Zucchini Carpaccio

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Carpaccio refers to raw, thin slices.  Most people typically use this method for beef or fish. But why limit its focus.  The technique can be applied to any food really.  That's when I elected to employ its useful style to zucchini; both green and yellow. 

Once upon a time on a warm summer's day in the country, I had zucchini. AGAIN.
Another dilemma of what to do with this ubiquitous kinda bland veg. And so, the idea of creating a dish that would be fresh and cool given the heat of the day sparked the idea for carpaccio.  Slice it thin.  No need to cook it.  Add a zingy sauce and call it day.  

That is how this dish came to be. Out of sheer not wanting to turn on the stove or oven or eat anything hot.   I don't need to bore you with any more adjectives, adverbs or other fancy descriptions.  This is a simple once upon a time story, with a happy ending.  Now, down to the 'how to'.

Ingredients

1  zucchini, thinly sliced approx. 2 c
2 small yellow squash, thinly sliced approx. 2 c
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 c red wine vinegar
1/4 c white wine vinegar
salt

 

Dressing
1-2 T honey (depending on your taste)
1/3 c fresh lime juice
1/3 c fresh lemon juice
1 T rice wine vinegar
1/4 shallots. minced
1.5 T mint, finely chopped
1.5 T basil, chopped
1+ tsp salt / 1/4 t pepper to taste

Instructions

1. First things first.  Thinly slice the red onions so they have time to pickle. I use a mandolin for this so I can cut them quickly, evenly and thinly. Next, combine the red and white vinegar with salt and submerge the onions.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the zucchini and dressing.

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2. Thinly slice both the zucchini and yellow squash using a mandolin.  Unless you have a sushi master skill of using a knife, the only real way to get these thin enough, and consistent, is to use a mandolin.  Sorry, sometimes it's just that way. I like to make sure that I am slicing them so they are round, not oval.  I just groove off the overall visual look. But go ahead and slice as you like, just as long as they are thin. Then begin to layer them.  Again, I like order and visual appeal. So my aesthetic is one color for each row in a circular fashion.  I overlap slightly as I go to create a wheel of green and yellow swirls. But lay them down in whatever fashion suits your style.

 Round and round we go. Layer anyway you like. I like circles.

Round and round we go. Layer anyway you like. I like circles.

 It looks neat and visually appealing... and mesmerizing.

It looks neat and visually appealing... and mesmerizing.

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3. Once that is done, make the marinade/dressing.  Combine the lemon and lime juices, vinegar with honey, shallots, mint and basil.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Pour over the entire dish and allow the dressing to settle in for 15 minutes to 1/2 hour to absorb and "cook" the zucchini.  Drain and add the pickled onion in the center.

 The first couple of times I made this dish I used regular basil.  This time around I had purple basil, so that's what I used.

The first couple of times I made this dish I used regular basil.  This time around I had purple basil, so that's what I used.

 Sometimes I start my circles with yellow squash, then zucchini.  Other times the versus.  I know, I live dangerously.

Sometimes I start my circles with yellow squash, then zucchini.  Other times the versus.  I know, I live dangerously.

 The purple basil adds another color pop.

The purple basil adds another color pop.

Warning, this dish is tart and tangy. (Use more honey to balance the flavor to your palate. I like it tangy.)
Perfect for the summer.
Perfect for BBQ meats.
Perfect solution to not sweating over a stove. 
Another zucchini dilemma solved. 
Another happy ending.

Espresso Ice Cream

I recently had the awesome opportunity to work as an intern in the prep kitchen for a James Beard Award winning restaurant group.  I know, pinch me, I’m a lucky woman.  I will definitely write more about that experience, and share some of the many pastry items I made, but first since it’s summer, let’s start with ice cream.  I made several ice creams during my 4 week residency.  Two of my absolute favorites were Popcorn Ice Cream. Yes, you read that correctly.  And Espresso Ice Cream.  Both were made using a traditional cream base then whisking in egg yolks, cooking them to temperature, then using an ice cream machine.  Velvety smooth result.

Since I don’t have one of those big hunky things in my home, I searched for easier ways to bring home the flavor, and make my hubby happy. He loves ice cream, and devoured both those flavors when I brought home samples.
In researching homemade methods, it seems that without using an ice cream machine, most recipes eliminate the yolks. Just as well.  No yolks. No stress. Without the eggs, the whole process is much easier, since tempering the eggs, then cooking them slowly is a lengthy and delicate process. In a split second you can end up with scrambled eggs. (Although, then you would have a complete breakfast - espresso right inside your scrambled eggs.) 
A no egg ice cream is just as yummy and 10 times easier.  I think we can all agree that making our lives simpler is a good thing. Believe me when I say, I am always looking for more efficient ways to do anything. (As a matter of fact, during my time in the kitchen there, I came up with a different ways to punch donuts. And they were gracious enough to let me reorganized the menu books.  Reorganized the utensil and gadget areas.  And were open to a suggestion on assembling the coconut cakes. I am an efficiency junky.)  So, let's get right to making this eye opening Espresso Ice Cream, shall we?  Just in time for the 4th of July weekend.

Ingredients

2.5 c whole milk
4 c heavy cream
1 c sugar
1 t vanilla
4 T instant espresso , diluted
pinch salt

 But a few ingredients, and all mixed together.  You can't get easier than that, my friends.

But a few ingredients, and all mixed together.  You can't get easier than that, my friends.

Instructions

Mix all the ingredients in a mixer.  Whisk until combined. I diluted the espresso powder with a couple tablespoons of warm water. 

 Pour in the cream and milk

Pour in the cream and milk

 Sugar

Sugar

 Espresso and vanilla.

Espresso and vanilla.

 Whisk it all together.  Seems silly to show you but I have a thing for telling a story with images.

Whisk it all together.  Seems silly to show you but I have a thing for telling a story with images.

For the next step, there are a few different methods to get it to soft ice cream state. Some people eat the ice cream at that stage. It seemed a bit too soupy for me. Mine went into freezer so the mixture to get to a harder consistency. I split my batch into two so I could use two methods for comparison. (Experimentation is hard work but I'm willing to do it for you to bring the best results. Who I am kidding? The end result was ice cream!!)

Shake Until Your Arms Scream Method:
The first method I used was the plastic bag method. I poured the liquid in a quart plastic bag, and doubled the bag to prevent leakage. Then placed that bag into a gallon plastic bag with 4 T coarse salt and 4 cups of ice cubes.  Sealed and vigorously shook it for 10 minutes. This was a work out for sure. I never knew how long 10 minutes lasted until my arms screamed out, "Is it ice cream, YET?" Once thickened, I poured the semi soft ice cream into a container and placed in the freezer to allow it to harden more. 

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That version seemed tiring, so I was thrilled that the other method was much less strenuous. 

The Lazy, Just Freeze It Method:
I continued to whisk the mixture until it thickened.  Then I place it in a glass loaf pan with plastic wrap covering the surface to prevent freezer burn. Then surrounded by ice and placed in the freezer. My arms thanked me.  However, I forgot to continue to mix it every 1/2 hour or so as was suggested, but it seemed to freeze up just fine.  So this is truly the lazy way, all benefits version.

Here are a few videos for you to watch.

Ice Cream in a Bag

Ice Cream without Machine

Freeze and Whisk Method

In the end, everyone seemed to love both versions. So you pick. 

  • Work out with benefits. 
  • Or straight up benefits.

Either way, this ice cream will get you raring to go. Other huge benefit ...bringing joy to your loved ones.  I know it did mine.

 JuanCarlos trying to eat with moderation.

JuanCarlos trying to eat with moderation.

 Espresso ice cream scoops

Espresso ice cream scoops

 My handsome husband enjoying a bowl of espresso ice cream with his other latest favorite, red wine from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

My handsome husband enjoying a bowl of espresso ice cream with his other latest favorite, red wine from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Happy 4th, and summertime fun!

 

Asparagus - Loved 3 Ways

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Asparagus. The tall green trees of the vegetable forest. They are cousins to broccoli; the shorter, fuller shrub like relative. But trees, all the same. I love these tall beauties all on their own, just as much as when mixed in with other vegetables. I love asparagus grilled, or sautéd, roasted or steamed.  It's safe to declare that I simply love them.  

I guess all that love started a want.  How can I include these more often but with flair.  That's when I began flirting with ways to enhance these long, earthy stalks. A simple addition of one or two extra items is all that was needed. Once I did, they went from average vegetable side dish, to a 'stand out, move over' dish. It doesn't take much to make them shine brighter.  Here are three ways, but I don't need to tell you that there are countless others. 
On tap today:

  1. Quail Eggs, Shallots
  2. Goat Cheese, Lemon Zest
  3. Chorizo & Caramelized Onions
 Long, tall, green.  Like cypress trees swaying in the wind.

Long, tall, green.  Like cypress trees swaying in the wind.

 Asparagus, chorizo, caramelized onions, goat cheese, lemon, shallot, quail eggs.

Asparagus, chorizo, caramelized onions, goat cheese, lemon, shallot, quail eggs.

The first time asparagus arrived at my enhancement clinic, I made hard boiled eggs, quartered them, steamed the asparagus, scattered some thinly sliced shallot then drizzled the entire dish with balsamic vinaigrette and served them as an appetizer.  My latest upgrade;  swap the big ole chicken egg for their diminutive cohorts, the quail egg, I must admit I loved it even more.  The quail eggs are petite and deliver a more delicate touch.

Asparagus with Hard Boiled Eggs & Balsamic Vinaigrette

 When cooking the quail eggs, drop them in boiling water for only 2 minutes, then into a bowl of cold water, and peel. This amount of cook time and cold water shocking provides soft yolk perfection.

When cooking the quail eggs, drop them in boiling water for only 2 minutes, then into a bowl of cold water, and peel. This amount of cook time and cold water shocking provides soft yolk perfection.

The next time asparagus showed up for some freshening up, I grilled them, let them cool slightly then crumbled goat cheese along their bristled tops, let it rain lemon zest and drizzled a red wine, lemon shallot vinaigrette.

Asparagus with Goat Cheese & red wine, Lemon shallot Vinaigrette

 It's truly as simple as adding goat cheese, lemon zest and drizzling with a red wine shallot vinaigrette. This ain't brain surgery, I know but it does taste good to the brain, the taste buds and the belly.

It's truly as simple as adding goat cheese, lemon zest and drizzling with a red wine shallot vinaigrette. This ain't brain surgery, I know but it does taste good to the brain, the taste buds and the belly.

The third time the asparagus knocked at the refresh clinic, they were seeking a bit more intensity. So a good helping of sautéd chorizo and caramelized onions with just a drizzle of oil, coarse salt and pepper fit their request.

Asparagus with chorizo & caramelized onions

 Sauté chorizo and chop into small pieces, add caramelized onions and drizzle of oil.

Sauté chorizo and chop into small pieces, add caramelized onions and drizzle of oil.

 3 approaches.  3 ingredients.

3 approaches.  3 ingredients.

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In all these versions, I opted to oven roasted the asparagus. I preferred this method over steaming for this round.. You can prepare them to your liking. These are just three simple stories to tall tales of a stalky green vegetable. Of course, there are more tales to tell...

Asparagus in quiche.  Or salads. 
Use creamy sour cream mustard dressing or a blue cheese dressing
Asparagus tart
Grilled asparagus tossed with pasta

3 ways? Oh dear asparagus, stop by the enhancement clinic any day of the week, there are an eternity ways...

 
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Amuse Bouche...That's not English, Right?

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Oh the French, they do give us some wonderful food and great phrases.  And the one that starts it all off is the Amuse-bouche.  The literal translation is mouth amuser.  In a restaurant, this is the appetizer before the appetizer. Not ordered from the menu by a customer, but given as a complimentary single bite from the chef to start your meal.  It is meant to amuse the mouth. Get it ready for the meal. Whet the appetite and get the patron excited for what is to come. 

Only the French would think of amusing your mouth. I dare say that the Italians aren't into amusing so much, but straight up satisfying from the onset.  I do love the idea of tickling the tongue with a little nosh to get you primed.  A little food foreplay, wouldn't you say?

This practice doesn't need to be limited to restaurants. As JuanCarlos and I prepare for a trip to France, I reasoned that this was a perfect time to honor their tradition and share some ideas on the subject. So go ahead,  treat your guests to an Amuse Bouche.  You like them, don't you?  So amuse their bouche.

Remember this is meant to be just one little bite not a full blown appetizer. However,  any of these can be an appetizer. (Just love when things can do double duty).  An amuse bouche can range from the elaborate to a very simple offering. 

Here are six offerings, each providing the all important combination of salty, sweet, tang, texture to get the mouth party off to the races.

Goat Cheese & Nut Topped Grapes

These are an easy, pop in your mouth kind of bite.  Refreshing and textural, and create the "more please" effect. 

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  • Use the stemmed end as the base, as this will help the grape stand up.
  • Slice a tiny bit off the top of the grape to have a level landing spot for a dollop of goat cheese.
  • Using a small spoon gather 1/2 tsp of room temp goat cheese and place it atop the grape. (I use my clean fingers to create a little dollop)
  • Dip it in the crushed/ground nuts (such as pistachios or a mix of pecans, walnuts or whatever nut you like).  These can be made ahead of time, but save the nut dipping til just before serving. You don't want the nuts to get soggy in the refrigerate.  NOBODY likes soggy nuts.
 Prep yourself with everything at the ready.  Look how simple this is. 3 ingredients. 3 steps: Slice, dollop and dip

Prep yourself with everything at the ready.  Look how simple this is. 3 ingredients. 3 steps: Slice, dollop and dip

 You can store in the fridge like this with plastic wrap

You can store in the fridge like this with plastic wrap

 Dip right before serving.

Dip right before serving.

Salmon Topped Cucumber or Apple

Alright, this may be two bites, but satisfying ones, for sure. These deliver a creamy texture paired with a cool crisp  and salty bite.

 Salmon / cream cheese roll up a top a cucumber slice.

Salmon / cream cheese roll up a top a cucumber slice.

  • Cut a 1/2" slice of cucumber.
  • Pipe a dollop of soften cream cheese on top.
  • Place a small piece of smoked salmon laid down in a crossed fashion.
  • Pipe another dollop of cream cheese in the center and top with capers and dill. 
    (You can also use the Salmon Roll method. On a large piece of plastic wrap lay the salmon down, making sure to overlay slightly.  Spread softened cream cheese on top. Sprinkle with capers, then roll up like a sushi roll,  Refrigerate.  Once chilled, cut into 1/2” rounds placing atop each cucumber slice. Adorn with dill, as seen above.)
 Refreshing on a slice of apple.  This is from my   Lox on What?   idea.

Refreshing on a slice of apple.  This is from my Lox on What? idea.

Pea Soup Shooter

A chilled, tall drink of spring. (I have not tried these recipes but wanted to provide a few links for your reference.)
Pea Soup Shooter
Pea Shooter
Pea Soup

 These were part of the offering at a catering event I did with Regina Mallon Enterprises, food by  Special Attentions .

These were part of the offering at a catering event I did with Regina Mallon Enterprises, food by Special Attentions.

Dates Packed & Wrapped

Boy, does this one get every part of your mouth ready.  It's got salty, sweet, crunch and tang.

 Another 3 step method, Slice, stuff and roll.

Another 3 step method, Slice, stuff and roll.

  • Slice open a Meedjol date just enough to remove pit and replace with something better.
  • Stuff it with gorgonzola cheese and a marcona salted almond.
  • Wrap the date with Serrano or Prosciutto ham.
 Simple set up of jamón Serrano, gorgonzola, marconas & dates.

Simple set up of jamón Serrano, gorgonzola, marconas & dates.

 Just a little slice, yank out the pit and replace with yumminess.

Just a little slice, yank out the pit and replace with yumminess.

Cranked up Caprese Skewers

This is an amped up Caprese salad on a stick.

 Ratcheted up a notch by grilling them until they are just warmed then dipped in grated cheese.  Oh the melt, the sweet, the salt.

Ratcheted up a notch by grilling them until they are just warmed then dipped in grated cheese.  Oh the melt, the sweet, the salt.

 Another simple set up with just a few ingredients.

Another simple set up with just a few ingredients.

 Once grilled, roll them in grated cheese. Want some heat, sprinkle red pepper flakes, too.

Once grilled, roll them in grated cheese. Want some heat, sprinkle red pepper flakes, too.

  • Skewer a grape tomato, a bocconcino, piece of basil and another grape tomato. (You can certainly serve them as is. But I highly recommend you go the next steps. Also, you can prepare these ahead of time and refrigerate until grilling.)
  • Coat with oil, salt and pepper and lightly grill, then roll in Parmesano Reggiano, and serve immediately.

Chorizo-Manchego-Olive Skewer

A one bite tapa mix that makes a hearty first nibble. 

 Warm, cold. Savory, salty, creamy.  Need I say more?

Warm, cold. Savory, salty, creamy.  Need I say more?

  • Cut Manchego cheese into cubes.
  • Slice and sauté the chorizo.
  • Skewer the trio ending with an olive.  

Honestly, I feel like I could create one every week.  The options and ideas are 'to infinity and beyond'.  Just think of little bites that would get your guests ready for more.  Oh la la to the French for their playful amusement.  What a fun game of enticement. 

 
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Any Night Meal - Al Fresco

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That's right the weather has turned... Finally.  I'm sure you have washed off the furniture, swept the patio and tidied up whatever outside area you have, whether it be a terrace, a small deck or a rolling pasture. It's time to go - al fresco.

Of course, we are all anxious to throw garden parties, BBQ's and the like after enduring a long, long winter.  And California, please spare me the "oh, we have that all year round" remark.  We know just how special you are.  The rest of the country suffers through changes.  Which is why we are outdoor party ready.  But you don't need to orchestrate a shindig in order to delight in the summer's offering. Taking in an evening breeze while savoring a meal doesn't need to equate to a big ordeal.  A simple dinner will do just fine so you can bask in the longer days, the extended light and the brisk air of a summer's eve.

 You can set the table and create warm vibes, or simply put dishes on the patio table.

You can set the table and create warm vibes, or simply put dishes on the patio table.

Cocktails - Here's a few ideas:

 These Aperol Spritz cocktails are easy to drink, so be careful.  If it's a school night, maybe just have one.

These Aperol Spritz cocktails are easy to drink, so be careful.  If it's a school night, maybe just have one.

 A dry rosé is the antidote to any long day.

A dry rosé is the antidote to any long day.

If you don't want the alcohol:

  • Cranberry juice, sparkling water and lemon wedge, or even add some frozen berries
  • Watermelon juice, sparkling water, basil leaves
  • Sparkling Water with Lemon & Lime Slices

The idea is to enjoy something refreshing.  So, go ahead and shake up a cool drink of your favorite flavors.

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The Meal

  • Summer Tart , simple puff pastry topped with farm fresh vegetables of the season
  • Large salad, it can be as simple as lettuces lightly tossed with fresh lemon juice and oil. Or a nectarine salad to reinforce that summer feel
  • Roasted salmon or grilled shrimp
  • Yogurt with honey and nuts
 Puff pastry tarts don't need to be complicated.  Fill them with whatever is fresh and seasonal and pop them in the oven.  I always add cheese!

Puff pastry tarts don't need to be complicated.  Fill them with whatever is fresh and seasonal and pop them in the oven.  I always add cheese!

Salad ideas

 Watermelon & Feta cheese served with a crisp white wine -  La Val Albariño  from Spain.

Watermelon & Feta cheese served with a crisp white wine - La Val Albariño from Spain.

Main Dish ideas


Keep it simple and roast fish on the grill.

 Roasted Salmon is perfect for outdoor entertaining. 

Roasted Salmon is perfect for outdoor entertaining. 

 

You can even have dessert without a fuss.  Some Greek yogurt, nuts with a drizzle of honey is the just the right amount of sweet to finish off a meal. The idea is to get outside.  Grab whatever food you have and put it on a platter, pop open a beverage and breathe in the fresh air.  And the sheer joy of dining al fresco.  

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 Whole Red Snapper stuffed with lemons and parsley and grilled on the BBQ.  So fresh and clean and ideal for a summer night.

Whole Red Snapper stuffed with lemons and parsley and grilled on the BBQ.  So fresh and clean and ideal for a summer night.

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 Yogurt drizzled with honey & nuts equals an easy, satisfying dessert

Yogurt drizzled with honey & nuts equals an easy, satisfying dessert