Monday, August 30, 2010

Roasted Corn & Zucchini Flower Quesadillas w/ Manchego

Manchego cheese, from the Manchego sheep who graze the plains of La Mancha, is arguably Spain's most famous cheese. This cheese is very mellow and blends well with the light flavor of the edible flowers. Zucchini flowers or squash blossoms can be found from late Spring through early Fall. They are extremely delicate, in structure and flavor, and are very perishable. I don't recommend having them for more than 24 hours without using them. You can find them in specialty shops or Italian markets.

2 Flour Tortillas
2 C. Manchego Cheese, shredded
1 Large Red Onion, grilled, julienned
1 C. Zucchini Flowers, sauteed
2 Ears Corn, roasted or grilled
2 Tbsp. Cilantro, chopped
Salt & Pepper
2 Tbsp. Butter

Roast the corn, in its husks, for 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Allow the corn to cool, shuck the ears, and cut the kernels out using a knife. Grill the onion until the outside begins to wither, then julienne. If you don't have a grill, simply julienne the onion and then saute. Heat a skillet over medium heat, chop the zucchini flowers, and quickly flash cook the flowers.

Melt 1 Tbsp. of butter per quesadilla over medium high heat. Build your quesadilla by placing a flour tortilla down, sprinkle a little cheese, onion, corn, zucchini flowers, and seasonings. Finish the quesadilla with more cheese and the final tortilla. When the cheese begins to melt, it will spread out and help to seal the quesadilla. Using a spatula, sneak a peek at the underside of the quesadilla. When it is lightly browned, flip the quesadilla over and cook all the way through. This method will yield 8 triangles.
Some people prefer to use only one tortilla for a quesadilla because it doesn't involve the dangerous business of flipping. To construct this kind of quesadilla, lay down one tortilla and build the ingredients on only one side of the tortilla. Fold the tortilla in half and turn it over. This method will yield 4 triangles.

I like to garnish my quesadillas with cilantro and sour cream. Combine sour cream and heavy cream until the mixture is "set" like sour cream, but thin enough to come out of a squirt bottle. Using a squirt bottle allows you to garnish with clean solid lines of the sour cream mixture.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Spinach Salad w/ Candied Pecans, Pears, Gorgonzola, & Raspberry Vinaigrette

My grocery store enters, like most, into the produce department where on a warm summer afternoon the aroma of fresh fruit overwhelms the passersby with such enticing aromas that you'd be hard pressed not to stop and inspect its splendors. On this particular afternoon, I first smelled peaches and nectarines, then apples and bananas, but finally... finally I was overcome by the sweet scent of fresh Bosc pears. I couldn't resist the aroma. Before I knew it I was frantically searching for the softest, ripest pears on the shelf completely oblivious to the fact that I had lost all composure and was undoubtedly tearing through the fruit like a kid through Christmas wrapping paper. The produce section is utterly intoxicating! This recipe is absolutely incredible and perfect for one such summer afternoon.

1/2 C. Raspberry Vinegar
1/2 C. + 2 Tbsp. Honey, divided
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 C. Pecans, chopped into pieces
1/2 lb. Spinach
2 Bosc Pears, diced
1 C. Gorgonzola, crumbled
TT Salt & Pepper (optional)
TT Oregano (optional)
TT Thyme (optional)

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the raspberry vinegar, honey, and olive oil until well incorporated. Transfer to a squirt bottle and store in the fridge.

To candy the pecans, simply drizzle them with honey and bake them in a 350 degree oven, shaking frequently until lightly toasted (about 5 minutes). I like to make my pecans sweet and savory at the same time, so I toss my pecans with a touch of olive oil to prevent clumping, honey, salt, pepper, oregano, and thyme. Then simply roast them in the oven as specified above. Spread the pecans out on a plate to cool.

At this point, simply build a salad as you normally would. Toss the spinach in a large mixing bowl with a touch of the raspberry vinaigrette to coat. Place the greens on the plate. Garnish the salad with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, pears, pecans, and drizzle it all with a bit more dressing.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Roasted Corn Pudding w/ Fresh Basil

This is the easiest side dish I've ever made. I'm definitely going to keep it in mind for Thanksgiving because something about it tends to make me think of the holiday. And of course as a foodie, it is my favorite holiday. When you roast corn, it takes on a sweet flavor. Sweet corn and minty basil equals yum! This dish was so good that I ate the whole batch in one night. If you're going to use it as a side dish, this recipe will yield enough to feed 8 people or more.

6 Ears of Corn
1 C. Fresh Basil, chiffonade
3 Tbsp. Flour
1 Tbsp. Sugar
1 C. Milk
1 C. Heavy Cream
4 Eggs, beaten
1/4 tsp. Salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Do not shuck the ears of corn. Place the six ears of corn in the oven and roast for 30 minutes. Set aside to cool, then shuck the corn.

Using a knife, cut the kernels off the cob. Pulse about half of the corn in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Transfer the processed corn to a mixing bowl and stir in the basil, flour, sugar, salt, and unchopped corn.

In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs and then add the milk and cream.

Combine the corn mixture with the egg mixture and stir to incorporate.
Pour into a well buttered baking dish and bake on the center rack for 1 hour at 350 degrees. Let stand for about 20 minutes before serving.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Chilled Cucumber & Avocado Soup

The temperatures reached upwards of 100 degrees this past week. Because of so many incredibly hot days, this blog is very quickly becoming a reflection of the weather. When the weather is scorching, it's very hard to get excited about firing up a grill or basting something in the oven. We need to cool off! Cucumbers have always had a cooling effect which is why many spicy foods are accompanied by cucumber to act as a sort of palate cleanser. Creamy avocado joins with buttermilk in this filling, chilled soup while the cucumber adds a satisfying crunch!

2 each Cucumbers
2 each Avocados
3 each Scallions, chopped
1/4 C. Mint Leaves
2 C. Buttermilk
1 1/2 C. Cold Water
1/2 tsp. Salt

Cut the cucumbers in half and use a spoon to remove all the seeds. Reserve about one half of a cucumber and mince it and set aside.

Coarsely chop the remaining cucumbers and place into a food processor.

Peel the avocados and mince one, setting it aside with the minced cucumber. Coarsely chop the other avocado and place it into the food processor.

Puree the cucumber and avocado until smooth. Add the buttermilk, water, salt, mint, and scallions and continue to puree until smooth, about 2 minutes.

Chill the soup until ready to eat, at least 15 minutes. Float the minced cucumber and avocado in the soup when serving.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pasta Salad w/ Snow Peas, Smoked Salmon, & Lavender

It wasn't until the last minute that I discovered that I still had lavender in my cupboard, but boy am I glad that I did! The aroma of lavender really tied this dish together. The fresh florets pop between your teeth and produce a burst of refreshing flavor that almost resets the palate for the next bite. These little purple flowers add a nice color to the plate as well. I love summertime!

1/2 lb. Fusili or Rotini Pasta
1 Medium Red Onion, shaved
1/4 lb. Snow Peas, blanched, cut on a bias
1/4 lb. Pastrami Smoked Salmon*
1/4 C. Olive Oil**
TT Salt & Pepper
Fresh Lavender, for garnish (optional)

*There are two mainstream methods for smoking; hot-smoking and cold-smoking. When hot-smoking, fish is smoked for shorter periods of time, usually between 6 and 12 hours. The smoking times are determined mostly by the kind of fish and the size of the fish involved. The hot-smoking process uses temperatures ranging from 120 degrees to as much as 180 degrees. The cold-smoking process requires temperatures that are half that of hot-smoking processes. Because of the lower smoking temperatures, the length of time required for smoking is drastically increased. A quick cold-smoking process can last as little as 24 hours where as a more intense cold-smoke may last as much as 21 days. The intensities of the smoke flavor vary depending on how close the fish is to the source of the smoke.

For this dish, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on some Pastrami Smoked Salmon from The Wine Shop located in the Rivergate shopping center here in Charlotte, NC ( Pastrami Smoked Salmon uses a cold-smoked process. The fish is cold-smoked with the herbs and spices most closely associated with pastrami and then cut into paper-thin slices. It is far and beyond the best smoked salmon I've ever eaten. I much prefer the cold-smoke process as it lends itself to a more sushi-like texture versus the hot-smoke process which can result in fish-jerky.

**Extra Virgin Olive Oil works perfectly well for this dish. I love making infused oil, so for this dish, I used a rosemary-oil that I've been aging since March of 2009. Although infused oils are wonderful to cook with, I really enjoy when I get a chance to use them raw. The infusing flavors are so intense that it's basically like adding the ingredient itself. The rosemary lightens the overall flavors from this dish and almost removes some of the starchy texture from the pasta.