Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pear and Pecan Salad

With all the spring weather I've been making a lot of salads lately.  Also, I am growing my own baby lettuce mix this year for the first time, and it's so delicious I just keep eating it!  This salad was easy to throw together and was fantastic!  You can make a larger batch of the caramelized pecans and store them in an airtight container for a few weeks if you'd like.  That way you can throw them into any salad that comes your way.  Or munch on them in the dead of night.  Either way.

Pear and Pecan Salad

2 T sugar
1/2 cup pecans
Mixed lettuce greens
1 pear, firm but ripe
1 small can mandarin oranges, or 1 clementine, peeled, sliced in half horizontally, and sectioned
1 avocado, peeled and cut into 1/2" chunks
1 T Craisins
2 T frozen or fresh blueberries
2 T goat cheese or feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp lemon juice

Lay out a sheet of parchment or wax paper.  In a medium-sized nonstick skillet melt the sugar over medium-low heat.  For a few minutes it will look like it's not doing anything, then all the sudden it will turn liquid, then will start to brown.  Just as it's become liquid but before it's brown, toss the pecans into the melted sugar.  Using a spatula, stir until the pecans are coated in the brown carmelly sugar.  Pour out onto the wax or parchment paper and let cool for about 15 minutes (you can put it in the fridge to speed it up). Then either break it into pieces or chop it roughly (you don't want them finely chopped!).

In a small bowl combine the water and lemon juice.  Cut the pear into 16 slices, then cut each slice in half crosswise.  Dip the cut pears briefly into the lemon water.  This will prevent the pear turning brown and mushy for a few hours. 

In a large bowl combine the lettuce greens, pears, oranges, avocado, Craisins, and nuts.  Toss lightly, then top with the cheese and blueberries.  Serve with poppy seed or a vinaigrette dressing.

Serves 4 as a main dish, or 6 as a side.

Summer Chickpea Salad

Sorry for the terrible picture--this was all that was left when I remembered to take one!

I love this salad.  It's so different from an average salad (read: no lettuce!), and is light and flavorful and perfect for a summer day.  Or a day where you're wishing it felt like summer!  The addition of fresh herbs is not completely mandatory, but it really does make a difference in the flavor, and appearance, of the salad, so I highly recommend using the real (fresh) thing. 

Summer Chickpea Salad
Recipe by Jamie Oliver

1 small red onion, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
1 jalapeno or other chili pepper, deseeded and thinly sliced
1 large tomato, roughly chopped
1 lemon, juiced
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 14-oz jar of chickpeas, drained
1 T fresh mint, chopped
2 T fresh basil, finely ripped or cut
7 oz feta or goat cheese (chevre)

In a large bowl combine red onion, jalapeno, and tomatoes.  Measure the lemon juice, then add it to the bowl. Add three times as much olive oil as you had lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Add in most of the chickpeas, reserving about 10 percent.  Mash up the 10 percent, then add them to the bowl as well.  Stir everything together, and you can let it sit in the bowl at room temperature for awhile if you'd like. 

Just before serving, add in the mint and basil, then top with the cheese.  Serve at room temperature.

Makes 6 side dish servings.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tandoori Chicken

This is another of my mother-in-law's recipes.  She serves this often when we have big summertime gatherings with the whole family.  It's easy to multiply if you're serving a big crowd, and can be prepared the night before to save time.  You can also adjust the amount of hot pepper if you prefer it less spicy (I generally use 1/4 tsp instead of the given 1/2 tsp).  We like to serve this with rice, Cucumber and Vinegar Salad and Mango Chutney.  Delicious!

Tandoori Chicken
Recipe by Ruth Beal

2-3 chicken breasts, cut into 1/2" strips
1/2 tsp hot chili powder, such as Cayenne or Chipotle (you can use less to make it not so spicy)
1 tsp salt
2 T fresh lemon juice
4 T melted butter
3 T plain yogurt
1 T chopped raisins
2 inches ginger root, peeled and grated (or finely chopped)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp red food coloring (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a Ziplock bag and shake well.  Let marinate in refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or up to overnight.  Thread meat onto skewers if desired, and grill over medium-high heat for 9-12 minutes, turning every three minutes, or until cooked through.

Makes 6 servings.

Cucumber and Vinegar Salad

My mother-in-law serves this salad with a lot of Asian dishes. It's tangy and juicy and cool and refreshing, perfect for a hot summer day.  It's a nice compliment to meats, anything spicy, or just on its own. 

Cucumber and Vinegar Salad
Recipe by Ruth Beal

2 cucumbers, sliced paper thin (I recommend using a Mandolin or similar device)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 T water
2 tsp salt
1 T sugar
A dash of pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.  Stir well.  Refrigerate until ready to eat.

Makes 6 side dish servings.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Homemade Tortillas -- Just in Time for Cinco De Mayo!

I've purchased my fair share of tortillas.  They're always uniform in size and shape, and have the same non-descript flavor.  Which is fine.  But if you're making a meal that you want to taste authentic, you really should make your own tortillas!  They are easy to make, require only a few ingredients, and taste a hundred times better than the store-bought variety.  Even something as simple as a bean burrito tastes like a masterpiece when made with homemade tortillas.  Give them a try.  And this recipe is easily doubled or tripled if you're feeding a crowd!

Homemade Flour Tortillas
Recipe by my mother-in-law, Ruth Beal

3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup shortening
1 cup milk
Cooking spray

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder.  Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender or two knives until the shortening is evenly distributed and can almost not be seen.  Add the milk and stir until a dough forms and leaves the sides of the bowl.

Turn onto a clean countertop and knead for a few minutes until the dough is smooth and even.  Form into a ball and spray with cooking spray.  Cover and let rest for at least 15 minutes, or up to 3 hours.

Turn the oven to warm (170F) and prepare a plate lined with two cloth napkins, paper towels, or something similar.   Put the plate in the oven to keep the completed tortillas warm while the rest are cooking.

Divide dough into 6-10 even pieces, depending on the size of the tortillas you want (I usually divide mine into 8).  Roll each piece into a circle (that's the hard part!  Mine are never even, but that's okay, that's part of the charm).  If you need to, you can use a little flour, but I usually find it's not necessary.  The rolled out dough should be very thin, almost translucent, because it will shrink up some when you move it.   Place the completed unbaked tortillas on a plate on top of each other.  They shouldn't stick together, so don't worry about that.

Heat a griddle or large frying pan to medium or medium-high heat (around 350F if you're using an electric griddle).  Place one tortilla on the ungreased pan and let cook until the bottom has some brown spots and it getting a slight crust, about a minute.  Flip over and cook on the other side.  The tortillas should puff up a bit, but don't push them down.  They'll deflate when they're done cooking, and they'll cook just fine.

When your tortilla is done cooking, quickly place it in the warm oven between the two napkins.  Continue baking the remaining tortillas.  Serve warm.

Leftover tortillas can be stored for several days in a Ziplock bag or airtight container, or in the fridge for a week.  They'll taste better if they're warmed slightly before eating. I usually microwave them for 20-30 seconds or reheat them on a griddle.

Makes 6-10 tortillas.