Saturday, August 25, 2012

My Sister Calls it Frog Bread!!

Mushrooms are popular around the world and a must have in any serious cook's kitchen.  There are around 20 cultivated mushrooms sold commercially .  From the coveted truffle, to the sacred Matsutake, beloved by the Japanese, to the household familiar button mushrooms,  we have made these fungi a part of our lives.  Whether it's for nutritional, medicinal or for ritualistic purposes, mushrooms are a universal commodity that have origins dating back 13,000 years ago in Chile, and have affiliations in China as far  back as several hundred years B.C.
 Not only rich in B vitamins, namely niacin and riboflavin, mushrooms are also at the top of  the list of foods providing uber amounts of protein, even more so when dried!  Today's recipe,  features Baby Bella's, which are the younger and smaller version of the the beautiful Portobello mushroom, which is respected highly among the vegetarian community for it's 'meaty' texture and protein.   My sister Brenda is not a fan of mushrooms in any form, especially if she can see it.  She comically refers it as "Frog Bread", because it reminds her of lily pads or other things which frogs perch on and hide under!LOL  Brenda is so funny!!
This recipe uses lots of fresh ingredients and wonderful flavors that complement this mushroom well like mini peppers, onion, spinach, Pecorino Romano, and spicy sausage.  They are fabulous for entertaining, even for a small and humble affair like a weeknight dinner.  They are easy to prepare with major flavor reward.  I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as my family (excluding Brenda :) did!
Super Stuffed Baby Bella's
1lb. Baby Bella mushrooms, cleaned with dry cloth, stems removed
2 mini peppers, red and orange
2 tbsp. onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, pressed or finely minced
1/4 c. cooked hot and spicy sausage crumbles, (optional)
2 slices bread, torn into very tiny pieces
1/3 c. chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry of excess water
1 tsp. Cambozolo cheese, optional
3 tbsp. Pecorino Romano, grated, reserving 1 tbsp. for garnish
olive oil for drizzling
Preheat oven to 400*F.
Place peppers, onions and sausage in small bowl and drizzle with a scant amount of olive oil and SPST lightly.  Microwave on high, uncovered for 2 minutes.  Set Aside.
Meanwhile, combine spinach, cheeses, and bread pieces in a medium bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil and SPST.  Add pepper mixture and stir until combined.  Stuff mushrooms with filling and arrange on baking sheet.
The sizes will vary so stuff according to individual size ratio.  Divide remaining cheese atop filling.
Place in oven and cook until cheese is golden, about 8 minutes.
SPST and garnish with a little olive oil.
Makes about 12 mushrooms or 4 appetizer servings.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Jerkin' Around!

I am a big fan of Jerk seasonings and the like.  I was really introduced to a barrage of Caribbean and other Island fare from some of dear friends in college.  They enlightened me to a whole new world of flavors and especially spices of varying heats and complexities.  Jerk chicken and pork are amazing dishes with such complex flavor profiles, and a variety of sweet, salty and savory combinations.  To stay true to form, one must include two principle components, allspice and scotch bonnets.  If you cannot obtain scotch bonnets, which happen to be one of the highest on the Scoville scale, you may substitute with habaneros, which are one in the same.  Other commonly used ingredients include cinnamon, brown sugar, nutmeg, garlic, thyme, green onions or scallions, cloves and salt.  The sweet and heat contrast is what gives 'Jerked' proteins and vegetables their luminosity!  The method of cooking is also referred to as 'jerk'.  This involves cooking the chicken in a halved, hinged, grated and aerated steel drum, filled with charcoal or other wood for fuel or fire pits that have been dug into the ground.  The meat is rubbed with a thick spice paste, marinated, ,and slowly smoked, while piercing the meat continuously to help spices permeate throughout or 'jerking', and cooked until tender.  Jerk style seasoning and cooking is not unique to Jamaica alone, as there were references made to it predating slavery in African history.  Jerk cooking has been utilized in Jamaica for over 2500 years ago, but is also highly favored on other Caribbean Islands.  The jerk spice rub I came up with is a combination of Latin and Caribbean flavors and ingredients including cilantro, radishes, orange juice, several types of peppers, Agave nectar and a couple of  acids including white wine vinegar and  limes.   These cultures have influenced one another and the complex flavor profiles are present in both.  I tried my jerk rub with several different mediums including chicken cutlets, chicken wings and some beautiful  thick cut, bone in pork chops.  They were all delicious, but I favor the chops most.  I used a stove-top grill pan, but I fully plan to use charcoal next time as the essence of the jerk art  form truly requires.  The smokiness would complete the taste-bud matrimony that is this dish!!!
On a lighter note, I want to give a shout out to my sister Terry on her birthday today!!  Happy belated birthday to the twins(sisters) Linda and Bonnie yesterday, and to my sister Brenda, whose birthday is tomorrow, 8-15!!  I love you guys! You are my best friends and may you be blessed with decades more!!:)

Loaded Guacamole!!

From kitchen to kitchen, many of us have our own renditions of a guacamole dip.  As long as the key components, avocado, lime or lemon juice, onion, and garlic are involved, there is no wrong way to procure this popular Hispanic dish.  I must admit, the first time I tried Guacamole in high school, I was not in the least impressed.  In my adult years however, I revisited the green beast, and became acclimated with the wonderful balance involved in making this dish a success for me and my family.  Also, I wanted to include as many beneficial ingredients as possible to get the most out of the high but healthy fat content of the avocados and introduce a measure of crunch in addition to the crispness of the chips with which they're consumed.  The main ingredient in guacamole is the avocado, which is actually a fruit from the berry family.   Avocados  have origins as far back as 900 a.d. The Aztecs called the avocado "ahuacatl" or testicle for obvious reasons.  They used avocados for aphrodisiac purposes, as well  as for fertility rituals.  The early English called it the "alligator pear".  The most popular avocado is the Hass, whose first seed was planted in California in the late 1920's, by a man named Rudolph Hass,  hence the namesake.  This particular avocado is also popular because it can be grown year round.
Avocados are rich with a plethora of vitamins and minerals and loads of monounsaturated fats.  They are  high in carotenoid antioxidants like beta and alpha carotene, lutein and neoxanthin to name a few.  These fruits provide major B vitamins and fiber and possess anti-inflammatory benefits as well as the ability to lower the risks of heart disease.  This coupled with all the other fresh vitamin rich veggies I add to this recipe, including more B vitamins, antioxidants, and phytochemicals,  it's like taking huge bites out of longer, healthier lives.  The fresh ingredients pop
with depth and match the flavor profile of 'traditional' guacamole and loads more!
Loaded Guacamole
2 Hass avocados, seeded and chopped
4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped, about 2/3 c.
1 carrot, grated
1/2 c. seedless cucumber, grated
2 tbsp. chopped onion
2 tbsp. rough chopped cilantro
1 tbsp. capers, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, pressed or finely minced
juice of 1 lime
olive oil for drizzling
SPST (Salt and Pepper to Suit your Taste)
Place avocado in bowl and toss with juice of lime, mashing a few with a fork to create a little creaminess.  Add remaining ingredients and drizzle with olive oil.  SPST.  Toss until coated and fold until well blended.   Let flavors marry for about 5 minutes, then serve or refrigerate until ready to use.
This recipe would be great on toasted crostini as well!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ramen Gourmet: Roast Beef and Cambozola Noodle Bowl

This installment of the Dormitory Gourmet consists of ingredients that can be deemed high end.  The recipe is super simple and the flavors of these choice items really complement each other very well.  I had some Cambozola cheese I had purchased as a part of my discovering new and delicious things to experience and share with my family and friends.  Cambozola cheese is a German cheese made with Bavarian Cream and has origins in the early 1900's.  This beautiful cheese is described as a cross between Camembert (creaminess)  and Gorgonzola (tangy, blue veined) cheese.  It is a French influenced triple cream  ripened blend with amazing blue veins that is rather unique and has a pungent and salty goodness that pairs exceptionally well with roast beef. Cambozola has been referred to as "blue brie", being neither blue nor brie. I also found that this cheese is well suited with the Sprite Melon and other sweet fleshy melons like honeydew and cantaloupe.
Beef flavored Ramen noodles provide the base for this delectable creation and the cheese when melted, adds a slight  creaminess to the broth when stirred.  The slivers of deli sliced roast beef add meaty yet not overwhelming heartiness to the noodle bowl, and drizzled with good quality olive oil, is quite a gourmet affair in itself.  Cambozola cheese may be found in supermarkets with a gourmet cheese section and runs $20 a pound.  The taste is incredibly addictive and certainly worth it, even if you only buy a portion of the pound as I did.  A little goes a long way!  The roast beef in this recipe is of the rare, cajun spiced breed and is also delicious with crusty breads, tomatoes, oil and vinegar and exceptional olive oils.
Roast Beef and Cambozola Noodle Bowls 
1 pkg. Beef flavored Ramen
1 slice deli roast beef, thinly sliced
1 oz. Cambozola Cheese
Olive oil for drizzling
Prepare noodles according to package instructions.  Pile roast beef in center of bowl and crumble Cambozola atop.  Microwave for 30 seconds to start melting the cheese.   Drizzle with olive oil and SPST.    Serve immediately!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

New Food Finds by Word of Mouth!

With all the technology at our fingertips today from computers to 4G speed phones and even billboards,  word of mouth is still one of the most effective ways to 'spread the word'.  Granted once it is spread by mouth, it will then be expedited via the previous methods mentioned.  My sister Linda told me about some clam strips she'd run across in a Dollar Tree, that's right, not the Dollar General, which has low prices, but everything is not necessarily a dollar.  She commented that the clam strips, when prepared according to the directions on the box, were magnificent!  I saw some yesterday in a dollar store in Danville, and picked up a couple boxes for myself.  I believed her from the start and when I tried them today, they were everything she said they would be and then some.  I was amazed at the freshness and tenderness of the clams.  They were truly restaurant quality and only one dollar.  A company called La Monica   produces these gems and has put out several items since 1923.  A man by the name of Pietro or Peter La Monica started with a seafood shop and has become the largest "Hand Shucking" clam operative in the U.S.  It's definitely a diamond in the rough!
La Monica makes many other products, but I  haven't tried the others yet, but I am sure that if they're anything like these clam strips, they 're super awesome!
The Dollar Tree is pretty amazing in itself, because some of them carry a frozen foods section.  Among the frozen foods are breaded chicken products, fresh frozen chicken thighs, ribeye steaks, lobster sliders, heads-on shrimp, and various breakfast items like turkey bacon, breakfast burritos and sausage links and crumbles.  The variety these stores provide these days is  godsend, especially if your budget get tight, and prices are sky high everywhere. It's good to know you can still have your 'steak'and eat it too!  Surf and Turf for 2 bucks is hard to beat!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Fun Fruits: Sprite Melons

I absolutely adore supermarkets.  When permissible, I will spend extensive time there, checking out new products and items, especially in the produce department.  I make it a point to read the information posted on the vegetables and fruits that are  unfamiliar to me.  Additionally, when my budget allows, I purchase the item and do my own flavor profile to lock into my mental Rolodex. My first job was in a supermarket and became my beginning registry for the copious amounts of fruits and vegetables that I can recite to this day.  On that note, I visited a Kroger in the Smith Mountain Lake area the other day and became familiar with yet another member of the melon family, The Sprite Melon.  This fruit has origins in Japan and has been successfully cultivated in our own backyard of North Carolina since the early 1990's .  When ripe, this fruit  is about the size of a grapefruit. 
The flesh of this melon is ivory to cream and can become a pale yellow with striations and mottling on the outside when fully ready to consume.  The striations are caused by the sugars within the melon that are approximately 18% percent higher than that of other melons.  The Sprite Melon has 150% of the daily allowance of Vitamin C per serving and no calories from fats.    The taste is said to resemble a cross between a honeydew and a watermelon, and some suggest a hint of pear.  The flesh is quite firm with an almost crisp, crunchy bite like that of an apple.  The particular fruits I tried, were very reminiscent of just that.  The sweetness was not as pronounced, but it also lacked the tell-tale mottling on the outside.  This fruit is generally served as a dessert and it's size makes for convenient servings for individuals.  
My family really enjoyed the Sprite Melon, especially Genesis my 6 year old.  I certainly did and found it paired exceptionally well with Cambozolo cheese, with which I used  to create the following recipe.  The freshness of this salad is impeccable, showcasing this melon and other fabulous vegetables with delicate as well as bold flavor profiles and a citrusy vinaigrette!   If you don't get a chance to try the recipe, please don't miss the opportunity to try this melon as is, it will lift your spirits in a Spritely fashion!
Asparagus and Sprite Melon Salad w/Cambozolo and Pancetta
1 lb. petite asparagus, blanched and chopped on bias
2 sprite melons, halved and de-seeded, hollowed out slightly, the bottom shaved enough to sit flat
2 oz. Pancetta, small dice
1 tbsp. shallot, finely chopped
2  oz. Cambozolo cheese
zest of 1 lemon
For Vinaigrette:
juice of 1 large lemon, about 2 tbsp.
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. Agave Nectar
In a cast iron skillet over medium high heat, saute Pancetta until golden, about 4 minutes, and add shallot.  SPST.  Saute  for 1 more minute. Turn off heat .
In a medium bowl, add asparagus, zest of lemon, about 1/2 c.  Sprite Melon flesh chopped (from the hulled  out portion), and vinaigrette, that has been combined in another small bowl.  Toss until well coated. SPST.  Toss with Pancetta and shallot mixture.  
Spoon into Sprite Melon bowls.  Divide cheese equally atop the two salads.  
Sprite Melon Salad w/ Asparagus, Cambozolo and Pancetta
Serves 4.  Serve Immediately.  
This salad is presented in two bowls or 1 melon because that is all I had available after the taste testing and subsequent consumption of additional 'bowls'.  For presentation, serve in 4 melon bowls that have been de-seeded, but NOT HOLLOWED out, as the melon will create an appealing border around the asparagus salad and the fruit may be scooped out afterwards with a spoon by the person eating.   Use the fruit of a 5th additional melon to provide the portion for the recipe.
This makes for a gorgeous first course salad in 4 bowls or 2 main course salads if you follow the recipe above.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cancun: Authentic Mexican Restaurant & Grill

While scouting about in the Smith Mountain Lake Area the other day, I came across quite a jewel. Cancun Restaurant is located in a plaza with some other professional buildings and businesses. 
 The restaurant itself was decorated in a wonderful Latin theme with brilliant colors similar to that of a summer's sunset in the desert. The festive music was in harmony with the bold and decadent aromas wafting from the kitchen. The staff was amiable and service was prompt. The bar was stocked with a myriad of beers and wines, both foreign and domestic, along with a vast array of mixed Latin style drinks like 5 flavors of Margaritas, 7 types of Tequila, and 25 oz. Micheladas, which are a popular Mexican beer beverage said to be good for hangovers! 
 The menu is extensive and numbered for ease, in case your Spanish is a little rusty! There are numerous lunch specials and items offered a la carte for building your own combination plates. 
 I ordered from the mixed section or recipes offering more than one type of protein in the dish, like chicken and/or beef or shrimp. I also ordered from the a la carte menu. For the main entree, I ordered the Enchiladas Rancheras, which is 2 beef and 2 chicken enchiladas topped with a Poblano Mole sauce, and garnished with cheese and onions. I also ordered a chicken tamale and a Chile Relleno.
The tamale was supple and delicious in it's simplicity. The spices were as not to overwhelm the palate and the flavors of the meat filling and the corn meal casing meshed very well. The tangy sauce covering the tamale was a brilliant red and enough to dip each forkful into the savory deliciousness. 
 The Enchiladas Rancheras was my least favorite item, but I did prefer the chicken portion more than the beef. I feel that I would have enjoyed it more if the Mole Poblano was a little spicier and the spices more pronounced, instead of somewhat dull and muted. 
 Overall, I did not dislike the dish, but I think I could recreate it at home more to my own personal flavor profile. Last but not least, was the Chile Relleno. After one bite, I instantly wished I had ordered 3 more minimum! The flavors were alive and robust. The chile was stuffed with shredded beef and cheese, dipped in egg, fried, and covered with a glorious red sauce. The spicy filling and the Poblanos were chock full of smoky flavor components and the tastes that to me showcase Mexican cuisine at it's best. Every order comes with super fresh salsa, with lots of garlic and cilantro, and fresh tortillas for dipping.
 If you happen to be in the Smith Mountain Lake area and want some Authentic Mexican fare, especially a dynamite Chile Relleno, stop by Cancun, feel the love!
Cancun Mexican Restaurant and Grill
13383 Booker T. Washington Hwy.
Hardy, Va 24101-3945
540) 719-2884