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05/03/2015

~ Sweet Heat: Strawberry Salsa for Cinco de Mayo ~

IMG_6832Strawberries to make salsa?  If you are a skeptic, all you'll need is one taste and it will make perfect sense to you.  Just like tomatoes, they are full of naturally sweet and tart flavor which makes them terrific used in savory ways.  Simply substitute them for tomatoes in almost any Tex-Mex-flavored salsa recipe, and, add the usual suspects:  a bit of acid (lime juice), an herb (cilantro), spices (salt and a bit of sugar to bring up the flavor too), and, of course, the always-necessary onion (or green onion).  If it's heat you're craving, mince up a jalapeno pepper or two. Bell peppers are usually added to salsa too.  I add them when I'm using tomatoes, but, I don't think bell peppers and strawberries are the best combo, so, I'll leave that option up to you.  

IMG_6792Try strawberry salsa on an omelette at breakfast, in a fish taco for lunch, atop a grilled chicken breast or pork chop for dinner, or, with deep-fried tortilla chips alongside your favorite Cinco de Mayo cocktail!

PICT0002There's more:  When strawberries are used to make salsa, they actually hold up better than their more watery counterpart:  tomatoes. You can use slightly-underipe, perfectly-ripe, or slightly-overripe berries to make salsa, with  slightly-underripe strawberries being my favorite.  Why?  I can make my salsa a day ahead of serving it (allowing plenty of time for the flavors to marry), and, after that, it holds up in the refrigerator for two-three more days of sweet-heat enjoyment, meaning:  the riper the berries the shorter the shelf life.

I wish I could report I'm using locally grown, or our backyard-grown strawberries, but, here in Central, Pennsylvania, we have a very short 4-5 week dependent-upon-the-weather season, lasting approximately from the end of May to the end of June.  That said, our stores are full of ripe, red, very-tasty beauties -- I couldn't pass up buying a 2-pound box of Driscoll's yesterday!

IMG_67512  pounds strawberries, hulled and 1/2" diced (about 6 cups)

3/4  cup diced sweet onion

1/2  cup minced fresh cilantro

1-2  jalapeno peppers, seeded and very-finely diced

3-4  tablespoons lime juice, the riper the berries = less juice used

1-1 1/2  teaspoons sugar, to taste

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_6761 IMG_6754~ Step 1.  In a large bowl, place all ingredients and stir. Set aside to macerate, at room temp, for about 30-40 minutes, stopping to stir about every 10 minutes. Taste and adjust lime juice and sugar.

~ Step 2.  Transfer to a food storage container and refrigerate until well-chilled, several hours or overnight.

Resist the urge to serve immediately -- give the flavors time to marry!

IMG_6767Deep-fry some totopos (deep-fried corn tortilla chips)...

IMG_6871... pile 'em high and serve 'em topped w/sweet heat!

IMG_6856Sweet Heat:  Strawberry Salsa for Cinco de Mayo:  Recipe yields 6 cups salsa.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large spoon; 2-quart food storage container

Cinco-de-mayoCook's Note:  "Cinco de Mayo" (meaning "fifth of May" in Spanish) is not Mexican Independence Day (September 15th).  This modern holiday began in 1967 when a group of California State University students invented it because there were no Chicano holidays to commemorate their heritage.  They decided that the Battle of Puebla in 1862 (a symbol of the Mexican peoples unity and patriotism) could be connected to their own struggle to create a Chicano Studies program.  They succeeded!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)

05/01/2015

~ A Versatile Tex-Mex Condiment: Chile-Lime Mayo ~

IMG_6608Today is the unofficial start to barbecue and grill season here in Central Pennsylvania.  Whether your preference is the low-and-slow barbecue pit (Eastern or Western North Carolina-, Texas-, Kansas City-, or Memphis-style), or, the fast-and-furious charcoal or gas grill, from Cinco de Mayo to Labor Day, there will be plenty opportunities for all of us to show off and share our smoke and fire skills.  We Americans love to cook, eat and drink in the great outdoors.

IMG_6742Joe and I don't pretend to be pit-masters or grill-masters, but, we do turn out some very tasty stuff, and, amongst our favorite recipes are those containing the bright, bold flavors of our American southwest, affectionately referred to as "Tex-Mex".  For the next few months, the vegetable bin of my refrigerator will never be without bell and jalapeno peppers, tomatoes, cilantro and fresh limes.  In my pantry, you'll find a reusable jelly jar full of ~ Jesse's Smokin' Rib Rub a la Jesse's Mom (Mel) + (My Tips & Technique for Gas Grill Smoked Ribs) ~.  Just click in Categories 8, 10, 13, 15 or 17 to find out what goes into this flavor-packed concoction!

Consider this easy-to-make all-purpose condiment recipe your Tex-Mex version of French aioli (a garlic-flavored mayonnaise hailing from Provence).  It can be used as a dip, a dressing or a spread, and it goes great with all sorts of meat, poultry, fish, seafood and vegetables. 

IMG_64022  cups mayonnaise

1 1/2-2 cups minced, fresh cilantro (Note:  Since the cilantro is going to be processed, including more stem in your minced cilantro than you normally would in other recipes is just fine.)

1  12-ounce jar sliced, pickled jalapenos, well-drained

1  large lime, all of its zest and all of its juice (Note:  You want to add 2 tablespoons lime juice.  If the lime is not particularly juicy, make up the difference with bottled concentrate.)

2  teaspoons sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

PICT0031~ Step 1.  Place all ingredients in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  With motor running, process until smooth, 30-45 seconds.  Transfer to a food storage container and refrigerate 2-24 hours, and, up to one week.

Note:  This mayonnaise thickens as it chills, and, its flavor intensifies if the flavors are given time to marry, so, if you have the time to make it in advance, do it.  Suggested uses:

(Just click on the Related Article links below to get the following three recipes.)

A DIP for my appetizer:  Batter-Dipped Avocado Bites

IMG_6726A DRESSING for my side-dish:  Russet & Sweet Potato Salad

IMG_6627A TOPPING for my entree: Chili Cheddar Cheeseburgers

IMG_6481A Versatile Tex-Mex Condiment:  Chile-Lime Mayonnaise:  Recipe yields 3 generous cups.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; microplane grater; food processor

IMG_7624 20131206-235707Cook's Note: My philosophy is, "if you're going to make your own rib rub, you ought to make your own BBQ sauce too."  My ~ Kansas City BBQ Sauce:  Sweet, Spicy & Smokey ~,  found in Categories 8, 10, 17 or 20, is so good, it's on the menu, served with grilled chicken, at the Happy Valley Brewing Company in State College, PA!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015) 

04/29/2015

~ Batter-Dipped Avocado Bites w/Chile-Lime Mayo ~

IMG_6726I call these avocado bites, others call them avocado fries.  I avoid the term fries because the pear-shaped avocado, with its golf-ball sized center pit (which in reality is a seed that can be planted to grow an avocado tree) is next to impossible to cut into classic, uniformly-sized, square-tipped French-fry-shaped sticks without a lot of waste.  Plus, you know the drill, once you remove the buttery-rich fruit from its thick, protective skin, you have no time to play around -- once exposed to air, the green starts turning gray with every tick of the clock.  The easily-sliced fruit consists of rounded ends and some half-moon shaped pieces -- nothing that looks like a French fry to me.  Bites is a better word all the way around -- that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

IMG_6696Lots of other people make these snacks.  Everyone coats them in a breading or dips them in a batter of some sort.  Some folks bake them in the oven, others fry them in a skillet.  I do neither because I am a fearless fryer.  I go full-crank with this recipe for this superfood and deep-fry them in peanut oil for optimum results:  a super-crunchy outside and a super-creamy inside. Deep-frying is hands-down the best method -- that's my story and I'm sticking to that one too.

IMG_6608Start by preparing ~ A Versatile Tex-Mex Condiment:  Chile-Lime Mayo ~.  Do this several hours or a day ahead, to give it time to thicken. In a food processor fitted with steel blade, process until smooth:

1  cup mayonnaise

1  cup minced fresh cilantro

1  8-ounce jar sliced, pickled jalapenos, well-drained

1  large lime, all of its zest and 1 tablespoon of its juice

1  teaspoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

The right avocado, the wrong avocado and the right ripeness for the right avocado!

6a0120a8551282970b01901c765820970b-800wiTrust me when I tell you, after a taste test between the dark green, bumpy-skinned California Hass (which rhymes with pass) and any other smooth-skinned variety (like Florida's bright-green Fuerte), you will agree there is no comparison in either flavor or texture.  Hass wins. Do not use the smooth-skinned, somewhat watery-tasting avocados in this recipe (or any others either).

Avocados ripen after picking, and, a perfectly-ripe Hass avocado will be firm to the touch with an ever-so- 6a0120a8551282970b01901c76659b970bslight give when gentle pressure is applied.  If it seems even the slightest bit soft, it is over-ripe. When a knife is run throgh and around the perimeter of a perfectly ripe avocado, it will literally cut like butter and the two halves will separate cleanly with a gentle twist. If your avocados are under-ripe (hard), to speed up the ripening process, place them in a paper bag and set aside, at room temperature overnight, or, for 1-2 days.

An avocado tastes best when it is perfectly ripe, and cooking them will not enhance the flavor. For that reason, use perfectly-ripe avocados for this recipe, not slightly under-ripe ones, which some folks are inclined to use, which I've seen others recommend -- usually in recipes using the oven or the skillet.  You see, if you deep-fry like me, the 3 minutes in the fryer is just enough to cook the coating without affecting the texture of the perfectly-ripe, tender avocado inside!

IMG_6643Setting up the deep-frying assembly line (left to right):

Cutting board, chef's knife, tablespoon, fork and 2-3 ripe Hass avocados.

One shallow 2-cup bowl containing 1 cup dry pancake mix.

One shallow 2-cup bowl containing 1 cup pancake mix whisked with 1 cup beer.

One shallow 2-cup bowl containing 2 cups panko breadcrumbs.

Deep-fryer w/peanut oil heated to 350 degrees according to manufacturer's specifications.

Misc:  3-minute timer, tongs, cooling rack, paper towels, sea salt grinder.

IMG_6656~ Step 1.  When everything is measured, in place and the deep-fryer is heating, whisk together the pancake mix and beer.  Set aside, for about 5 minutes, before starting the frying process.  This will give the batter time to thicken to a drizzly consistency.  If at any point during the frying process (even at the outset), if the batter seems or gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer to maintain the drizzly consistency.

IMG_6665~ Step 2.  To prep the avocados, one-at a time, slice the avocados in half and twist to separate the halves.  Holding the pitted side in one hand, give the pit a somewhat forceful tap with the center of the knife blade.  Then, with one gentle twist of the knife, voila:  the pit is out.

IMG_6670Using an ordinary tablespoon, working your way around the perimeter, loosen the fruit from the skin.  Scoop each half out onto the cutting board and slice into 4 stubby lengths. Ok, from this angle, they look a bit like fries.

IMG_6676 IMG_6674~ Step 3. Working four strips (1/2 an avocado) at a time (using a fork to maneuver, not to poke), dredge each piece in the dry pancake mix, dip it in the wet batter, gently lift it out, allowing excess batter to drizzle back down into the bowl, and lastly, roll it around in the panko to coat it on all sides.

IMG_6684 IMG_6682~ Step 4. Continuing to work four fully-coated strips at a time, drop the pieces into the hot oil and deep-fry until nicely, but not overly, golden browned, exactly 3 minutes.

While four are frying, dredge, dip and roll the next four.  Using a pair of tongs, remove avocado bites from oil, transfer to a cooling rack with a paper towel placed on top of it and immediately sprinkle with a fresh grinding of sea salt. Continue this assembly-line process until all pieces are fried.

Serve hot, warm or room temp...

IMG_6693... with Chile-Lime Mayo for dipping or drizzling!

IMG_6735Batter-Dipped Avocado Bites w/Chile-Lime Mayo:  Recipe yields 16-24 appetizers and 1 1/2 cups of chile-lime mayo for dipping or drizzling.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; ordinary tablespoon; fork; 3, shallow 2-cup size bowls; deep-fryer; 3-minute timer; tongs; paper towels 

6a0120a8551282970b019b00a90739970dCook's Note:  My ~ Crunchy Thai-Style Deep-Fried Coconut Shrimp ~ are not Tex-Mex, but, contain a lot of the same flavors, and, get batter dipped & fried in the same manner. They're a perfect partner to avocado bites. Click into Categories 1, 11, 13 or 14 to get the recipe!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015) 

04/27/2015

~ Russet & Sweet Potato Salad w/Chile-Lime Mayo ~

IMG_6627One potato, two potatoes, three potatoes, four -- make enough potato salad, they're coming back for more.  While we're playing the counting game, I don't think one can have too many recipes for  potato salad -- people love the stuff.  Baked, boiled or roasted, gold, red, russet or sweet, potatoes, when paired with the right dressing, can complement a meal from a multitude of cuisines -- in fact, every culture that eats potatoes makes a version of potato salad.  Here in America, potato salad recipes vary from region-to-region and our American Southwest is no exception.  Today's recipe is the one I make when I want potato salad with a Tex-Mex zing to it.

IMG_6486This easy-to-make potato salad goes great with quickly-grilled South-of-the-Border-type fare: beef, poultry or pork (typically marinated in concoctions of lime juice, cilantro, chile peppers and cumin).  It's also awesome with low-and-slow Lone-Star-State-type BBQ (slathered with tomato-based sauces made with cumin and chili powder), and, if you're ever looking for something to serve Buffalo-style chicken wings with (to turn this beloved snack into a meal), this is your side-dish. There's more.  I always serve this potato salad with my ~ Chili Cheddar Cheeseburgers w/Chile-Lime Mayo ~.  The same mayo that dresses the salad gets slathered on the burgers.  Just click on the Related Article link below to get the 'burger recipe!

IMG_6402For the chile-lime mayo:

Note:  Prepare & chill several hours or a day ahead of cooking potatoes.

1  cup mayonnaise

1  cup minced, fresh cilantro (Note:  Since the cilantro is going to be processed, including more stem in your minced cilantro than you normally would in other recipes is just fine.)

1  8-ounce jar sliced, pickled jalapenos, well-drained

1  large lime, all of its zest and 1  tablespoon of its juice

1  teaspoon sugar

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d10929c9970c-320wi1/4  teaspoon sea salt

~ Step 1.  Place all ingredients in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  With motor running, process until smooth, 30-45 seconds.  Transfer to a food storage container and refrigerate until well-chilled 2-24 hours.  

Note:  This mayonnaise thickens as it chills, and, its flavor intensifies with time as the flavors marry. Overnight truly is best.

IMG_6570For the potatoes:

4-4 1/2 pounds potatoes, all Russets, all sweet potatoes, or, a combination of both

~ Step 2.  Microwave potatoes until just fork tender yet slightly-undercooked in the center. Cool to room temperature, then peel IMG_6577and slice into 3/4"-1" chunks.

Note:  Do not boil the potatoes as boiling causes russets to get crumbly and sweet potatoes to get mushy.  Microwaving truly is the best method.  I microwave my russets separately from my sweet potatoes, and, in my microwave, my potatoes cook in about 11-12 minutes.  I test for doneness often IMG_6587after 8 minutes by inserting a knife in the thickest part of the center. When the center is slightly-undercooked, I remove the potatoes and allow carryover heat to continue to cook them while they are cooling to room temperature.

~ Step 3.  In addition to the potatoes, thinly slice:

3/4-1 cup green onions, white and light green parts only (reserve dark green tops for garnish)

~ Step 4.  Place the potatoes and IMG_6594green onons in a large bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold in 1 cup of the chile-lime mayo.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well-chilled, 4-6 hours or overnight.

Note:  You will have about 1/2 cup of mayo left.  Refrigerate until serving time.  After you remove the potato salad from the refrigerator, taste it and add a bit more mayo if you feel you need to.  Otherwise keep this all-purpose Tex-Mex condiment in your refrigerator to slather on sandwiches!

Simply-Savory, Slightly-Sweet, Nicely-Spicy, Addictively-Citrusy: Seize this day to add this potato salad recipe to your repertoire!

IMG_6630Russet & Sweet Potato Salad w/Chili-Lime Mayo:  Recipe yields 8 servings of potato salad and a generous 1 1/2 cups of chile-lime mayo (with the possibility of some mayo leftover).

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; microplane grater; rubber spatula; 2-cup measuring container; microwave oven  

IMG_7624Cook's Note:  If it's grilled chicken or your favorite spareribs you'd like to serve this very special potato salad with, allow me to suggest that you try my recipe for ~ Kansas City BBQ Sauce:  Sweet, Spicy & Smokey ~.  Seriously folks, a drizzle or slather of this and you'll never ever consider buying that famous bottled brand (which, in all honesty, is super-good) again!  

Simply click into Categories 8, 10, 17 or 20 to get my recipe!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos Courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)