Sunday, September 29, 2013

Asparagus & Ricotta Toasts

This appetizer is a huge hit in my friend Rachel's house and a favorite appetizer for dinner parties. Elegant and colorful, yet easily made, it's a lovely starter to a fun evening with friends.

One bite of the crisp toast, lemony asparagus, and milky ricotta, and you'll be hooked.

Asparagus & Ricotta Toasts (from Food and Wine Magazine)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling and brushing
8 slices packaged thin white bread
3/4 pound pencil-thin asparagus, cut into 2-inch lengths
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh ricotta (5 ounces)
Preheat the oven to 350° and lightly brush a baking sheet with olive oil. Using a 2-inch round biscuit cutter, stamp 4 rounds out of each slice of bread and transfer to the baking sheet. Lightly brush the rounds with oil and toast for about 15 minutes, until lightly golden and slightly crisp.
Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the asparagus, season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Add the lemon juice and let cool slightly.
In a small bowl, stir the lemon zest into the ricotta and season with salt and pepper. Spread the lemon ricotta on the toasts and top with the asparagus. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt. Serve right away.
Serves 8.

Buffalo Chicken Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Leave it to Kevin at Closet Cooking to come up with one of the best sandwiches ever.  If you don't know his blog, today is your lucky day.  His food is off the hook.

I had some leftover roast chicken, cooked Thomas Keller style, so I have been repurposing it in different dishes.  So far, we have had chicken and gravy with rice, chicken egg drop soup, matzo ball soup, crunchy chicken salad, and today, Buffalo Chicken Grilled Cheese Sandwich.

I saw it was one of the most favorited pics on Foodgawker, so I took a look and went to work.

I mixed some shredded chicken, shredded carrots, and diced celery with mayo, Frank's Red Hot Sauce and salt and pepper to taste.  I buttered two slices of toast, put shredded Mexican cheese mix on the unbuttered side of one slice of bread, the buffalo chicken salad on top of the cheese, a sprinkling of blue cheese on top of the chicken, and then topped it off with the final slice of bread (buttered side on the outside).

I heated a skillet over medium heat, put the sandwich into the skillet, and put a lid on top to keep the heat in and help melt the cheese.  When the bottom side was golden brown, a few minutes, I flipped it over and cooked the other side until it was golden brown.  Done.

O. M. G.  Crazy good.

What's more, the possibilities for this filling are endless.  Wonton cups, empanadas, eggrolls, dip, soup, .... need I say more?

For Closet Cooking's recipe, go here.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Lisa's Crunchy Chicken Salad

My school recently did a cookbook, compiling favorite recipes from families.  Apparently, fried ramen noodle salads are all the rage, given all the ramen noodle-involved submissions in the cookbook.

I have never had this type of salad before, but I guess I have been living in the dark ages.

This salad is about contrasts: crispy noodles against tender shreds of chicken, the sweetness of sugar vs. the tartness of vinegar, the pungency of scallions a counterpoint to the neutrality of iceberg lettuce.  When looked at in this way, the salad has endless variations and substitutions.  You need only your imagination to jump from this starting point to a fresh salad that works year-round, from a light summer salad to a hearty winter offering.

Instead of lettuce or with lettuce: shredded napa cabbage, red cabbage, carrots, celery, kale, edamame.

Instead of ramen noodles: fried wonton strips, fried onions.

Instead of almonds: pecans, walnuts.

For sweetness: dried fruit, manadarin oranges, shredded mango.

For my salad, I added shredded carrots and dried cranberries for color and texture.

As for the salad dressing, you can start with a ratio of 1 part sugar to 2 parts vinegar, as is noted below. You can add a little sesame oil and/or soy sauce.  A little mayo if you want it creamier.  You can also add sriracha, a garlic-chili sauce to provide some heat.

Lisa's Crunchy Chicken Salad
Serves 6
from the SLS Taste of Home Cookbook

1 head iceberg lettuce, chopped and shredded
6 green onions, chopped
1 lb. chicken breasts, cooked and shredded

4 tbs. butter
1-2 three oz. packages Ramen noodles (discard seasoning packets)
2 tbs. sesame seeds
1/2 cup sliced almonds

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup (rice) vinegar
2 tbs. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Combine lettuce, green onions, and chicken in a bowl.  Set aside.  Break up ramen noodles, using 2 packages instead of 1 if you want more crunch. Preheat a skillet over medium heat. Melt butter in the skillet and add broken up noodles, sesame seeds and almonds.  Stir until gold brown, careful not to burn the noodle mixture.  Cool on paper towels. Please note that the noodle mixture can be made the day before and stored in an airtight container or Ziploc bag.

Whisk dressing together and toss with lettuce, chicken, and green onions.  Just before serving, add crunchy noodle mixture and toss.  Serve immediately.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Zucchini and Feta Patties with Tzatziki Sauce

Kouzina, a Greek cafe, opened in town, and I became friends with the owner, Brian.  Being a good businessman, he also brought me tidbits of food to try on the house.  Kolithokeftedes, or zucchini patties, landed on my table one day.  One bite and I was hooked.

For Sunday football, I got a craving for these something fierce.  I used this recipe from Symon's Suppers as a base, and I was off and running.

These fritters are crispy from being pan-fried, soft from the zucchini, and very flavorful from the feta. With the tzatziki, they are fresh and lively. Delicious.

Unfortunately, Kouzina has closed, and we are out of luck for a local place to get Greek eats.  We will miss you, Brian!

2 medium zucchini
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1 1/2 tablespoon chopped dill
1 large scallion, white and green parts sliced thinly on the bias
2 teaspoons minced garlic
Zest of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 ounces feta cheese, roughly chopped
1 egg
3 tablespoons flour
Canola oil for frying


Grate the zucchini on the large holes of a grater onto a clean kitchen towel. Sprinkle with the salt. Let stand while you prepare the other ingredients. Wring as much liquid out of the zucchini as possible, discarding liquid.

In a medium bowl, combine the zucchini, mint, dill, scallion, garlic, lemon zest, pepper and feta. Stir in the egg and flour and mix until well combined.

Heat enough canola oil in a pan over medium high heat to come halfway up the sides of the fritters. Form fritters, using 1/4 cup measure, and place gently into the hot oil. Fry, turning once, until the fritters are golden brown on each side, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels for a minute. Serve with tzatziki sauce.

Tzatziki Sauce

For tzatziki sauce, go to the recipe here.

Award-Winning Chili

Even though I am Filipino and have never lived in Texas, I have the odd accomplishment of winning two chili cook-offs with two different chili recipes. I developed this chili recipe for my colleague Sam Gaudet, who entered a chili contest with it and took home first prize. Simpler than the smoked chili I did for SLS’ first “Go Hot or Go Home” Chili Cook Off in 2009, it still has some of my signature ingredients: bacon, beer, and chocolate, which adds a deep, smoky flavor.

Ninette's Award-Winning Chili

7 slices bacon, chopped
2 ½ lbs – 3 lbs. ground beef
2 medium-large onions, minced
4-5 garlic cloves, minced

Spice mix:
--½ tsp. cinnamon
--4 tbs. chili powder
--2 tbs. cumin
--2 tsp. dried oregano

 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (NOT puree) or 2 14.5 oz. cans Hunts fire-roasted tomatoes (if you use the latter, take one of the smaller cans and puree the tomato chunks in a small food processor or blender; use the other can as is).

½ tsp. Sanka or ½ cup coffee
1 cup beef broth
1 Guinness beer
½ tsp. liquid smoke
2-3 tsp. kosher salt
½ square unsweetened chocolate

Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add ground beef.  Saute until browned.  When the ground beef is cooked, drain oil from the beef in a colander placed in a plate or bowl large enough to hold the excess oil.  Leave there for the moment.

In the same Dutch oven you used to cook the ground beef, render bacon until crisp over medium-low heat.  Remove the cooked bacon from the Dutch oven with a slotted spoon and place on top of the cooked ground beef. Keep the equivalent of three tablespoons of bacon fat in the Dutch oven. Remove the rest and discard.

Add onions to the bacon fat you left in the Dutch oven, and sauté for 5 minutes over medium-low heat.  Add garlic and spice mix.  Turn heat to low and cook until onions are translucent, another couple minutes. 

Add reserved cooked beef and bacon to the onion-spice mixture in the Dutch oven.  Add 2 tsp. of kosher salt, the crushed tomatoes, beef broth, beer, Sanka or coffee, and liquid smoke to the Dutch oven and mix everything together.

Bring to a low simmer and cook for two hours to develop the chili’s flavor.  Check on the chili and stir occasionally, so that it stays at a low simmer. If toward the end of the cooking time, your chili is “soupy,” you can bring the chili to a medium simmer and simmer until it’s thicker.  Conversely, if the chili is getting too thick, add back some water, so that it’s the consistency that you like.

Mix in chocolate in at the end.  Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt if necessary.

Enjoy with your favorite fixings.