Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Peruvian Chicken Wings with Aji Verde

In yesterday's post, I was telling you about the Latin American Heritage Camp my family attended over the weekend.

One of the countries represented at camp is Peru, a land rich with history, heritage and cuisine. An amazingly diverse country, Peru includes the highlands of the Andes, the tropical rain forests of Amazon area, and the plains in the coastal region beside the Pacific Ocean.

Many know of Peru because of the beautiful and mystical Machu Picchu, a pre-Columbian Inca site. When we think of Peru, we might also think of alpacas and llamas, exquisitely detailed and colorful textiles and also food: potatoes, corn, chiles, beans, and quinoa. Although controversial, many believe Peru to be the birthplace of ceviche.

So no camp VIP party would be complete without at least one Peruvian appetizer. I adapted this recipe from one in the Food Network's Kitchen Cookbook. Aji Verde is a common very spicy sauce in the Peruvian kitchen. This complex-tasting sauce often is served with bread for dipping. In this case, it is used as a vibrant green dip for the chicken wings. Please note, the cotija cheese can be salty, so go easy on the salt until you taste.

Peruvian Chicken Wings with Aji Verde

for the chicken wings:
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons olive oil
5 lbs chicken wings, cut into 3 segments (discard the wing tip or freeze to make chicken broth later)

Mix together all ingredients in a large plastic bag. If you have time, this is delicious when marinated several hours or overnight. However, it is not required.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cover two large baking sheets with foil and spray foil with cooking spray. Place the chicken wings in a single layer on the sheets, leaving space in between wing pieces. Place the sheets on two separate oven racks and bake for 20 minutes. Flip the wings, switch the trays and bake another 20 - 30 minutes until wings are crispy and brown.

While the chicken wings roast, make the dipping sauce:

3/4 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1/3 cup Cotija cheese, crumbled (usually I purchase this at a latin market or a local shop, The Cheese Importers)
1/3 cup good olive oil
1/3 cup water
1-3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Place all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Serve alongside the chicken wings for dipping.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Latin American Heritage Camp

We are back from Latin American Heritage Camp!

For the past 12 years, we have attended this wonderful weekend, designed for families who have adopted from Latin America. This year, 130 families from across the U.S. (plus a Canadian family and one family from Guatamala) arrived at Snow Mountain Ranch near Fraser, CO to participate in camp.

Workshops and activities focus on both Latin American culture and adoption issues. Everyone participates including elementary, middle and high school kiddos, as well as parents and other family members. After high school, kiddos can choose to attend as camp counselors. My whole family loves this camp and it is hard to put into words just what it means to us.

It also is lots of fun with a huge fiesta, music, dancing, picnics and hikes and loads of Latin American Food! For the past 10 camps, my good friend and fellow camper, Jan Harbert (a.k.a., the empanada queen), and I have "catered" one of the events. This year, we cooked for the VIP party, a fun gathering with cocktails and lots of appetizers. In the next few days I will be sharing with you some of the recipes we used.

Maybe I can even get the empanada queen to let go of her recipe....

Monday, June 14, 2010

Another Dinner-Fast idea - Roasted Salmon!

Today, we talk of salmon. Lovely, lip-smackin' salmon. I love fish--but salmon holds a very special place in my heart. It is fast, delicious, incredibly healthful and versatile--and beautiful!

King Salmon, named that for a reason (it truly is KING), is native to the Pacific Northwest.

Oh, pardon me....

Hey! Hey!
Get away from the salmon, big guy. Drop it....

Okay, where was I. Alaskan King has a beautiful red color and a deep, rich taste. Most of the other wild-caught salmon is okay, but I think, inferior to King. If you pick up anything from the Atlantic, drop it. Anything farmed? Drop that too. You can check specific fish recommendations at Monterrey Bay Aquarium's Sea Watch, an extremely helpful website.

One exception to the "farmed" rule: Within the last year, I have discovered Whole Foods' farmed Norwegian salmon. It is tender, moist and delicious and responsibly farmed. It also is less expensive than most wild salmon. Next time you are at Whole Foods, pick some up. You will have dinner in minutes.

Here is my favorite fast way to cook salmon on a weeknight:

Pick up about 1/4 - 1/3 pound Norwegian salmon fillets per person. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. With a sharp knife, cut the raw salmon into servings and place them on a baking sheet covered with foil. Sprinkle brown sugar over each salmon and follow with a drizzle of soy sauce over each fillet. Let set on countertop until oven preheats. Bake for 8-10 minutes (assuming the fillets are about 1 inch thick). Check with a fork (at 7-8 minutes) gently, slightly twisted into the meat of the fish. If it gives and the meat feels tender, it's ready. The secret to a great roasted salmon is not to overcook it.

Slip a spatula in between the salmon meat and the skin and slide through, placing the salmon on a plate and discarding the skin.

I love to serve this with a side of jasmine rice (a rice cooker makes very quick work of this--turn the rice cooker on right before you slip the salmon into the oven) and asparagus which has been roasted in olive oil, salt and pepper in a baking pan next to the salmon's pan. (The asparagus takes about the same amount of time, 8-10 minutes at 400 degrees).

If you have it, serve with a wedge of lemon, squeezed over all. Simple is best!!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

RIP Beloved Coffee Maker

I love coffee and I come from a long line of coffee drinkers. I'm pretty sure my mom and my grandparents had coffee running through their veins rather than the usual blood. My grandma had a pot going all day every day and she believed there was nothing that couldn't be cured with a cup of coffee and a piece of pie.

My dad used to drink something called Postum. But finally, after living with my mom for 50++ years--and the demise of Postum in 2007--he has been won over to coffee.

When I was younger, I didn't much trust anyone who didn't drink coffee (except you Dad!) Now that I'm older, I'm more open minded. In fact, some of my best friends are tea drinkers. It's an uneasy relationship, but I've adjusted.

So, you can imagine how broken-hearted I was when my beloved coffee maker fell from the counter about a month ago. It shattered. Once I figured out that there was no way I could piece it back together, I went to buy another coffee maker. As my kids would say, "Sad face."

This time, however, I bought a French coffee press. Sure, you can get some really fancy ones, but I bought a basic Bodum for less than $20.

They must use these french press things in heaven, because the taste of the coffee is otherworldly. I also love how portable it is and it easy to use. It has become as much a part of my morning routine as my old coffee maker.

I love how deep and rich the coffee is and that little layer of coffee foam on the top. Now I have a new beloved coffee maker. It stays way back against the wall on my countertop.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

And more eggs!

I love eggs anytime and they are especially wonderful for a quick supper.

A simple omelette goes together in less than a minute. For an especially entertaining and endearing tutorial, watch Julia Childs make a French (bien sur) omelette:

I love how she tosses the unsatisfactory pan under the counter.

The ingredients are so basic: 2-3 eggs, a little water, butter to coat a non-stick pan. The technique takes a bit of practice (do watch the above video to learn how!) but as they say, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette.

To dress up a plain omelette, sprinkle the finished product with fresh herbs, grated cheese or crumbled bacon. Or quickly saute veggies such as onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and pour over the top. I prefer to use these ingredients as toppings rather than to dump them into the eggs when they are cooking. This keeps the texture of the omelette creamy smooth and tender on the inside.

My preference is for a plain tri-fold omelette with a crusty french bagette and green salad with vinaigrette. Often, simple is best.

So, try it out on your family tonight. Even if you don't get the technique right immediately, still you will have a delicious dinner.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Mexican Eggs

What does a personal chef make for her own family's dinner?

Often, I am asked that question. It is not easy coming home to cook after you've been at it all day. So, I have an arsenal of very quick recipes. This is one my family loves.

I have seen this dish called "Migas" (typically a tex-mex version) or Heuvos Revueltos con Totopos (scrambled eggs with tortilla crisps). They are so easy and so delicious you won't believe it!

First, collect these ingredients:

For each serving, you will need:

1/2 to 1 corn tortilla (stale ones are okay--in fact, this dish is traditionally made to use up yesterday's tortillas, but fresh ones work, too)

Canola oil

2 eggs

1 teaspoon butter (optional)

Salt to taste

1 tablespoon of your favorite salsa (mine is pictured!) plus more for garnish

chopped cilantro or parsley for garnish, if desired

Place a frying pan on the stove, pour in just enough canola oil to coat the pan (the oil should only be about 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep or so). We aren't deep frying the tortilla strips, so you don't need a lot of oil.

While heating the oil in the pan, cut tortilla into 1/2 inch strips. When oil is hot, put tortilla strips into the pan and let them fry, flipping or stirring, until crisp.

Remove the tortilla strips and drain on paper towels. Wipe the oil out of the inside of the pan and let pan cool briefly.

Beat two eggs and a teaspoon of water together until well-blended. Once pan has cooled slightly, add the butter, if desired. Return pan to heat and, once the butter has stopped sizzling, add the eggs and stir to scramble. When about half-way scrambled, add the salsa and the tortilla strips. Stir until eggs are done. Pour onto a plate, add a little dollop of salsa to the middle and sprinkle with cilantro or parsley, if desired.

On a weeknight, I like to serve this with a bowl of chopped fruit or a green salad with white wine vinaigrette. If I'm tired, I serve it as is :-)

Several notes:

Most of the tex-mex versions add shredded cheese at the end. You can do that if you like, but it is not traditional in the Mexican version.

Some recipes call for store-bought tortilla chips. I have found them to be too salty and just generally unsatisfactory for this dish. An extra minute making your own is very worthwhile here.

Traditionally, fresh chopped tomato, serrano and onion are used in place of salsa. But, I use the salsa when I'm in a hurry.

This makes a wonderful brunch dish, too. It can be served simply as is, or with slices of avocado, refried beans and fresh fruit. You can switch out salsas (maybe a smoky chipotle salsa) and add chorizo or bacon if you like. A dollop of sour cream would be very good, too.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

(Another) Bacon Alert...sigh....

The folks at Cooks Illustrated (July-August, 2010) have bad news about the "uncured, no nitrites added" bacons.

Nitrites and nitrates are used in the preservation of processed meats (such as ham, hot dogs, and of course, bacon). Studies have shown when nitrites and nitrates combine with the saliva in our digestive systems they can become carcinogenic. Enter the uncured, no nitrites/nitrates added bacons, which claim to be safer.

Turns out, this is not necessarily true: Some of the ingredients used in these natural preservation methods (such as celery juice) aren't so innocent. These ingredients have higher levels of naturally occurring nitrites than in the traditionally preserved bacon. In fact, the folks at CI found that some brands of all natural bacon had more than three times the level of nitrites of traditional bacon.

What's a bacon lover to do? All things in moderation.... For my family, I feel a little bacon every now and then won't hurt. I use it occasionally in cooking and also by itself (bacon and eggs! BLTs!) I do try to buy bacon from a responsible source, such as our local Rocky Plains Meats where I know the animals have been treated well and have been raised without antibiotics.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Basil Fairy Garden

This is my tiny basil fairy garden with two iron chairs, a wee bird bath and a basket of sunflowers. I cheated a little because the sunflowers aren't real, but I thought the color might attract some fairies. The spicy-peppery smell of the basil certainly will!