Sunday, January 24, 2010

Remarkable Double Bean Salsa

For a large family gathering over the weekend, I was planning a special salsa, that included mashed avocado, in which to dip blue corn tortilla chips as the appetizer for our New Mexico dinner.

I planned ahead and got a bunch of avocados five days in advance to be sure they would be ripe. They weren't.

Quickly I had to improvise with a couple ingredients picked up at our Dekalb Farmers Market. The result was a creamy, spicy fresh new dish, a large cleaned-out salsa bowl and several requests for the recipe.

Here it is.

Double Bean Salsa for Dipping

1 (14-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14-ounce) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 large fresh jalapeño, including all or at least part of seeds
1 small red onion
1 medium bunch cilantro, including stems, rinsed
1 (14-ounce) can "petite" diced tomatoes (without flavorings)
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus to taste
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup sour cream

In food processor, finely chop beans and chickpeas, by pulsing. Scrape down inside of container several times. Transfer mixture to mixing bowl.

To food processor add jalapeno, onion, cut in chunks, plus cilantro including stems (cut off bottom half inch). Pulse, then chop until very fine, scraping down inside of container. Add this mixture to beans.

Add tomatoes, including their juices, to beans. Add salt, pepper and sour cream. Stir well.

Let sit 10 minutes, stir again, then taste. Add salt as needed.

This will mellow over a half hour or more.

Serve with tortilla chips for dipping.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Chicken à la Créole recalls the “old” Haiti

This is an update of a recipe I posted nearly two years ago. The timing is obvious, with Haiti so tragically in the news these days.

I first encountered this savory, and attractive, way of fixing chicken legs -- and “steaks” sliced frozen from turkey legs -- in Haiti a few years ago. The venerable Hôtel Montana in Port-au-Prince, at whose dining room I enjoyed the dish, was destroyed in the recent earthquake.

“Chicken Créole,” named for people of French ancestry born in the overseas territories, is not limited to Haiti, but is a common food term throughout the French-speaking tropics. Just to confuse things, “Créole” is also the name of the Haitian dialect of French, which I cannot understand despite being fairly fluent in standard French.

Chicken Créole typically describes chicken braised in a thick, savory sauce made of locally available ingredients. These often include peppers, onions, and tomatoes, plus spices. I’ve had so-called Creole Chicken, variously made, in several countries.

The recipe below reproduces the dish I enjoyed in Haiti. Naturally, I did not get an actual recipe from the chef there. Rather, this is my rendering from memory, first tried and recorded soon after my return.

I would have had local beer with this in Haiti, since imported wines were difficult -- and expensive -- to find. However, here I would choose a light- to medium-bodied dry red wine, such as a Beaujolais, Chianti, or Malbec.

The recipe serves six generously, and should be accompanied by a rice dish. See my blog posting of 3/18/08 for a Creole rice recipe.

Haitian-style Creole Chicken

12 large chicken drumsticks (about 4 pounds)
Melted chicken fat or olive oil for frying
1 medium-large onion, chopped
1 medium-large bell pepper, cored and chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup chicken broth (made from leg trimmings)
4 tablespoons tomato paste (1/2 of a 6-ounce can -- freeze the rest in a plastic bag)
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper or cayenne
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon thyme

On a cutting board, using a cleaver or kitchen scissors cut off bottom 1 1/2 inches of drumsticks. Pull skin off the meat. Sprinkle chicken moderately on all sides with salt.

In large heavy pot, fry skin and bone pieces over medium-low heat to bring out some grease and to get a crust on the pan.

Transfer fried skin and bones to a small pan, keeping grease and crust in cooking pot. Add 3 cups of water to the skin and bones. Simmer to make broth while the main dish is cooking. Skim off the fat (part of which can be used for frying the onions). Use this broth in the recipe and put any extra into the rice dish.

In the large pot, fry chicken pieces, half at a time, turning them frequently, until outsides have changed color. Meanwhile, prepare onion, pepper and garlic.

Once chicken is removed from pot, add more grease or olive oil, if needed, and fry onions, stirring frequently and scraping the pan gently until they begin to turn golden. Add garlic and peppers, and fry, stirring frequently, for two minutes.

Add fried chicken, broth, tomato paste, salt, herbs and spices. Simmer, covered, scraping bottom of pan occasionally and turning chicken. Cook for 25 to 30 minutes, or until chicken is tender. If sauce gets dry, add a little broth or water.

As the chicken is cooking, taste the sauce and add salt if necessary, especially toward the end of cooking. Uncover the pan for the last several minutes for the sauce to thicken.

Serve with a rice dish.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Fish Pâté made with Tuna

I am relearning to appreciate canned tuna in ways other than tuna salad sandwiches -- which I still love (see my blog of 9/22/07 for a California-style fruited tuna salad, for example).

This appreciation returned last summer after enjoying tuna in a delightful Thai "curry" served over rice noodles. This was prepared by my sister-in-law Nai, who is from Chiengmai, as part of a dinner that she and I cooked. (See my blog posting of 9/12/09 for a slight variant of Nai's Nam Ya Pla.)

Two dishes suddenly come back to mind that I loved long ago, but had forgotten about. Tuna-noodle casserole with cream of mushroom soup and crumbled potato chips is from my childhood. Tuna curry is something we made when I lived with West Indian students in Jamaica during my student research summers there.

Writing for the Athens Banner-Herald in my column, "Le Gourmet Fauché" (the Broke Gourmet), I did a special article in early December on non-extravagant entertainment foods for the holidays. Tuna figured into that as an inexpensive replacement for salmon pâté. I thought it worked out, and I also served it with strongly positive reviews at our Christmas open house.

This fish pâté appetizer, though a creation, hints of France or Scandinavia. It spreads well on crackers or baguette slices. Use oil-packed tuna for best flavor. Be sure the crackers are not salty or heavily seasoned.

Fish Pâté

2 (4-ounce) cans chunk light tuna, in oil
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus more to taste
3 tablespoons freshly minced dill, plus extra for garnish
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons capers, drained (rinsed if dry-packed in salt)

Drain tuna. Mix together all ingredients except capers with fork until smooth. Coarsely chop capers and mix them in.

After 10 minutes. Mix again and taste. Add salt and/or lemon juice as needed.

Spoon into serving dish. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until needed.

Serve sprinkled with minced dill.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Sherry-Almond Cheese Ball

Continuing the effort at getting recipes out on the blog after being so quiet over the holidays, here's another winter entertainment snack from my Athens Banner-Herald column from early December.

The much-maligned, if inevitable, American cheese ball got reworked with sherry and ground almonds. I used to tire of the once-trendy cheese ball, but somehow always ate some of it if it was there. Recognizing its presence as a reality, I at least put a couple of my favorite flavors in it.

Sherried Almond Cheese Ball

Almond butter, available at natural food stores and some supermarkets, provides the roasted almonds for this. The cheeses are available at the supermarket.

This recipe makes two cheese balls. Surround with roasted, unsalted almonds for an extra treat, if desired.

8-ounce package cream cheese
1/2 pound sharp cheddar or Jarlsberg cheese, grated
1/4 pound Asiago cheese (domestic), grated
1/2 cup almond butter
3 tablespoons golden or Amontillado sherry
Green part of 1 large scallion (green onion), finely minced, or 3 teaspoons minced chives
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Paprika or minced parsley for garnish
1 cup roasted almonds for garnish (optional)

In large bowl, mash cream cheese with fork. Mix in remaining ingredients except for garnishes.

Taste, and add salt if needed (Asiago can be salty).

Shape the soft mixture into two balls. Sprinkle lightly all over with paprika or parsley. Wrap each with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 8 hours, or up to 3 days.

With plastic wrap still on, pat cheese balls perfectly round and smooth.

Serve on a dish. Sprinkle again lightly with paprika or parsley. Surround with roasted almonds, if desired.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Jeweled Devilled Eggs

Resolved this New Year: Keep more consistent on the blog.

I've been busy in December, between office, restaurant, catering and family holidays. But my writing has been going to the Athens Banner-Herald, where I have a cooking column every other week.

Here's a recipe for a holiday food, but good at other times, which I did in my special entertainment column in early December. This one was picture in a large color photo. There will be two more recipes from that column in the blog in coming days.

Finely diced red and green peppers give the spicy devilled eggs (I called them "jeweled stuffed" during the Christmas season, rather than invoke Satan) a festive look.

Jeweled Stuffed (Devilled) Eggs

Hard-boiled eggs peel best if refrigerated at least a week before boiling. Fresh eggs do not peel well.

Use an extra egg for every 12 to be served, to allow for torn whites and to make more filling with the extra yolk. Careful stirring during boiling helps center the yolks.

13 eggs (refrigerated at least a week before boiling)
2 teaspoons finely minced scallion (green and white part) or onion
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons vinegar
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne or 4 squirts hot pepper sauce
2 tablespoons each, finely minced red and green (or other colors) bell peppers

Bring eggs to a gentle boil in large uncovered pan with water 3 inches above eggs. Gently roll eggs around with spoon 4 to 5 times during first 4 minutes of simmering. Simmer a total of 14 minutes. Remove from water and cool.

Peel eggs, rinse, and dry with paper towel. Cut in half lengthwise. Gently scoop yolks into bowl.

Mash yolks with a fork. Mix in remaining ingredients except bell pepper. Let sit 10 minutes. Mix again, taste, and add salt, if desired.

Using two teaspoons, fill the best 24 egg whites with yolk mixture. Place in casserole dish(es) with high sides.

Mix red and green bell peppers. With fingers, place peppers evenly over stuffed parts of eggs.

Cover dish(es) with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until needed – up to 24 hours.

Serve on a bed of finely shredded lettuce.