Tuesday, May 31, 2011


In Mexico, you can find "aguas frescas" for sale. Now, I'm not necessarily going to advocate buying it on the street from a random vendor due to the possibility of Montezuma's Revenge, but if you looked, you could probably find it made with bottled or purified water.

Aguas frescas are a combination of fresh fruit, water, and sugar. I suppose you could say they're sort of like lemonade, but different.
Watermelon, cucumber, pineapple, mango...

Tamarindo is one that I remember in particular, probably because it was so different. Made with the sour, thickly sticky pulp from brown tamarind pods, it was something I had never had before.

Although not made with fruit, horchata is a type of agua fresca.
Here in the U.S., I'm going to assume we mostly have a Mexican version, but it's actually made in many places other than Mexico.

Depending on where it's made, it can be made with nuts, seeds, or rice.
This particular version is a creamy and light homemade combination rice and almond milk.
Horchata is not too heavy, sweet, flavorful, and very refreshing when served ice cold in the summertime.

serves 8

1/2 c white rice
1 1/4 c blanched almonds
1, 2 inch stick cinnamon
Zest of one lime
1 c sugar
Pinch of salt
3/4 t vanilla
7-8 c water, divided
Ground cinnamon, for serving

Place rice in a blender and blend until finely ground (some will be powdered, some will probably be in little pieces). In a large bowl or measuring cup, place pulverized rice, almonds, cinnamon, and lime zest. Add 3 c boiling water, stir, and leave out at room temperature 30 minutes to cool a bit before placing in the refrigerator overnight.

Blend the rice and almond mixture in a blender until smooth (this will take several minutes).
Add two cups cold water and blend until incorporated (depending on the size of your blender, you may need to divide the previous mixture in half and blend two separate times, adding only one cup of water to each half).

Place a strainer over a large bowl, pitcher, or measuring cup. Line the strainer with 3 layers of damp cheesecloth. Pour the almond mixture through the cheesecloth, stirring, scraping, and pressing the mixture against the strainer to extract as much liquid as possible. Add sugar, salt, and vanilla and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Pour in 2 cups cold water and stir to combine. Add additional water as needed for desired consistency.
Refrigerate until needed.

Serve horchata cold with a dash of cinnamon on top and ice cubes if desired.
Store in the refrigerator and stir before serving.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Oeufs en Cocotte

This is a nice way to serve eggs- a little different and elegant, but at the same time simple and satisfying.

I think that when anything is prepared individually it's usually a little more special.
Time has been taken and attention has been given for each little detail several times over.

This dish can be a beautiful, warm and comforting sort of thing at times- and it seems to be one of those foods that's good to serve most of the year. Autumn, winter, and spring... but maybe not so much in the summer.

It can be used for breakfast, brunch, or as part of a light lunch or dinner.
Serve with toast and/or a salad. Perhaps fruit salad for brunch, and green salad at any other time of day.

You want the white to be set, however the yolk should only to be softly set.
But the whole little dish becomes a creamy, silky savoriness once cooked...

I think this is sort of a combination/adaptation recipe from The Canal House as well as The Barefoot Contessa... but it seems like there are so many variations out there (including vegetables, meat, fish, etc.).

Oeufs en Cocotte
serves 4

4 eggs
6 T or more heavy cream
1 T butter (more or less)
4 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped and chopped
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Optional: 1 clove garlic finely minced, additional fresh herbs such as chives and parsley, finely freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and place a kettle or pot with water on to boil.
Butter 4, 1/2 cup ramekins and pour 1/2 T of cream into each. Break an egg into each ramekin, sprinkle with thyme, salt, and pepper. If using garlic, divide minced garlic among tops of eggs. Pour at least 1 T cream over the tops of the eggs (sprinkle with Parmesan if using), and place a small lump of butter on top of each yolk.
Place finished ramekins in a baking dish that will fit all of them comfortably, so they sit flat, and with a little space between. Pour boiling water into the baking dish so it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake 8-10 minutes, until the whites are set and the yolks are softly set. The eggs will continue to cook after being removed from the oven.
With a pair of tongs, carefully remove the dished from the water bath and serve.
If using additional tender herbs, chop and sprinkle over the finished eggs.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Pickled Blueberries

A recipe for pickled blueberries in a recent Saveur caught my eye while I was on the airplane.
It's part of a Brie, pickled blueberry, pistachio, and chervil sandwich, which sounds interesting itself, but... pickled blueberries?

I thought it might make a nice accompaniment to a cheese tray, as a contrast to some very creamy cheeses (plus they're kind of pretty), in a salad, or even as something like a chutney-type condiment.

Sweet-tart, juicy, fruity. But you'll be surprised if you're expecting something like a blueberry muffin flavor. Very surprised.

Perhaps the flavored vinegar could be used to make a nice vinaigrette?

This version is based on a recipe of chef Tyler Kord of No. 7 Sub Shop in New York, from Saveur, April 2011.

Pickled Blueberries
makes about 2 1/2 cups

12 oz (2 1/2 c) fresh blueberries, washed
3/4 c white vinegar
1/4 c water
1/4 c sugar
1 1/2 T kosher salt
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
1 lemon

In a medium glass bowl, mix vinegar, water, sugar and salt until dissolved. Add the blueberries, shallot, and bay leaf and toss gently. Using a vegetable peeler, and positioning the lemon over the blueberry mixture, peel strips of lemon zest lengthwise from the lemon (each roughly two inches long). Pick up each piece of zest and twist over the bowl of blueberries to help release a spitz of lemon oil from the zest. Drop the zests back into the bowl and gently toss the mixture once again.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 24 hours, swirling the bowl occasionally during that time.
Serve at room temperature.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Basics: Vinaigrette

So, you make a salad.
Iceberg lettuce and bottle of ranch dressing. Fine and dandy, and to some extent it does the job... but it's not really healthy. The lettuce, which is pretty much just water, acts as a vehicle for the creamy dressing.

True, there's something to be said about the satisfying crunch of crispy lettuces- but there's more out there. Please don't limit your salads to only one type of pale, watery lettuce.

Mixed greens! Baby spinach! More vitamins and minerals... and flavor than iceberg lettuce.
Just take a look at the run-of-the-mill local grocery. There's probably more than just one type of lettuce. A variety of flavors, textures, and shades of green.

Me? I like to make salad dressing. I make what I need, I know it's fresh, and I know exactly what's in it. I have control.
Generally, it's a vinaigrette that I'll make.

A rule to remember is that when making a vinaigrette the oil to vinegar ratio is 3:1. However, it's not a hard-and-fast rule. Different oils and vinegars will behave a little differently when forced to mingle. (Reading that, after reading what I wrote, I realize it sounds like I was describing junior high schoolers at a dance.)

Anyway, the ratio is not always completely exact depending on what you use, but this is the general rule. Maybe start with a smaller amount to experiment and then go from there.
The dressing seems a little oily after whisking? Perhaps a little drizzle of vinegar will do the trick.

Flavorings could include shallots, minced garlic, herbs, a little honey (which also helps to stabilize the dressing), salt and pepper to combat blandness...

The oils and vinegars you use could add flavor too.
There are a variety of vinegars- different wines, champagne, sherry, apple cider, balsamic, fruit flavors...
"Acids" such as lemon or orange juices also work- sometimes all citrus juice, but more commonly only part is used.
As for oils, vegetable oils are generally flavorless, while olive oils can have a spectrum of flavor. Nut and seed oils such as walnut, hazelnut, grape and pumpkin seed can all change the flavor profile of your food.

A scoop of Dijon mustard flavors with a nice piquancy and also helps to emulsify and thicken the vinaigrette. An egg yolk will help do the same thing, sans piquant flavor... but not everyone is excited about using raw egg yolks.

When making salad, I like to make sure my greens are nice and cold- this will also make them as crisp as possible (yes, even spinach). I don't always toss the leaves with dressing, especially if I happen to be using delicate greens. I'll usually spoon dressing over individual servings right before serving so the lettuces don't have time to wilt. The other option, of course, is tossing just before serving.

This particular salad is made from mixed greens, a raspberry balsamic and rosemary olive oil vinaigrette seasoned with salt and pepper, pistachios, shards of parmesan, and a few raspberries.
I like a variety of flavors, textures, and colors in a salad.

While vinaigrette is for salads, but can also be a nice on green beans or asparagus, and as a finish for fish or chicken...

This is one of my favorite vinaigrettes, based on one from David Lebovitz.

French Vinaigrette
(makes a generous 1/3 c vinaigrette)

1 small shallot, peeled and minced
1/4 t sea salt or kosher salt
1 1/2 T sherry or red wine vinegar
1 t Dijon mustard
4-5 1/2T olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper, extra salt to taste

In a small bowl mix shallot, salt, and vinegar. Let sit about 10 minutes.
Add the mustard and mix well. Slowly add about 4 T of the olive oil while whisking to emulsify.
Taste the vinaigrette- you may want a little more salt or Dijon mustard.
Add extra olive oil as needed if the vinaigrette is too sharp or needs to be thinned a little.

I like to add several good grinds of fresh black pepper to the vinaigrette... either that or grinding fresh pepper over the salad.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Red Velvet Wine Bar, San Diego

When I was recently in San Diego, I was invited to Red Velvet.
It's a beautiful little wine bar in San Diego's Little Italy.

The menus are fixed weekly by Chef Luke Johnson, mostly depending on what's fresh and ready at the market.

Plates are small and composed beautifully. I think food like this definitely causes one to take their time when savoring every bite...

When I was there (mid-April) the menu happened to be:

white asparagus beet, green asparagus, kumquat
green garlic pasta, artichoke, carrot, orange
cabrilla cipollini, fava bean, lemon
beef spinach, potato, red wine
cahill porter honeycomb, hazelnuts, frisee
strawberry chocolate, mascarpone

Salad, pasta, fish, meat, cheese course, dessert...
Of course, you can choose specific plates, or have them all.

If you're willing to trust someone to choose your wine to pair with the food (and I recommend it... at least the suggestion), a sommelier can be very helpful.

Who knows, you might find something new to you that you really end up loving.

Everything was great- colorful, delicious, and beautifully plated.
You must sit and admire the food at least a moment before destroying it.

I also have to report that I forgot my camera. I asked if I was allowed to take photos, was told that I could, reached into my bag...
and realized I left my camera on the bed.
I think all the photos were taken on phones though. Some of them are a Nokia phone, the others- I'm not sure.
Sadly, photos become more progressively difficult to take as the night wears on and the sun goes down. Later courses didn't photograph so well in the actual bar.
One of the waiters, however, had been taking photos in the kitchen and said they would be in Facebook and said I could get them from there if I needed them (for your viewing pleasure).
I don't know his name! Thank you. Photos 3, 4, 5, and 7 are his.