Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Down-home barbecue alternatives

Three fresh takes on summertime get-together recipes.

Posted By on Tue, Jul 22, 2014 at 3:17 PM

Backyard barbecues don't always have to mean chowing on conventional dogs, burgers or potato salad. Consisting of nearly 200 seasonal recipes, Liz Neumark's cookbook Sylvia's Table (Knopf, 2013) gives home chefs and their kids alternative recipes for those tight-knit gatherings made for the patio.

Released by the Sylvia Center of New York, an organization that works with a local farm in its area to give children hands-on experiences with fresh eats, the book is mostly packed with lessons and recipes that Sylvia Center young'uns have learned.

Swap the red meat and fries for these modern food formulas written by Neumark instead.

  • Sylvia’s Table
Roasted Poblano, Red and Yellow Pepper Salad
with Raisins and Basil
Serves 4-6

1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 poblano peppers
2 red bell peppers
2 yellow bell peppers
2 cups baby arugula
1 large bunch of fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Bring the wine to a simmer in a small pot, add the raisins, then remove from heat and set the pot aside to let the raisins plump for about 15 minutes.

Char all the peppers, either over an open fire, under your broiler, or directly on the gas flame on your stovetop. After they are charred, place them in a brown paper bag, close it tightly and let the peppers cool. Peel and seed the peppers over a dish to catch any juices; the charred skin comes off easily with a paring knife, but don’t worry if you don’t get every bit. Cut the peppers into 1/4 inch thick strips.

Drain the raisins, and toss them together with the peppers, arugula, basil, garlic and red pepper flakes. Whisk together the oil, vinegar and any accumulated liquid from the charred peppers; pour the dressing over the peppers, toss the salad again and season with kosher salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Grilled Tamarind Turkey Burgers
  • Sylvia’s Table

Serves 8


2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon peeled and minced garlic
1/2 cup tamarind concentrate
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons sriracha
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Cooking spray or vegetable oil
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 jalapeno with seeds, minced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions, white and about 1 inch of green parts
2.5 pounds ground turkey, 1/2 white, 1/2 dark meat
hamburger or other rolls


For the glaze, heat the oil in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the ginger and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the tamarind concentrate, honey, sriracha and water and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and reduced to about 1 cup, stirring often, about 8 minutes.

Let the glaze cool completely, then mix in the lime juice. Prepare a charcoal fire or gas grill to medium heat or place a grill pan over medium-high heat and coat it with cooking spray or oil. A nonstick or cast-iron pan is also fine for cooking these.

For the burgers, mix together the mayonnaise, ginger, salt, pepper, cumin, jalapeno, cilantro and 4 teaspoons of the glaze in a large bowl, then mix in the scallions. Add the ground turkey and mix it well but loosely with the mayonnaise mixture; do not overwork. Shape the turkey into eight 1/2 inch thick patties (or smaller ones for little people).

Grill the rolls, cut side down, until golden, about 2 minutes; transfer them to a serving platter. Grill the burgers until cooked through and a thermometer inserted into the center registers 160 degrees, about 8 minutes on each side. Brush each burger with the remaining glaze and serve with garnishes, and a spread of your choice for the buns — I like mayonnaise spiked with a drop of two of sriracha.

Eggplant Caponata
  • Sylvia’s Table

Makes about 3 quarts

3/4 cup golden raisins
1 cup olive oil
4-6 medium eggplants washed but not peeled, diced to yield 12 cups
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cups diced onions, about 3-4
1 1/3 cups peeled and diced celery
3 tablespoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
3 sweet yellow bell peppers, roasted, peeled and diced
3 sweet red peppers, roasted, peeled and diced
3/4 cup capers in vinegar, drained and roughly chopped
1 1/4 cups red wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups peeled, seeded and roughly chopped tomatoes
1 cup chopped parsley

Put the raisins in a medium bowl and cover with lukewarm water to soften. Set aside until needed.

Pour enough oil into a sauté pan or skillet to cover the bottom generously and place the pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the eggplant and sauté, stirring until tender, adding oil as needed; you may need to do this in batches. Remove the eggplant to a bowl, season to taste with salt and pepper and set it aside to cool.

Pour additional oil into the pan and add the onions, celery and garlic, then the thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper and cook, stirring from time to time until tender.

Add the peppers, capers, vinegar, sugar, and tomatoes; drain the raisins and add. Cook until it is slightly thickened. Adjust the seasoning as necessary with additional vinegar and sugar to achieve a pleasing balance of sweet to acid, and season to taste with salt or pepper.

Let the pepper mixture cool to room temperature, then fold in the eggplant.

Fold in the chopped parsley before serving. Caponata can be served warm, never cold. I think the flavors are at their best at room temperature.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Recipe: Panna Cotta with Balsamic-Marinated Strawberries

You don't need to be a trained pastry chef to pull of this creamy, dreamy dessert.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 16, 2014 at 3:13 PM

This week, let’s shift from savory dishes to sweet and talk about dessert. Since it is the middle of summer, turning on the oven and baking something probably ranks low on your cooking to-do list. Instead, try out the following silky, sweet dessert that can be made with the help of your refrigerator.

Panna cotta is a Northern Italian dessert you’ve probably just seen on fancy restaurant menus. But you don’t need to be a trained pastry chef to pull off this creamy, dreamy dessert. It’s a cinch to prep, then just set it and forget it in the fridge. It’s comprised of cooked cream (or other dairy product), sugar, gelatin and other flavorings. After the gelatin and sugar have dissolved in the warm cream, the mixture is poured into (typically clear) serving dishes or silicone molds and chilled for a few hours to let it firm up and set.

As for the texture of the dish, let me put it this way: If pudding and jello had a baby, it’d be panna cotta — it’s soft and smooth, yet firm and just a wee bit wobbly. Brit TV chef Nigella Lawson described the ideal elasticity of panna cotta when she acted as guest judge on Top Chef: Las Vegas: “...[panna cotta] should quiver like an 17th century courtesan’s inner thigh.”

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ditch the nachos: Give this authentic Mexican street food a try

Sopes de chorizo bring authentic Latin American flavors to the Mexican culinary spectrum.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 2, 2014 at 12:04 PM

When you dine at a typical Mexican restaurant, you're probably already familiar with the usual offerings of enchiladas, tacos, refried beans and rice. It's kind of ironic that many dishes served in most of today's Mexican joints are actually of American origin by way of Texas or California. We Americans have put our own twists on the originals over the years and labeled them "Mexican food."

To get a little more authentic taste of south-of-the-border cuisine, try Mexican sopes, a zesty appetizer that will have you ditching your old gringo go-to of nachos or chimichangas.

Sopes are a handheld Mexican street-food dish made from a dough of masa flour (dried and finely ground corn) that's flattened, typically fried, then topped with either meat or beans and salsa. This version of the classic Mexican dish sees the little masa "boats" baked instead of fried, saving you some calories and a greasy mess on your stovetop. I use flavorful Mexican chorizo sausage for the filling and top it with a Yucatecan-style (i.e.: from the Yucatan Peninsula) sauce comprised of toasted pumpkin seeds, cilantro and habanero pepper. These sopes can be made any size you please — from smaller for appetizer servings to larger ones if you're serving them as a snack or main course.

Buen provecho!

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Thai one on: Red Curry-Coconut Chicken Satay Skewers with Peanut Dipping Sauce

These spicy skewers add fun, exotic zest to any meal.

Posted By on Wed, Jun 18, 2014 at 10:21 AM

People assume Thai cuisine is complicated to prepare at home, but it's quite the opposite. Most Thai food is made of simple, fresh ingredients that can be thrown together in a jiffy, like stir-fries, fresh spring rolls, noodle salads, etc. The key to making great Thai at home is having your ingredients prepared correctly before you begin cooking them.

Thai satay skewers — marinated, skewered, grilled chicken or pork served with a zesty peanut dipping sauce — are a popular starter on Thai restaurant menus, and they're a breeze to whip up at home. It's easy to make a small batch for two or a large batch to feed a crowd if you're entertaining.

I prefer dark meat for its flavor, but boneless chicken breast can also be substituted. Coconut palm sugar is fantastic in the marinade — its deep, almost caramel-like flavor adds the perfect hint of sweetness — but you can also use brown sugar in its place. No grill? No problem. Cook the skewers under your oven's broiler.

Try this tasty Thai favorite this weekend but be warned: You may never want to order them for takeout again.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

It's the bomba: Paella Mixta

Paella is an easy and exotic summer crowd-pleaser.

Posted By on Wed, May 28, 2014 at 10:24 AM

Summer is on our doorstep, and many folks will be gathering to celebrate the warmer weather. If you happen to be throwing a casual get together, look to the Spanish and their famous and incredibly flavorful paella dish to impress your guests.

Paella originally hails from the Valencia region of Spain and is comprised of short-grained rice simmered with yellow saffron threads, vegetables and sometimes meat, seafood or a mixture of both. The type of rice is key to this dish: It must be short-grained in order to hold its shape when cooked and to properly absorb the flavored liquid. Bomba rice, grown near Calasparra, Spain, is best, but Italian arborio rice is a great substitute. With bomba rice, the liquid-to-rice ratio is three to one, while it is two to one if using arborio. The key is to not stir the rice while it is cooking so that the much-coveted, crusty, caramelized bottom layer, the socarrat (soh-kah-raht), can form.

Whether you’re sticking with just veggies (pealla vegetariana), meat (paella Valenciana), seafood (paella marisco) or a mix of all of the above (paella mixta), paella is an easy and exotic crowd-pleaser that’s perfect for a crowd or an intimate evening with friends. 

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Integrate This: Go nuts

The healthy new perspective on coconut oil.

Posted By on Wed, May 28, 2014 at 9:14 AM

Jamaica native Cephas Gilbert harvests fresh coconut daily to share with family, friends and customers at Cephas' Jamaican Hot Shop in Ybor City. - KIMBERLY DEFALCO
  • Kimberly DeFalco
  • Jamaica native Cephas Gilbert harvests fresh coconut daily to share with family, friends and customers at Cephas' Jamaican Hot Shop in Ybor City.

Scientists, nutritionists and consumers have long harbored a love-hate relationship with coconuts.

Lately, though, it’s been pure love.

With emerging scientific research in recent years, coconuts have become the darling of the natural foods world.

Once sequestered on the shelves of health-food shops, coconut oil and coconut products are now featured alongside their mainstream counterparts in many grocery stores.

Coconut is highly nutritious and rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Coconut water, coconut milk and coconut flour are among the hundreds of coconut-based products making their debut to newfound enthusiasts and long-term devotees.

Decades ago, studies tainted conventional coconut oil’s image. However, coconut oil is getting a consumer-friendly makeover thanks to scientists who are discarding their data against its use and the growing number of vegans, and gluten-intolerant folks, who rely on it as a sweet vegetable fat.

Solid at room temperature, coconut oil can create flaky pie crusts, puffy pancakes and fluffy cupcake icings, all without butter and shortenings. Those sensitive to gluten and dairy can replace milk and wheat flour with coconut products.

Initial studies on coconut oil, which supposedly demonstrated it was unhealthy, used refined and hydrogenated oil that contained trans fats. These studies have no relevance to the unrefined, organic coconut oil that’s found in big-box markets today.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Summer dinner parties: It's not as hard as you think

If you can read and muster a bit of patience, you can throw a memorable epicurean shindig this summer.

Posted By on Thu, May 22, 2014 at 12:50 AM

Partying on a budget? Chinet works fine. - JON PALMER CLARIDGE
  • Jon Palmer Claridge
  • Partying on a budget? Chinet works fine.

Of all the communal celebrations centered on food and drink, I most love a dinner party — the chance to share great tastes and conversation with friends.

But despite the proliferation of TV cooking shows, far too few people feel up to the task. I’m here to tell you: that is utter nonsense! If you can read, you can host a memorable dinner party.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sippers for summer

Local eateries talk trends and recipes for summer cocktails.

Posted By on Wed, May 21, 2014 at 3:10 PM

Oh, summer.

A time when all landlubbers want to do is find a little expanse of water to cool off in, cocktail in hand, if only for a moment. These drinks, however, can’t just have any ol’ simple syrup or fruit muddled into a glass.

According to Dean Hurst, director of spirits for Bern’s Steak House, SideBern’s and the Epicurean Hotel, a couple of trends his teams are integrating into their summer cocktails, which are in the works, include “getting funky” with sodas and steering away from vodkas and Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, which jumped from $1.9 million in sales in 2011 to $61 million last year.

Hurst talked about creating citrus cordials, too. He said a grapefruit cordial, with the fruit’s zest incorporated, allows imbibers to be dynamic when drink-making without the use of lemon or lime juice.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Dine in on Mother's Day and treat mom to this elegant meal: Poached Eggs on Ciabatta with Pancetta, Arugula and Romesco Sauce

Save yourself the hour-plus wait for a table at brunch this weekend.

Posted By on Wed, May 7, 2014 at 11:50 AM

In case you didn't get the memo — with the slew of commercials and ads that have inundated us for the past month — Mother's Day is Sunday. While buying a gift for dear mum would be lovely, making her something with your own two hands will warm her heart even more.

A photo frame made from popsicle sticks might have cut it when you were in kindergarten, but you'll probably want to step it up a bit this year. Why not get creative in the kitchen and whip her up a lovely brunch meal? I've got just the dish for you: poached eggs on ciabatta bread with pancetta, arugula and a zesty Spanish Romesco sauce — it's elegant, easy to prepare and ever so delicious.

Save yourself the hour-plus wait for a table at brunch this weekend and make this classy meal for mom instead. Just be warned: She'll be so impressed with your culinary prowess that she may expect a homemade gourmet gift like this every year.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Easy peasy: Herbaceous Pea and Walnut Pesto makes for a fresh take on a classic sauce

Add color and flavor to pesto sauce using frozen peas and other ingredients.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 16, 2014 at 9:33 AM

Frozen peas. I guarantee that most of you have them hanging out in your freezer. What if I told you that besides using them as a green side dish, or as a makeshift ice pack, peas can also be used to add color and flavor to pesto sauce? Bonus: It's also another sneaky way to get your kids or resident veggie-hater to eat peas.

The main components of a pesto sauce are herbs, nuts and oil. Other aromatics like garlic can be thrown in, as well as cheese (classically, Parmesan). But why be limited to the standard pine nut, basil and Parm pesto when you can use a multitude of other ingredients to add both color and flavor?

For this pesto recipe, I used a bag of (thawed) frozen peas to add a hint of sweetness and a light green hue — also, because I already had them in my freezer. In place of pricey pine nuts, I substituted toasted walnuts, and in addition to basil, I threw in chives and spinach to boost the color and herbaceous flavor. To round it all out, I added a pinch of red pepper flakes for a slight hint of spice and some fresh lemon juice to add a bright flavor and enhance the other ingredients.

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