be a little "ravine" in leaf the meat starts there and works towards base of leaf not tip.
Once leaves turn opaque or a milky pearl color stop eating. Remove these leaves and the little "hairs" by gently scooping with spoon. The heart will be what remains and tends to be the best part for most eaters. I actually prefer the leaves! I also like giving mine a squeeze of fresh lemon right before I dig in.