Unfussy Fare

Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons

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I grew up hating coconut. It smelled like suntan oil to me, and called to mind a revolting Hostess confection known as a Snowball. Snowballs were round and hot pink and unnaturally soft. The only texture came from the “coconut” coating, which looked and felt like dryer lint. Snowballs were so cloying and mushy that I couldn’t stomach them at any age, which is saying something. I had a towering tolerance for sweet and mushy as a cavity-prone child of the 70’s. Snowballs put me off coconut for decades.
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Tuna & Avocado Salad with Wasabi-Lime Dressing

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Sorry I’m late. My discipline went on vacation, then missed its train, then slept through the alarm, then called in sick. Can you believe it? Yeah, me neither. All that aside, I missed sharing recipes with you, kind readers. What better outlet for my glaring food-talk issue than this little blog? Where else can I recall last night’s dinner in excruciating detail without clearing the room? My friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues have suffered enough. So I’m back. Thanks for sticking with me.

I’ve got a recipe for you. I’m weary of wintery braises and stews. I want something fresh and bright to remind me of warmer days. This recipe deserves a drum roll, or maybe a symphonic theme song, heavy on the strings. It’s a favorite around here. Let me list some reasons that you should run right out and buy some tuna post-haste.

Reason #1: Jewel-like beauty. The deep pink tuna and serene green avocado recall a half-open peony, batting its riotous eyelashes with the promise of Spring.  

Reason #2:  Texture. Ooh, la la. Each bite offers a nuanced nudge to the tongue. It’s melting, soft, and smooth. Tuna and avocado are already plenty sultry on thier own. Put them together, and they’re practically too luscious for primetime.  Add some zing, crunch and kick (lime, shallots, and wasabi), and you’ve got a one-dish meal that satisfies every sense.  Which brings me to

Reason #3: Flavor. This is a dish where tastes unfurl in rich and subtle layers, each more satisfying than the last. The interplay is everything.  And last, but certainly not least

Reason #4: It’s quick.  What more can you ask for? Fifteen minutes, folks. Fifteen minutes to a bowl of blushing fulfillment. Can you beat that?

This recipe is adapted from Ina Garten’s. I have four of Ina’s books, and I am here to tell you they are worth every penny of their hefty hardcover prices. You should all go out and buy one. You won’t be sorry. There. That’s my public service announcement. (And no, I don’t work for her publisher. I’ve never met her, despite the fact that I consider us on a first-name basis. I’ve never even seen her TV show, which is weird, right?)

tuna-salad-ingredients

TUNA & AVOCADO SALAD WITH WASABI-LIME DRESSING

2 pounds fresh tuna steaks, about an inch thick
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
zest of two limes, chopped fine
1 teaspoon wasabi powder
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons soy sauce
10 dashes Tabasco
2 large ripe avocados, large diced
1 shallot, sliced thinly
2 sliced green onions
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Brush room-temperature tuna steaks with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill (or sear in a hot sauté pan) for one and a half minutes on each side. Allow steaks to cool for a few minutes before chopping.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the olive oil, salt, pepper, lime zest, wasabi powder, lime juice, soy sauce and Tabasco.

Cut the tuna into chunks and place them in a large bowl. Add the shallots and dressing and mix gently. Add the avocado and mix gently again. Sprinkle each serving with green onion and sesame seeds.


Lemongrass Chicken with Ginger-Lime Dipping Sauce

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Happy New Year! I’m afraid all the holiday hoopla led me to neglect my little blog for a couple weeks. It’s too bad, because a lot of mighty fine eating went on around here. Not to worry, though. I saved some recipes for you, which I’ll trot out over the next few weeks.

In response to holiday butter overload, I decided to make a New Year’s Eve dinner that involved no milk fat. I am here to report that no flavor was sacrificed. In fact, the lemongrass chicken with ginger-lime dipping sauce was all the fireworks I needed to declare an auspicious beginning to 2010.

I was concerned that using so much lemongrass would result in a splintery, crunchy texture, like eating roasted bamboo. But I chopped the lemon grass very finely, and by the time it marinated all day then cooked for an hour, my worries proved unwarranted. The lemongrass just added fabulous flavor and a light note of crispness to the perfectly browned chicken skin.

The lemongrass was tantalizing, but the ginger-lime dipping sauce was the real star of the show.  It’s hot, sweet, salty, tangy and irresistible. I plan to make it again ASAP. I think I’ll marinate shrimp in it, then grill and dip. There’s almost nothing I would not happily dip in this sauce. It would make a fabulous dressing for a salad with grilled beef. The possibilities are endless. Make a double recipe of the sauce. You’ll thank me.

I served this chicken with coconut rice and stir fried broccoli with garlic and chili flakes. Sadly, I only managed to take the one uninspired picture. We had a houseful of hungry people ready to eat, and I didn’t have time for pictures.

This recipe was inspired by one in , from the Best of Fine Cooking series. Their recipe is for roasting a whole chicken. I used thighs and drumsticks. I also added some liquid to the pan for a sort “broasting” effect (crispy on top like roast chicken, moist on the bottom like braised chicken.) It worked out perfectly. This is a fantastic dinner-party dish. The bulk of the time goes into the marinade, which is made well in advance, and the chicken doesn’t need much attention while it cooks.

LEMONGRASS ROAST CHICKEN – serves four

½ cup finely chopped lemongrass (3 or 4 stalks)
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
4 ½ teaspoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon dried red chili flakes
1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
4 pounds chicken thighs and drumsticks with skin and bone
½ cup chicken stock
¼ cup lime juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

In a large non-reactive bowl, combine all but two tablespoons of the lemongrass with the shallots, garlic, fish sauce, soy sauce, chili flakes, salt, and sugar. Add chicken and toss to coat. Marinate from six to 24 hours, stirring two or three times. Bring chicken to room temperature for an hour before cooking it.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix chicken stock and lime juice in a small bowl.

Place chicken in a single layer in an oven-proof skillet or baking dish, skin side up. Pour and scrape the marinade from the bowl onto the chicken. Add the chicken stock and lime juice mixture to create a shallow layer of liquid around the chicken.

Roast chicken for 45 minutes, basting once or twice with pan juices. Meanwhile, mix the last two tablespoons of lemongrass with the cilantro and oil.

After 45 minutes, remove chicken from oven and spread each piece with some of the cilantro mixture. Return chicken to oven and roast for 10 more minutes.

Remove chicken from pan and serve with ginger-lime dipping sauce.

GINGER-LIME DIPPING SAUCE – makes 2/3 cup

2 cloves garlic
2 Thai bird chiles (I substituted about one tablespoon of diced jalapeno without seeds.)
1 teaspoon of chili-garlic sauce (available in the Asian section of most groceries)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
3 tablespoons fish sauce (also available in the Asian section of most groceries)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons sugar

Chop garlic, chiles, and ginger finely (or mash them to a paste with a mortar and pestle). Place the chopped or mashed ingredients in a small bowl.

Add chili-garlic sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, water, and sugar. Stir to blend. Let sit for at least 10 minutes before serving.


Sweet Pea Romaine Soup

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I”m feeling dense and leaden from overindulging on holiday bounty. This could spell trouble, as we”ve still got considerable holiday bounty ahead. Today I craved green. Something light and bright, quick and tasty. My thoughts turned to a favorite soup I used to order often at the Dale Street Cafe in Colorado Springs. That was many years ago. A quick google search shows that the restaurant is still around, although it”s changed owners since I ate there. This soup was inspired by theirs.  

Sweet peas and romaine offer a lovely spring-green counterpoint to heavy holiday fare. Lettuce in soup might sound strange, but trust me, it works. The intense shamrock hue belies a delicate bouquet and subtle flavor. It tastes grassy and sweet and altogether fresh. It was the perfect choice for this, the darkest day of the year.  You could add a little cream at the end for richness, if you”re so inclined. Personally, I love the lightness.

sweet-peas

SWEET PEA ROMAINE SOUP

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, chopped (about a cup and a quarter)
1 12-ounce bag frozen peas, thawed
1 medium head romaine lettuce, sliced into 1-inch strips
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 cups water
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint leaves
2 tablespoons lemon juice
black pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and saute for five minutes.

Add romaine leaves. Cook, stirring regularly, until leaves are completely wilted (about five minutes).

Add peas, water, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for ten minutes.

Puree soup in a blender or food processor.

Return soup to pot. Add water if it seems too thick. Add mint leaves and lemon juice. Stir, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve with a mint leaf garnish.

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