Thursday, May 24, 2018

Paloma


Several weeks ago one of my friends got our attention when she said tequila could be the key to our ongoing weight loss quest. Hearing the words 'alcohol' and 'weight loss' in the same sentence sounded almost too good to be true. Would our summer evening post run rituals have us abandoning wine and/or prosecco as the preferred form of (re)hydration? Or would tequila become our new post run 'drink' of choice? Even one of the non-tequila lovers in the group said she would be happy to put on 'her big girl pants' and give tequila another try. With so much fake news out there, we all hoped this story didn't fall into that category. Learning there was an actual study done a couple of years ago linking tequila with weight loss started to give this story some credibility. Proof of an actual study was one thing, the results were another. It turned out scientists actually did discover the naturally occurring sugars in the agave plant (called agavins), a key ingredient in tequila, were found to lower blood sugar and cause weight loss. But here's the catch. The fermentation process in the making of tequila actually removes all of those good agavins as the sugars are converted into alcohol ethenol. In other words, tequila is one of those great low-carb and least caloric alcohol options out there (as compared to let's say vodka), it's just not the magic weight loss bullet we all hoped it would be. However, we are all looking at tequila a little differently now.


When most of us think of a tequila based cocktail, we immediately think of a Margarita. Not as many of us think of the Paloma. Generally speaking, the Paloma has lived in the shadows of the Margarita here in the states as it hasn't yet ascended to the same level of popularity it enjoys in Mexico. And honestly, up until recently I didn't even know what a Paloma was. Whether I have lived a tequila cocktail sheltered life or suffer from a form of margarita blindness, I am thankful my eyes and tastebuds have now been opened! Going forward, if I had to choose between a freshly made margarita and a paloma, I would have a difficult decision to make. If the choice was between a frozen margarita and a paloma, it would be one of those no-brainer, don't even have to think about it decisions. I would absolutely order a Paloma. It only took one sip of this cocktail for it to become one of my new favorites.


Traditionally, the Paloma, served in a tall cocktail glass, is made with only three ingredients: tequila, lime juice, and grapefruit flavored soda. In Mexico, the grapefruit soda used most frequently in this drink is Jarritos. Here in the states, where Jarritos isn't easily accessible, Fresca, Squirt, and/or the new sparkling Grapefruit Juice made by Izze are ones used most frequently. Not surprisingly, this Paloma doesn't follow the traditional Paloma rule. This version uses grapefruit juice and club soda to bring flavor and a bit of fizz to this cocktail.


If you can find or want to make freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, go for it. I used a commercially made 100% grapefruit juice in this Paloma. The one usually found in one of the refrigerated sections at the grocery store. And I would definitely use it again. Some recipes call for the addition of a teaspoon of sugar (granulated or superfine) to temper the slight bitterness of the grapefruit juice. Instead of sugar I used a simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar boiled until the sugar dissolves). The first time I made this Paloma I used only one teaspoon of the simple syrup. The second time I used two teaspoons. For me, two was definitely better than one. But before topping the Paloma with the club soda, take a tiny taste of the grapefruit juice, lime juice, tequila, and a teaspoon simple syrup mixture. If you like it made with just one teaspoon, great. If you want a tad more sweetness (trust me it's not going to be super sweet), add another teaspoon.

Note: If you want a less diluted Paloma top with only 1/8 cup (1 ounce) of club soda. If you like a cocktail on the slightly more bubbly side, use 1/4 cup (2 ounces) of the club soda.

In spite of suggesting a commercially made versus a freshly squeezed grapefruit juice would work, I will tell go out on a short limb and tell you there is no substitute for freshly squeezed lime juice. So if you plan on making Palomas for a gathering, make certain you have bought more than enough limes. 

Your choice of tequila will affect the taste of the Paloma. Personally, I like the smooth taste of Patron Silver. If you like a hint of oakiness and a little more complexity in your tequila, use a Reposado. 


To rim or not to rim, that is the question. Personally, I like my tequila drinks served in a salt rimmed glass as it enhances the drinking experience for me. But whether your serve the Paloma in a salt rimmed or non-salted rimmed glass, it's what in the glass where all the magic is.

If you are looking for a refreshing, semi-lethal, and yes, less caloric summer sipping season option make this Paloma. Better yet, make the Paloma your new 'house' cocktail. Live dangerously! And, if by chance you believe everything you read about the grapefruit diet, well consider this cocktail a win-win! 

Recipe
Paloma (slight adaptation to Bon Appetit's Paloma recipe, January 2013)
Makes 1 serving

Ingredients
1/4 cup (2 ounces) grapefruit juice
1 Tablespoon (slightly less than a half ounce) freshly squeezed lime juice
1 - 2 teaspoons simple syrup (recommend using 2 teaspoons)
1/4 cup (2 ounces) good quality agave tequila (I like Patron Silver, but Patron Reposada would work well too)
1/8 to 1/4 cup (1-2 ounces) club soda
Kosher salt for the rim
Fresh grapefruit slices and wedges
Ice Cubes

Directions
1. Pour some kosher salt on small plate. Rub the rim of a glass with a grapefruit wedge. Dip the rim of the glass in the salt.
2. Combine the grapefruit juice, lime juice, simple syrup, and tequila in the glass. Stir to combine.
3. Add ice and top off with club soda. 
4. Garnish with a grapefruit slice. 
5. Serve and savor.

Notes: (1) Serve the Paloma in either the traditional tall glass cocktail glass or in rocks/tumbler glass. (2) You could make a pitcher of Palomas (without the club soda or ice cubes added) and store in a covered pitcher or jar in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, pour 4 1/2 ounces of the mixture into a salt rimmed glass, add ice cubes, and top with up to 1/4 cup (2 ounces) of club soda. (3) Simple syrup will last several weeks in a covered container in the refrigerator. I use one cup of water and one cup of granulated sugar when making a batch. To make, combine water and sugar in a small saucepan. Over medium heat, cook until sugar dissolves, stirring often. When the mixture is clear, remove from heat. Let cool slightly before pouring into a jar.


Tucson, Arizona (2016)


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Peach Cobbler, Version 2


"We are not so much what we eat, but we remember what we have eaten." ("A Short History of Truth", Julian Baggini)  Over a post run breakfast the other day, there was a rather funny, interesting conversation about how foods from our childhood turned into ones banned in our adulthood. The reasons for this varied from eating certain foods served way 'too many' times to being unable to get past remembering the not so tasty versions gracing the dinner table to having the meal bait and switch (breakfast for dinner) done to us with regularity. While redundancy can sometimes be endearing, it seemed it was having the completely opposite effect. Apparently when food is involved redundancy is a bad thing. As I listened to everyone describe the limited or expansive repertoire of meals made by parents and/or grandparents, I couldn't help but giggle at the uncanniness of how so many of us, no matter our ages, could remember exactly what meals we each had for dinner growing up. Good and/or bad food left a really powerful, potent imprint on all of our memories. Those early taste and smell experiences not only served to shape everyone's hilariously told childhood narratives, they significantly and permanently influenced our unique present day food preferences.

Although my father was the one who loved to bake and did almost all of the baking, I don't ever remember having dessert after dinner. There were no 'eat your potatoes or finish your plate if you want dessert' threats spoken at our dinner table. At least there weren't any in my 'food' memories. So I wonder when it was we were eating all those cookies, cakes, and ice cream! This absence of a dessert course memory may be responsible for the way I think about them today. In my world any dinner gathering of family and friends absolutely must have a dessert course, preferably a homemade one. Because a dinner without a dessert seems unfinished, incomplete. Dessert here is never an after thought. It's usually one of the first thoughts when I am planning a menu. 


This isn't the first time I shared a Peach Cobbler recipe with you. But unlike my two guacamole recipes, the one really good one and the really great one, I love both this original Peach Cobbler recipe and what I am now calling the Peach Cobbler, Version 2 one. If you asked me which cobbler was better, I couldn't tell you. I love them both for different reasons. At some point in the months ahead when peaches are in abundance, you should make both versions. Maybe you, like me, will be unable to choose between them or choose a definite favorite.


However, I will tell you that you might not consider either of these recipes to be cobblers in the traditional "biscuit topped" sense. In the untraditional, but still cobbler eligible sense, one has a quasi-cookie dough top and the other has an unusual quasi-cake batter top. There are several other differences between these two cobblers. One is made with peeled peaches, the other with unpeeled ones; one uses a variety of spices, the other only cinnamon; and one is sweetened with honey, brown sugar, and granulated sugar, the other only with granulated sugar. 


When I saw a table at the grocery store piled high with the most gorgeous peaches I couldn't resist buying them. For a brief moment I thought the month of May was shortened, the months June and July completely skipped over, and August had arrived as these were the kind of peaches we usually have to wait a year to find. These were definitely peach cobbler worthy peaches.


The idea of having to peel four to four and half pound of peaches could be considered a peach cobbler making deal breaker. But this recipe doesn't require you to peel them. In other words, it takes the 'it's too much messy work' excuse off the table. Since I like my cobblers made with peach slices versus chunks, I generally cut each peach half into four or five (half-inch) slices. 


The recipe for this Peach Cobbler didn't call for the use of any sweeteners, spices, or thickeners mixed in with the sliced peaches. Just the zest and juice from a large lemon. But I decided to add them in anyway. At first I thought about mixing in cinnamon, ginger, and allspice with the sliced peaches, but then decided I would only use cinnamon as well as a teaspoon of vanilla. I prefer the juices in peach layer of cobblers to have a thicker consistency than one normally achieved by letting a fruit only cobbler rest for 30 minutes before serving, I added in cornstarch and a small amount (one-quarter cup) of sugar. 


The topping for this Peach Cobbler is one simply made with flour, butter, sugar, baking powder, kosher salt, and milk. Beaten longer than most cake batter recipes, this thick, fluffy batter spreads beautifully over the layer of lightly sweetened, spiced, and thickener added peaches.


Before going into a preheated 350 degree (F) oven, the batter layer is sprinkled with some granulated sugar (I used 1/3 versus the recommended 1/2 cup) and then drizzled with a half-cup of hot water. Yes, hot water! The technique of topping the cobbler with sugar and hot water causes the batter to develop a shiny, crisp, cracked lid. The result is a cobbler having another textural component. Note: Using a 9"x13" pan or baking dish gives this Peach Cobbler the perfect luscious lightly spiced, slightly lemony peach filling to crunchy, just the right amount of sweetness cake like top ratio.


If you baking pan isn't deep, place it on a baking sheet to catch any of the juices bubbling up and spilling over. The cobbler bakes for 70-80 minutes in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven. My baking time was 75 minutes. 


After removing the peach cobbler from the oven, place on a cooling rack and let it rest for 30 minutes before serving. This resting time allows the juices to thicken up a bit. Your patience will be rewarded as this Peach Cobbler has all of the textural elements of one having a swoonworthy status.


Just as I find it hard not to pair peaches and cinnamon together, I find it even more challenging to not serve a warm Peach Cobbler with a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream. If you don't adhere to the cobbler-ice cream rule, serve it with some heavy cream, some creme fraiche or my version of creme anglaise (otherwise known as melted vanilla ice cream). In full disclosure my version of creme anglaise isn't really mine, it's Ina Garten's version.


What is better than having an incredibly delicious recipe for Peach Cobbler? Having two of them! Although the common ingredient between the two recipes is the peaches, they each offer two completely different kinds of cobbler. The taste, texture, simplicity, unusual baking technique of Peach Cobbler, Version 2 make it irresistible. I would put a cobbler, especially this one, in both the comfort and celebratory food dessert categories. 

As soon as your market has ripe peaches available make a cobbler! For dessert of course! I am hoping ripe peaches arrive earlier than usual this year because I really don't want to wait two months to make another Peach Cobbler.

Recipe
Peach Cobbler, Version 2 (several adaptations to Renee Erickson's Peach Cobbler recipe as shared in her cookbook "A Boat, A Whale, and A Walrus: Menus and Stories"
Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients
10 large ripe peaches, approximately 4 to 4 1/2 pounds, unpeeled, pitted, and cut into 1/2 wedges
Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 slightly rounded teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups plus 1/3 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 1/2 cups (192 g) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup hot water
Ice cream, heavy cream, creme fraiche, or creme anglaise for serving

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).
2. Place peaches in 9"x13" or similar sized baking pan or gratin dish. Try arranging peaches into a roughly even layer(s).
3. Using a microplane or zest, zest the lemon and squeeze the lemon juice evenly over the top.
4. Pour the vanilla, sprinkle 1/4 cup of sugar, and evenly sift the cornstarch and cinnamon over the fruit.
5. In a the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter the 1 1/4 cups of the granulated sugar on medium speed until it reaches a sandy texture (approximately 1 minute).
6. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat again for another 30 seconds or or until all of the flour has been incorporated and the mixture looks evenly crumbly.
7. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the milk. Increase the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy (approximately 2 minutes).
8. Place 6 or 7 large scoops of the batter on top of the peaches. Using an offset spatula, carefully spread the batter evenly over the fruit, making sure it's no more than 1/2" thick in any one place.
9. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of granulated sugar evenly over the top of the batter.
10. Heat 1/2 cup of water in the microwave for approximately 1 minute. Pour hot water evenly over the batter.
11. Bake the cobbler for 70 to 80 minutes, or until the top is browned and cracked. Use a toothpick to check for doneness of the cobbler topping.
12. Let the cobbler rest for 30 minutes to allow the filling juices to slightly firm up. 
13. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, heavy cream, creme fraiche, or creme anglaise.

Note: This Peach Cobbler is best enjoyed the same day it is baked, however, if leftovers are covered, it can still be enjoyed the second day. Would recommend reheating individual portions in the microwave before serving.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Classic Guacamole


Scrolling through Instagram and flipping through the pages of my already too large, but still growing cookbooks collection can be dangerous. The simple act of browsing through the cookbooks and cooking magazines I can't resist buying not only makes me insanely ravenous, it encourages my avoidance of all of life's mundane chores awaiting my attention. Things like the stack of laundry piled really high on the dryer and the running clothes on the clothesline waiting to be folded or switching over my closets from winter to summer clothes or just cleaning the house. For me, the work that goes into baking or cooking seems so much easier, and definitely more satisfying, than doing daily chores or taking care of pressing responsibilities. And it seems I am not the only one guilty of this type of procrastination. A recently published New York Times article "Why Work When You Can Procrastibake" describes the growing phenomenon of procrastibaking as 'the practice of baking something completely unnecessary with the intention of avoiding "real" work. This newest and growing trend even has its' own hashtag (#procrastibaking) on social media. I never felt so comforted in learning there many who regularly employed this unconscious baking strategy as way of feeling "skilled, nurturing, and virtuous in the present" while distracting us from the future. To all of those fellow procrastibakers out there, I am happy to know I am not alone.


It was during one of these procrastination moments that I came across Mexican born chef Roberto Santibanez's recipe for his Classic Guacamole. This chunky textured guacamole uses a mortar and pestle to grind some of the flavoring ingredients to a paste like consistency. The heat from the jalapeño (or serrano) chile and acidity from the lime helps to create an insanely addictive guacamole. It is a simple, pure genius recipe.


For those of you with an aversion to cilantro, this guacamole may not be one you will feel compelled to make. But I would strongly encourage you to put aside your feelings about cilantro and make this version of a classic guacamole. I would go so far as to refrain from telling your lassie-faire cilantro family and friends that its' one of the guacamole's ingredients before they taste it. Unless they have an allergy to cilantro, this guacamole may help them see cilantro in a whole new light. This is coming from someone who only recently jumped on the cilantro bandwagon.


Rather than having that mushy avocado texture we have all become familiar with, this guacamole leaves the avocados in more of a chunkier mash state. The onions (white onions only please), chile, salt, and cilantro are smashed up into a paste creating a kind of flavor intense sauce ultimately mixed in with the avocados. Simplicity and authenticity are the hallmarks of this highly flavorful, addictive guacamole recipe. 


Before tasting this Classic Guacamole, I really thought the guacamole recipe I posted five years ago and the one I have been making religiously was really, really, really good. And it still is (although from those five year old photos you might not be so convinced). But this one, well this one is nothing short of being a GREAT one! It's actually so great, you should immediately stop everything you are doing and make it! What makes Roberto Santibanez's classic guacamole recipe so different from all of the other ones out there is that it will cause you to abandon your recipe, including the one your friends have given you high praise for or the one you have made for so long that letting go of it would be akin to giving up one of your children or beloved pet. This five ingredient guacamole, six counting the salt, is a game-changer. And if you are looking to up your guacamole game or want to legitimately (yet secretly) consider yourself a guacamole snob, this is the ONLY recipe you want to make. 

If you are looking to create a bit magic and circus at your next gathering, make this Classic Guacamole while everyone is gathered around enjoying margaritas, palomas, sangria, or iced cold beer. I would encourage you have enough ingredients to make a second batch as it is bound to quickly disappear. 

Recipe
Classic Guacamole (barely an adaptation to Roberto Santibanez's Classic Guacamole recipe)
Serves 3, maybe 4 people

Ingredients
2 Tablespoons finely chopped white onion
1 Tablespoon minced fresh jalapeño or serrano chile, including seeds (or more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup (or 3 Tablespoons) chopped fresh cilantro, divided
2 medium sized avocados, halved and pitted
Squeeze of a fresh lime half
Your favorite tortilla chips
Optional for garnish: Chopped grape tomatoes or a chopped, small seeded tomato

Directions
1. Using a mortar and pestle, mash the onion, chile, kosher salt, and half of the cilantro to a paste.  Transfer paste to a bowl. Note: You can alternately mince and mash these ingredients together using a cutting board and large sharp knife.
2. Score the avocado halves in a crosshatch patter (be care to not cut through the skin) with a sharp knife, then scoop into the bowl. Using a fork, break up the avocado into small and medium sized chunks. Do not over mash.
3. Toss the paste, avocado chunks, and the rest of the cilantro. Mash coarsely with a fork. 
4. Squeeze some freshly squeezed lime juice (from half of a small lime) and mix in. Taste for seasonings. Add additional salt and/or chopped chile if needed or to taste.

Note: (1) If serving more than three or up to four people, consider doubling the recipe. (2) Only use a white onion, there are no other substitutions for this ingredient. (3) I used a jalapeño chile when I made this guacamole, but if you like a little more heat use a serrano chile. Generally a serrano chile has three times the heat of a jalapeño.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Mexican Chicken Salad


As soon as the weather turns warmer and humid around here, the oven is reserved primarily for baking. While the outdoor gas grill is used year round, it sees almost daily use during the summer. From making bacon for breakfast to grilling meats, chicken, or vegetables for dinner, the grill simplifies meal preparation and clean up. Although picking up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store makes life even easier. But more on that shortly. One of the other dramatic changes happening over the course of the summer is the significant increase in main course salads served for dinner. With an abundance of fresh vegetables available at the grocery stores and farmer's markets, salads become more even more appetizing, refreshing, and satisfying. Especially when they include a protein component.

With an increased love and appetite for salads in warmer weather, I am always looking for new and different ones to make. So when I recently discovered a recipe for something called a Mexican Chicken Salad, I knew it was my lucky day. Had it not been for my recently acquired a taste for cilantro (in small amounts only), I might have quickly decided not to make this salad at all or make it without it. 


All of the components of this salad sounded compelling to me, including the cilantro. From a salsa made with pickled jalapeños (the jarred, store-bought kind) to the avocado based dressing to the addition of jicama, I was finding it hard to resist making this Mexican Chicken Salad. I wasn't even going to let the recent scare about romaine lettuce going to be a deterrent.


As soon as I started making salad, tasting each of its' elements along the way, I knew it was a keeper. Not only is it visually appealing, it has incredibly great flavors and textures. 

Up until I read the recipe for the salsa in this salad, I never knew pickled jalapeños existed! Not only do they exist, but you don't have to make them. You can buy them in a jar! In addition, to the pickled jalapeños, the salsa is made with rinsed, drained black beans, freshly squeezed lime juice (is there really any other kind?), sea salt, and grape (or cherry tomatoes). The inspiration recipe called for cutting up two whole tomatoes, but I much prefer using smaller, sweeter tomatoes, particularly when making salsas.


I wanted this salsa to be on the chunkier side, so I cut the tomatoes in a combination of halves and quarters. However, if you cut both the tomatoes and pickled jalapeños smaller, this salsa would also be great served all on its own with some tortilla chips. 


As of late, I am avocado obsessed. So any salad dressing made with fresh, ripe avocados has my name on it. Using only a handful of ingredients, this salad dressing is beyond delicious. And like the salsa having another use, this salad dressing would be great served as a dip on a platter of fresh vegetables.


Using a small food processor, a whole ripe avocado, some sour cream, more freshly squeezed lime juice, a clove of garlic, some sea salt and black pepper are whirled together to create an incredibly luscious, creamy, uber-delicious salad dressing. When making this Mexican Chicken Salad, I would recommend you start by making the salad dressing and let it refrigerate for a little bit to let the flavors meld together. It will also slightly thicken, making it even easier to scoop with an ice cream scooper. Note: The salad dressing can be made earlier in the day or the day ahead. 


The heartiness for this salad comes from a shredded rotisserie chicken. Yes, the one you buy at the grocery store. You could roast your own chicken for this salad, but why turn on the oven when you don't have to! One rotisserie chicken will give you more than enough meat for this salad. But be generous with the amount of chicken used in this salad, especially if you are serving it for dinner. Hint: Shred the rotisserie chicken while it is still warm. If not using immediately, put in a ziplock bag and store in the refrigerator.


When making any salad, I like to everyone to see all of its' elements on the platter before tossing it together. Using a large, oversized platter or shallow bowl, begin making the salad by spreading out all of the romaine lettuce on the bottom. I like using baby romaine in most salads, but freshly chopped romaine leaves would work equally well here. On top of the romaine lettuce begin to layout all of the other salad components, saving the chopped cilantro, green onions, and dressing for the end.


The quarter inch slices of jicama not only add color but also a nice slightly sweet crunch to this Mexican Chicken Salad. If you have never had this Mexican potato before, you are in for a treat! 

When serving this Mexican Chicken Salad, you have several options. You can use a small ice cream scoop to strategically place dollops of the dressing on the salad, you could place small teaspoonfuls all over the top of the salad, or you could simply serve the dressing on the side. Any of these would work. Additionally, you could leave the salad untossed and let everyone take from all parts of it or you could toss it all together. But only after they see how beautiful it is.

I am willing to bet this salad will be making regular, repeat appearances on your table once you taste it. Make a pitcher of margaritas or palomas to go along with this Mexican Chicken Salad and I am willing to guess your friends and family will be wondering when they will be invited back again. You, however,  might be wondering if they will ever want to leave your table. 

Recipe
Mexican Chicken Salad (slight adaptation to Nigella Lawson's Mexican Chicken Salad recipe in her cookbook "Nigella Express: 130 recipes for Good Food, Fast")
Serves 6-8 depending on portion size

Ingredients
Salad Dressing
1 large ripe avocado
1/2 cup sour cream
3 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 large clove garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Salsa
1 can (15 ounce) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 generous cup grape (or cherry) tomatoes, cut in either halves or a combination of halves and/or quarters
1/3 cup (140 g) jarred pickled jalapeños, cut in half or coarsely chopped
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt 

Salad
4-6 ounces baby or chopped romaine lettuce
1 to 1 1/2 pounds shredded rotisserie chicken
1/2-3/4 pound jicama, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch matchsticks
2-3 green onions, green and white parts, sliced on the diagonal
1/4-1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
1 large ripe avocado

Directions
Salad Dressing
1. Using a small food processor, combine the avocado, sour cream, lime juice, garlic clove, sea salt and black pepper. 
2. Process until smooth.
3. Scrape dressing into a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate while assembling the other ingredients.

Salsa
1. Rinse and drain the black beans. 
2. In a medium sized bowl, combined the black beans, tomatoes, jalapeños, lime juice and salt. Stir to combine. Set aside until ready to use.

Salad Assembly
1. Using a large platter or bowl, layer on the romaine lettuce.
2. Place shredded chicken on a slight diagonal down the center of the platter.
3. Spoon equal amounts of the salsa on either side of the chicken.
4. Place equal amounts of the jicama on either side of the salsa.
5. Cut the avocado in half, make even slices. Scoop out and place each half on either side of the platter.
6. Using a small ice cream scoop, strategically place dollops of the dressing on the salad. Alternately drop small teaspoonfuls over the salad or serve the salad dressing on the side.
7. Sprinkle on the sliced green onions and chopped cilantro.  
8. Bring to the table as arranged. Serving options: (1) Toss the salad together and serve or (2) Allow each person to take portions of the salad and place on their plates.

Notes: (1) Dressing can be made early in the day or the day ahead. It also works well as a vegetable dip. (2) If you chop the tomatoes and pickled jalapeños smaller, you could serve the salsa all on its' own with some tortilla chips. (3) Definitely wait to serve the salad before tossing it with the dressing. You want everyone to ooh and aah over it, before they start oohing and aahing after they taste it. (4) Shredding the rotisserie chicken is easier if done while the chicken is still warm.


Crabapple tree blossoms (May 2018)






Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Chocolate Dipped Viennese Biscuits


In less than four weeks I head out to the east coast for a much anticipated race weekend trip with several of my friends. As much as I am looking forward to returning to and sharing my happy place with these friends, I am a tiny bit anxious about the ten mile run (the reason we planned this adventure in the first place). Mostly because my winter running injuries have significantly limited the number of miles I have logged in a weekly basis over the past few months. If I weren't running with a friend who always seems to have an uncanny positive impact on my speed and endurance, I would be hyperventilating right about now. So while running ten miles seems a little daunting at the moment, I am repeatedly telling myself 'you will NOT be the only one who returns home without the race bling'. It has become my daily mantra. Somewhat jokingly I said I wanted to get a tattoo after the race. Time will tell if I was delirious or serious when I shared that with my friends. 


It was when I was living on the east coast I first tasted a Viennese Biscuit Cookie. Actually the one I inhaled was called a Viennese Finger Biscuit. One where some decadent buttercream and raspberry jam was sandwiched between two biscuits, then partially dipped in chocolate. It was one of those drop the mic first bite moments. Recently I discovered there was an un-sandwiched version of these biscuits. One that looked less labor intensive and if I must say, so much prettier. So I revisited the recipe I posted to the blog several years back and made some changes to it. Increasing the amounts and altering the ratios of butter, flours, confectionary sugar, and vanilla, along with adding some kosher salt were the ingredient changes made, I stayed with using the same large star pastry tip but decided to change how these biscuits would be piped onto the the baking sheet. And the result of these two changes? An even better tasting, better looking, drop the mic Viennese Biscuit. 


How would I describe these Chocolate Dipped Viennese Biscuits? They taste like a cross between butter and shortbread cookies and have the perfect melt in your mouth crispness to them. The addition of the dark chocolate ramps up their flavor another several notches, putting them them into the elusive, most irresistible cookies (or rather biscuits) category. 


As I looked at other Viennese Biscuit recipes before settling on the altered version of my original recipe, I learned some contained cornstarch, most used only all-purpose flour rather than a combination of self-rising and all-purpose flours, and even fewer added kosher salt. The batter for these biscuits is on the thicker, but not on the too thick side as they would be almost impossible to pipe through a pastry bag. 


I also found these Viennese Biscuits were made in various shapes: fingers, circles, whirls, and squiggly versions. There was something irresistible about the squiggly shape, so I decided to try my hand at forming them. As much as I wanted all of them to be perfectly shaped and sized, it became clear after piping out two of them that they weren't going to be. Maybe with practice they could be, but honestly, I sort of liked how each one had their own individual, slightly similar look. What I am trying to say is that unless you have a Type A++ personality, don't obsess over getting each biscuit to look exactly the same. Their homemade look is endearing.


They bake in preheated 350 degree (F) oven for 15 to 17 minutes or until they are lightly browned on the bottom and sides.


Before transferring the biscuits to a cooling rack, allow them remain on the baking sheet for 4-5 minutes.


They need to cool completely before being dipped in melted dark (or milk) chocolate. To add a bit of whimsy to them, some were topped with some chocolate sprinkles. Because there is no such thing as a cookie topped with too much chocolate.


You can dip half of them in chocolate or cover them completely. Adding sprinkles is optional.


How much do I love these Chocolate Dipped Viennese Biscuits? Well, if I had to choose between my favorite chocolate chip cookies and these, I couldn't. I am completely smitten with and giddy over both of them.


I promise these Chocolate Dipped Viennese Biscuits will get rave reviews when you make them for your family and friends. They might even become one of your most requested cookies. 
Recipe
Chocolate Dipped Viennese Biscuits
Makes 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups (345 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 ounces (12 Tablespoons) confectionary sugar
5 1/2 ounces (156 g) all-purpose flour
5 1/2 ounces (156 g) self-rising flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
8-10 ounces dark or milk chocolate, melted
Optional: Sprinkles

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
2. Sift all-purpose flour, self-rising flour, and salt into a medium sized bowl. Set aside.
3. In a standing mixer with a paddle attachment or using a hand mixer, cream the butter and confectionary sugar until light, creamy, and fluffy (approximately 4 minutes).
4. Beat in the vanilla.
5. Add half of the sifted ingredients and mix to blend. Add remaining half and beat until blended. Note: Your batter should still have a creaminess texture to it.
6. Using a medium sized pastry bag fitted large star tip, pipe 3 1/2 - 4 inch lengths of dough in a zig zag pattern. Or alternately pipe them into fingers or circles.
7. Bake biscuits for approximately 15-17 minutes or until sides and bottoms are lightly browned. 
Note: Turn baking pan around midway through the baking process.
8. Let baked biscuits remain on the baking pan for 4-5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Allow biscuits to cool completely.
9. Melt dark chocolate in either the microwave or over a double boiler. Dip one side of the biscuit into the melted chocolate. Place dipped biscuit on a baking pan or cutting board lined with parchment paper. Allow the chocolate to completely set.
10. Transfer finished biscuits to a covered tin (if not serving immediately) or arrange on a platter.

Notes: (1) The Viennese Biscuits are over the top delicious dipped in chocolate, but still incredibly delicious plain. (2) Instead of making the cookies in zig zag pattern, can also pipe the dough into a circle. (3) If dough is too thin, add more all-purpose and self-rising flour, one Tablespoon at a time. Two additional Tablespoons would bring the weight of the flours to approximately 171g or 6 ounce each. (4) Because this is a very thick dough, use a sturdy pastry bag.