Any Kitchen Will Do

Give me a kitchen and I will cook.

Herby Dressing

herbydressing

I make a lot of salad dressing. My goal is typically to find vegetables that will bring the dressing to my mouth. I like vegetables, but it is hard to keep them interesting and add variety to ensure they make up a majority of my diet. I have been surrounded by herbs and summer lately, so decided to try and capture it all in a jar. I trundled through the jungle of herbs in my brother’s back yard and grabbed handfuls of garlic, cilantro and parsley. I rush back into the kitchen, to reduce my exposure to the triple digit temperatures. I filled the food processor with other basics of a dressing and come up with a bright, crisp, green concoction. We have used it so far to flavor salad, cauliflower fried ‘rice’, cottage cheese and dip. The word dressing may be deceiving, for it is not just for salad. It can brighten up all kinds of foods, so go for it!

Herby Dressing

1 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 lime, juiced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 ground black pepper
Place all ingredients except for olive oil into a food processor. Pulse the ingredients until herbs are of a uniform size. Continue processing steadily while incorporating oil with a continuous, steady stream into the processor. Store dressing in an airtight container, drizzling it with abandon on raw veggies or incorporating it into vegetable dishes.

Boiled Lobster with Clarified Butter

lobster in shell

A most hated dish to me is overcooked, dried out lobster. It is sad that such a delicious creature gets so abused for our sake. Not the eating of lobster; I am fine with doing that, but the overcooking of it. For that reason I do not often order it in restaurants. Maybe it is unfair to assume they will screw it up, but it is what I do. My parents were the same way. They would not get them at restaurants, but buy them alive the afternoon they planned on cooking, and leave the suckers in the sink to wait. When I was young and short I would peek over the edge of the counter and see them moving around, with their claws bound in rubber bands. According to my mom, once one of those claws came towards me and I freaked out. Apparently it was hilarious. I am not sure if I thought so at the time.

If you have never prepared fresh, live lobster, from crawling to consuming, you are missing out. The meat cannot be compared to previously frozen tails or disguising of it in a lobster roll or dip. It is pure, sweet, meaty heaven. The reason for keeping them alive until right before cooking is to preserve them as long as possible. Like all shellfish, they begin to break down (organs and all) immediately upon death, so delaying it as long as possible is the healthiest, safest way to prepare them.

If you have never used clarified butter you may wonder why is it important to us it, instead of just melting butter right out of the fridge. It is my opinion, and that of many others, that if the butter is not clarified, with a hint of lemon, the butter will take over the flavor of the lobster instead of enhancing it, and leave a greasy film in the mouth. Leftover clarified butter is a great fat for cooking other things. It is the foundation of butter without the milk solids and water, so it has a high smoking point for cooking other foods and contributes a wonderful butteriness to whatever you cook.

Sadly, Brigit did not sample the lobster. After helping me buy them, watching them move around on the counter, then watching them lowered live into a pot of boiling water, I think she was squeamish about eating them. She might have been influenced by watching me tear it apart, claw by claw, tail by tail, then use kitchen scissors to open up the stubborn pieces. Maybe next time she will try it, for there will be a next time. The rest of our gang inhaled ever morsel, and sucked out the meat from the legs, like little lobster straws.

If you want more information about how to utilize as much of the lobster as possible, and dismantle it like I do, I recommend this video.

Boiled Lobster with Clarified Butter

1 pound unsalted butter
2 lemons
2 lobsters, 1 1/2 -2 pounds each
2-3 gallons water
2 bay leaves

In a medium saute pan over medium low heat add butter and zest from one lemon. Heat until butter is melted and steaming. Remove from heat and pour butter through a sieve to remove zest. Let butter sit for 20 minutes. Skim off fat layer that forms on top. Pour the rest of butter into a measuring cup or clear glass bowl. Place in refrigerator and let chill for at least four hours.

In a large stock pot add enough water to cover both lobsters and squeeze in lemon juice from one lemon. Drop in lemon rinds and bay leaves. Bring water to a rolling boil. Remove rubber bands from lobster claws. Drop lobsters into the boiling water, head and claws first. Cover and boil for 15 minutes, until shells are red.

While lobster cooks complete the clarified butter. Remove butter from refrigerator and scoop out the yellow, clarified portion from the top, leaving separate the white, watery portion (water and milk solids). Heat butter over medium heat until melted and steamy. Remove lobsters from water and set on tray to cool. Serve whole or remove edible meat from shells and serve on a platter. Serve by dipping bites into the butter.

Roasted Radishes

roasted radishesAs a kid I did not pay much attention to radishes. They were occasionally included in my green salad, but were a bit spicy for me, along with the raw onion. When older I realized that the spicy and peppery of onions and radishes were wonderful, and I added them in droves. I also found out that the heat of raw radishes and onions changed dramatically when cooked. I often cook up onions to compliment other vegetables and dishes, like in my French onion dip, which is the same for radishes. As you can see from the picture, they can easily be mistaken for roasted new potatoes or turnips. These guys are like vegetable candy. The radishes remind me of turnips, but much more tender and sweet from the start.

Texas is bursting with vegetables during the summer. Farmers markets are full of root vegetables, including radishes and I totally went for it. The radishes were ecstatic raw with a peppery bite to them. The great thing about radishes is that they are tender from the beginning, and only get more tender if cooked. They can be lightly roasted until just heated through, or if they are roasted a bit more, you allow for a bit of caramelizing. I did the longer cooking time to maximize the caramelizing. They go great with the pile of smoked meats that came out of the smoker when the radishes came out of the oven. Between the radishes, smoked meats my brother made and a big batch of coleslaw, we had a summer feast to end all feasts.

Roasted Radishes

4 cups small red radishes, chopped in halves
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp granulated garlic powder
1 tsp dried parsley leaves
2 tsp dried oregano leaves

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl combine the oil, salt, garlic, parsley and oregano. Add the radishes and toss until coated. Spread radishes evenly on foil lined shallow baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and toss, then return to oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven again and serve immediately.

Face Moisturizer

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For about 20 years I used basic over the counter face moisturizer. In recent years my laugh lines have become more prominent, though not of any real concern to me. If I am going to have some crows feet I am good with that. Over the past year or so I noticed that the moisturizer did not seem to ‘take care’ of my skin the way it did when I was 18. I guess I am just lucky the same product was available for so long. Instead of spending a fortune trying to figure out a new commercial product to use I decided to turn to the kitchen. I know how well coconut oil moisturizes the rest of my skin, and the anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil never hurts the skin.

I do not promise that this mixture will miraculously make your wrinkles disappear or magically lift your face. I am sure if you are seeking out such results there is a skin care regimen available at your local department store you can invest in. What I can do is promise you soft, supple and glowing skin. It balances out my combination skin, helps get rid of blemishes quickly and is a natural sunblock (although I still use extra block when I will be out in the sun all day). Another advantage to using it is the massaging you do with your fingers to get it absorbed. Very relaxing and cheaper than a facial!

Face Moisturizer

2 Tbsp avocado oil
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp extra virgin coconut oil
5-6 drops essential oil

Heat coconut oil slightly to liquefy. Add avocado and olive oil and combine. Pour oil mixture into glass serum jar. Add essential oil drops and gently stir until combined. To apply, use a dropper to put a few drops on your finger tip. Spread among three or four fingers and gently rub evenly over face, gently massaging it into the skin until absorbed.

Bronze Baked Drumsticks

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You may be about sick of me sharing different ways to cook chicken, but I can’t help it. Trust me, I don’t tell you about all of them. I never really mastered fried chicken on the stove top, like my mom – I know there is a ‘sweet spot’ for temperature and depth of oil that gets the inside cooked and the outside crispy, but I have just not made it enough to get in the sufficient practice. I do a low carb work around that is insane good, so I take comfort in my version.
Otherwise, I bake and bake it, then bake again, using different flavors. Lots of times I do little wings and drumettes, but these pretty, full sized drumsticks were hanging out at the store, so I tried them instead. This recipe, thrown together from stuff in the pantry, was quite good and pretty too! If you don’t have the seasoning mix it can be easily replaced with another, or the suggested mix noted below.
Bronze Baked Drumsticks
8-10 large chicken drumsticks
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon juiced with meat retained
1 Tbsp Seasoning Salt (recommend Montreal Steak Seasoning)
In large bowl combine Worcestershire sauce, oil and lemon juice with lemon meat. Add chicken and toss until well coated. Place in refrigerator for one hour, tossing again after 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line large shallow baking pan with aluminum foil. Remove drumsticks from marinade and let excess drip off, then place on baking sheet. Place in oven and bake for 45 minutes to one hour, until chicken juices run clear. Remove from oven and let rest for five minutes before serving.
Note: if you don’t have the Montreal Steak Seasoning mix, try the following: 1 tsp sea salt, 1/2 tsp ground black pepper, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1/4 tsp ground cumin, 1/4 tsp ground mustard, dash red chile pepper flakes

Drizzly Fruit Sauce

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There is no denying that fruit is naturally sweet, cuz it is full of sugars. Since the body does not really need much sugar, we have always resisted consuming much ourselves or giving it to Little B, whether natural or processed. She does eats fruit, and so do we sometimes, but it is usually whole, raw versions, not juice from concentrate or colored sugar water with a smidgen of processed juice from concentrate.

When Little B does come across such liquids they are overly sweet for her palate, for she is used to the sweet of real fruit, and in the realm of liquids, she is used to the slightly bitter taste of bubbly water (unflavored carbonated water). It is our fault. I love bubbly water and she liked sharing my beverage when little. Although some consider carbonated beverages (whether plain or flavored) not helpful to the body, I find that there are much more harmful things to drink. Tangent over, back to the drizzly stuff.

fruit sauceI was seeking out yet another light summer dessert for a crowd. We had flash frozen fruit in the freezer and I was reminded of a dessert I made regularly when I first started learning how to cook in earnest after college. It was berries and a splash of juice pureed and let to sit. I chose to be more expansive in this version, mixing the frozen stock and fresh stuff in our crisper. It is definitely a sauce to make the day before. The flavor magnifies when allowed to muddle around. I topped it with some cashew cookies (look for the recipe soon) and some lovely chocolate cashews I made a few months back. With some vanilla ice cream as a base it made for a not so heavy dessert on ANOTHER hot summer night.

Drizzly Fruit Sauce

1 cup chopped pineapple
1 cup chopped canteloupe
1 cup chopped peaches
1 cup raspberries
1 cup blackberries
1 cup blueberries
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

In medium pot over medium heat add and combine the six fruit ingredients. Cover and let heat for about five minutes. When fruit begins to bubble, lower heat by half and continue cooking for 30 minutes, until fruit has released juices. Remove from heat, add vanilla, stir and let sit for one hour. Puree fruit with stick blender or food processor. Transfer puree to container with airtight lid and refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Serve over ice cream and top with crumbled cookies, almond meal and/or dessert cashews.

Tex Mex Dip

2015-07-03 18.34.43Dip is a sure fire thing to always have around. Having last minute dinner guests? Pull out the dip with crudite. Feeling nibbly? Pull out the dip with some chips. Faced with raw chicken that needs to be dinner? Pull out the dip and slather the fowl with it before tossing it in the oven. Headed over to someone’s place for drinks? Pull out the dip. It can come in all shapes and sizes and colors and quantities. It can be hot, or cold or both. People can eat it, or not. Dips can be made to taste like just about any dish.

We like queso. When we don’t want to break out the crock pot, processed cheese and can of tomatoes we don’t have to miss out on the flavors. We just pull out the can of tomatoes and veer in another direction. Here is a dip I came up with that gives us the flavor and tang of Tex Mex without the logistics. When I say queso I don’t mean the Spanish word for cheese. I mean chile con queso, the warm cheese dip with tomatoes, onions and chiles often served with a Tex Mex meal. I like queso, but it needs melting and oversight so it does not burn and reheating when it cools off, then if the crock pot cord does not reach to the nearest plug there is need for an extension and the possibility of tripping on it…not that I ever trip on anything. :-) None of these logistical elements are insurmountable barriers, but are way beyond what is needed for this dip. Nothing can replace chile con queso in my book, or plate, but this is a nice, cool variation.

Tex Mex Dip

2 cups sour cream
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 can tomato and chiles, well drained
1/4 cup finely chopped onion

In a medium bowl combine sour cream, lime juice, cumin, garlic powder, sea salt and pepper. Whisk until combined. Add onion, tomatoes and chiles. Stir until well combined. Chill at least two hours or overnight before serving.

Minty Melon Salad

2015-07-03 16.17.07When I was young and helping my parents in the kitchen I steadily graduated from simple tasks to more complicated,  (and for clumsy me) dangerous ones. I started with setting the table, then got to put condiments straight from the fridge to the table, eventually graduating to placing crystal and working in the oven and on the stove top. One very typical, simple task I did was melon balling. We often made weekend brunches at home, which included melons when in season. Since we had a cool little melon baller it made sense to us it instead of making boring, square pieces of melon.

2015-07-03 21.01.32When I made this salad about ten years ago I did not write it down – I don’t remember if someone told me how to make it or I read it, but I loved balling the melons.  I made it again recently as a dessert to a burgers and dogs meal while staying at my mom’s house – I even used the old melon baller that was still hanging around! I guessed pretty close on ingredients because tasted just like I remember. It did a great job topping off a hearty meal as we sat around the pit fire on a warm summer night. The mint soothed the full stomachs and the melon refreshed. I strongly recommend it!

Minty Melon Salad

3-4 cups balled or cubed watermelon
3-4 cups balled or cubed cantaloupe
1/2 cup water
1 cup Stevia In The Raw (or other preferred 1:1 sugar substitute)
3/4 cup mint leaves, loosely packed
1 lemon, juiced
1 Tbsp amaretto liquor
Place melon balls in large serving bowl. In blender place remaining five ingredients. Blend on medium for 15-20 seconds, until mint is finely chopped.  Let sauce rest until foam subsides. Pour sauce over melon and gently stir to coat. Chill at least an hour or overnight. Toss to again coat, then serve.
Note: The mint won’t be bright green after sitting overnight, but the flavors will settle better in the melon balls.

Sauteed Squash Strips

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With all our moving around and packing and unpacking and living in compact spaces, I have lost the desire to accumulate kitchen gadgets. If something cannot be used for three or more different purposes I am hard pressed to acquire or keep it. If I do succumb, such things often don’t make ‘the cut’ when we are packing and downsizing. Things like avocado slicers, cherry pitters, cheese slicers and the like are not found in our kitchen drawers. On the other hand, our eleven year old Wusthof knife set goes with us everywhere. One thing I have not been able to  do consistently without a gadget is vegetable ‘noodles’. I can use a vegetable peeler to make strips of veggies (yes, the peeler always makes the cut), but not so much the rounder noodles I want as a base.

I caved and finally bought one of those twisty vegetable noodle makers. It works well and is compact (I bought the smaller, non-deluxe version). I have used the noodles under sauces in place of pasta, used them as a side dish, and even as part of tacos and enchiladas, which I must say went especially well. Using the gadget reminds me of peeling oranges as a child – I always tried to peel them in one long strip. This gadget can literally make one long noodle out of a zucchini. The problem with a three foot long noodle is dividing it among diners, so ponder some trimming either before or after cooking.

The nice thing about all these uses (and trimming opportunities) is the preparation is the same, and simple. I use them as a conduit to compliment other foods, like many use rice or pasta, so keeping the preparation simple makes so much sense. One way to use them that I have not yet tried is in soup – imagine pho or udon with veggie noodles. Sounds good, but for me, July is not the time for hot soup, so that experimentation will have to wait for fall.

Sauteed Squash Strips

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, julienned
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 yellow squash
1 zucchini
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

Twist zucchini and yellow squash through thick setting of a vegetable noodle gadget, placing ‘noodles’ into a bowl. With a sharp knife cut an X through the noodles, allowing for randomly shorter, bite-sized strips. In a medium skillet over medium high heat add oil. When oil is hot add garlic and onion. Cook until onion begins to brown on edges. Lower heat to medium. Add squash strips to pan and season with salt and pepper. Toss squash with onion and garlic until heated through, but stop before squash begins to go limp and release liquid, about two minutes. Remove from pan and serve immediately, either as a side dish, taco filler or ‘pasta’ under sauce.

Gin and Tonic Shots

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I wanted to have fun with gelatin. I remember summer gelatin fun as a kid – mixing it with whipped cream, making jiggly things that can be picked up, bowls of shiny, wiggly stuff that falls off a spoon. Little B likes fruity gelatin, so a while back I went in search of what was available at the grocery. If you look at the flavored gelatin packages you will find either sugar or aspartame in them. Really? Aspartame in a product you are expected to mix with boiling liquid? Have they read any of the information about the stuff and the dangers of heating it?? I will get off podium/verge of preaching and move on…

Making some flavored gelatin for Little B from the simple, unsweetened gelatin packets I also found at the grocery, I was reminded of the gelatin shots often consumed at parties in college. The spiked shots in little paper cups were potent and moved fast through the system. The challenge was always getting plenty of liquor in them while making sure they could still firm up. As I am older and tell myself I am more mature, so I wanted to try a slightly more refined version of the shots. Is there such a thing as mature gelatin shots?!

2015-06-27 13.40.00My favorite cocktail of all time is a gin and tonic. It took a couple of tries to get the liquor/non liquor liquid ratio right, but I figured it out. I highly recommend keeping close to the ratios I present, even if you vary the liquor or flavoring. For example, rum and coke or screwdriver or margarita or…oh boy do I have more experimenting in my near future! My mother in law, who is also a gin and tonic lover, liked them. Sis in law did too! She is usually a sangria kind of gal, leaving gin to the rest of us, but she downed a few. I do agree that they are not a substitute for slowly sipping a tall gin and tonic on the rocks during a hot summer evening, but they were a fun variation to liven up a dinner party.

I remember first seeing the lime presentation in a magazine a billion years ago (well, maybe ten), unfortunately I do not remember where, so crediting it must remain a mystery. Happy summer to you!

Gin and Tonic Shots

3 cups diet tonic water
2 tsp stevita (or other granular erythritol/stevia sweetener)
6 tsp unflavored gelatin (Knox brand usually has 2 tsp per envelope)
1 cup gin
6-8 limes, sliced into 6 rounds each

Heat 2 cups of tonic water and sweetener until boiling. While liquid boils add final cup of tonic water into a medium bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over it, letting it sit for one minute. Add hot liquid to bowl and stir until gelatin is completely dissolved. Add gin and stir. Pour mixture into a 9×9 baking dish, or pour into approximately 50 mini paper cups/mini cupcake papers, or split between both methods. If using mini cupcake papers it is suggested they be arranged in mini cupcake pans, for the liquid will seep through. Refrigerate at least overnight.

To serve from the dish, cut shots into 1 to 1 1/2 inch cubes with a sharp knife, removing from the dish with a thin, flexible spatula. Place squares on lime rounds to serve. If using paper or cupcake cups, gently peel away paper and invert them on lime rounds. To eat, tip shot into mouth, then with your teeth fold the lime round in half and bite down, releasing juices to mix with shot. Juice may dribble down chins, but you won’t care.

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