Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Houston Holidays

In Houston for the holidays this year...the weather has been completely all over the place. 75 degrees one day, 30 degrees the next, and back to rainy, humid and 80 degrees today (typical Houston weather). As my loving sister says, "hope you're enjoying the holidays in the most polluted city in America". Correction, CaitO. Though sometimes one can argue it may "feel" like the most polluted, here are the actual most polluted cities, by ozone pollution, according to The American Lung Association’s State of The Air 2008 report.
1. Los Angeles - Long Beach - Riverside, CA
2. Bakersfield, CA
3. Visalia - Porterville, CA
4. Houston -
Baytown - Huntsville, TX
5. Fresno - Madera, CA
6. Sacramento - Arden - Arcade - Yuba City, CA - NV

7. Dallas - Fort Worth, TX
8. New York - Newark - Bridgeport, NY - NJ - CT - PA
9. Washington - Baltimore - Northern Virginia, DC - MD - VA - WV
10. Baton Rouge - Pierre Part, LA
Way off. By three. Anyways while I dearly miss my family in Florida and would do anything to be spending the holidays with them (and lying on the beach), I have been keeping myself busy in the kitchen with holiday cheer plans every evening. A friend of ours had a few of us over last night for a wine tasting party. We were all to bring an appetizer...or two. My fiance's mother (a fabulous cook herself) always has something [cooking] up her sleeve. She suggested I try these recipes. If she is suggesting, I am trying. Her recipes are always tasty and satisfying.

Bruschetta with Cannellini Beans and Strong Herbs
The creamy texture and mild flavor of cannellini, or white kidney beans for strongly herbal rosemary, thyme and sage. This robust bruschetta is a meal in itself when served with a peppery little salad.

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tsp each of fresh rosemary, thyme, and sage
Pinch of hot red pepper flakes
2 cups cooked cannellini beans or 1 15-ounce can, drained
1/2 tsp sun-dried tomato paste or imported tomato paste
1 Tbsp finely diced red onion
Freshly ground black pepper
4 slices country bread, cut about 3/4 inch thick
Olive oil for drizzling

Place the olive oil, butter, garlic, herbs, and hot pepper red flakes in a medium sauce pan. Cook over low heat for several minutes. Add the beans, tomato paste, and salt to taste. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, using a wooden spoon to crush the beans. If the mixture seams dry, add a little water or broth to achieve a creamy texture. Meanwhile, grill or toast the bread on both sides. Drizzle the bread lightly with olive oil. Spoon the bean puree on the bread and sprinkle with the red onion. Top with a few drops of olive oil. Serves 4.

Zucchini and Parmesan Salad
Amazingly good combination of raw zucchini and Parmigiano. Simple and light.

8 ounces small zucchini
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces of Parmigiano-Reggiano, in 1 piece
1 baguette, sliced on an angle in 3/4-thick slices and toasted (optional)

With a vegetable brush, scrub the zucchini well under cold running water. Trim off the ends. Using a mandoline, slice the zucchini very thin. Arrange the slices in a shallow platter. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste until blended. Drizzle over the zucchini. With a vegetable peeler, shave the Parmigiano into thin slices. Scatter the slices over the zucchini. Serve immediately alone or top over toasted baguette slices.

It was a successful night in the end, and I've added a few new recipes to my collection (not to mention another case of wine is on its way to New York). Never can have too much vino on hand!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

This week in the kitch...

Mexican Chicken Soup with Homemade Tortilla Chips!
This has become my new fav for weeknight dinners. I'll make it on a Sunday and have plenty of left-overs to get you through your work week! For quicker preparation you can use a ready-made roasted chicken from your local grocery store.

ican Chicken Soup
4 split (2 whole) chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped onions (2 onions)
1 cup chopped celery (2 stalks)
2 cups chopped carrots (4 carrots)
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
2½ quarts chicken stock, preferably homemade or low sodium store-bought
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes in puree, crushed
2 to 4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
¼ to ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, optional
6 (6-inch) fresh white corn tortillas
For serving: sliced avocado, sour cream, grated Cheddar cheese, and tortilla chips (homemade preferably).
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the chicken breasts skin side up on a sheet pan. Rub with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until done. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones, and shred the meat. Cover and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the onions, celery, and carrots and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions start to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock, tomatoes with their puree, jalapenos, cumin, coriander, 1 tablespoon salt (depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock), 1 teaspoon pepper, and the cilantro, if using. Cut the tortillas in ½, then cut them crosswise into ½-inch strips and add to the soup. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Add the shredded chicken and season to taste. Serve the soup hot topped with sliced avocado, a dollop of sour cream, grated Cheddar cheese, and broken tortilla chips (preferably homemade-see recipe under Sides and Bites).
Yields: 6-8 servings. Time to make: 50 min
Texas Tortilla Chips
This week I wanted the fried "good stuff", but you can also bake the tortillas for a healthier option. 400 degrees for 10 minutes.


Vegetable oil for frying

Twelve 6-inch white corn tortillas
Course sea salt

Pour the oil into a large heavy-bottomed pot to a depth of about 2 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat to a rolling boil.

Meanwhile, stack the tortillas, and cut the pile into sixths to make chips.

Raise the heat to high. Working in batches, fry the chips, turning them with a skimmer or slotted spoon, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chips to a paper towel-lined pan to drain. Season with salt immediately. Cool and serve.
Yields: 4 -6 servings. Time to make: 30 min