Monday, August 29, 2011

Sweet Corn Quesadillas

Roasted corn. Boiled corn. Corn soup. Corn salsa. It's sweet corn season and what better time to be doing a cooking demonstration than now. This coming Saturday, I will be at the Minneapolis Farmers' market demonstrating how to assemble sweet corn quesadillas. So over the weekend, I've had the great pleasure of testing and re-testing ( a really tough job) this recipe. Essentially, the filling is a salsa: lots of corn, fresh cilantro, onions, and jalapenos, if you like. How you prepare the corn is also up to individual taste. However, I will recommend using roasted corn which has more flavor than boiled or steamed.
Don't forgot to stop by the Farmers' Market this weekend for tasty samples!

Sweet Corn Quesadillas
Serves 4

2 roasted corn on the cob
zest of 1 lime
1 garlic clove, grated
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 tp ground cumin
8 flour tortillas
1 cup grated cheese

1. Remove the kernels from the corn cobs, and combine with the rest of the ingredients, except the tortillas and cheese together. Mix well.
2. Place one tortilla in the bottom of a warm skillet set over medium to low heat. Place two tablespoons of the salsa mixture evenly on one half of the tortilla. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of cheese over the salsa mixture, and fold the other half of the tortilla over the top. Press down lightly and flip the quesadilla. Cook until the quesadilla has lightly brown on both sides, and the cheese has melted.
3. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Serve with a side salad for lunch or in small triangles as an appetizer.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Brown Rice Risotto with Cremini Mushrooms

Almost an hour. That is how long it will take to prepare this brown rice risotto but your efforts will be worth it. Hearty cremini mushrooms are sauteed in shallots and garlic before toasting the rice for additional flavor. It takes just a minute but toasting the rice before adding the stock is a necessary step that adds flavor and promotes the release of starches that contributes to the dish's creamy texture. (In this video, Lydia Bastianich elaborates on the basic techniques of preparing risotto.)

While white arborio rice is used for traditional recipes, brown arborio rice is also available. Brown, short grain sushi rice can also be used. Sushi rice in general is highly starchy and the brown version is nuttier and tastier in my opinion. For health reasons or not, brown rice is always my choice.

Brown Rice Risotto with Cremini Mushrooms
Serves 3 to 4

3 cups low sodium chicken stock
4 cups water
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 shallots, diced
1 garlic clove minced
1 1/2 cup sliced cremini mushrooms
1 cup brown short grain rice
1/3 cup grated parmesan

1. Combine the chicken stock and water in a saucepan and keep warm over low heat.
2. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook for another 3 minutes.
3. Stir in the rice and cook for a minute before adding 1 cup of the chicken stock mixture. Cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add the remaining stock, 1/2 cup at a time, just as the rice begins to cling to the pot. Stir frequently until the rice is cooked, about 40 to 45 minutes.
4. Stir in the parmesan and serve.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

White Chocolate Mint Mousse

Warning: This is highly addictive! The recipe is pretty simple - only three ingredients - and the hardest part is waiting for the mousse to set. I would recommend serving it in mini dark chocolate cups similar to those in the photo above, which are available at Lunds. They fill about two ounces of mousse each which makes a perfect serving size.

White Chocolate Mint Mousse
(Adapted from Epicurious)

8 oz white chocolate
1 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
6 mini dark chocolate cups (optional)

1. Melt the white chocolate and 1/2 cup heavy cream in a double boiler set over low heat. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 30 minutes. The mixture will begin to thicken during this time.
2. Whip the remaining 1 cup of cream and the peppermint extract to stiff peaks. Fold half of the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture so that no visible signs of the white chocolate remains.Then, carefully, fold in the remaining whipped cream. Divide among dark chocolate cups or servings glasses and chill for two hours before serving.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Crispy Squid with Fresh Culantro (Shado Beni) Dressing

I started this post in New York City where I spent the past week. Two things really define my visits to the city: catching up with friends and relatives, and the food . (Although, the record breaking heat at the end of this trip made it all the more memorable). More specifically, the fresh food. Quite undoubtedly, New York gets an impressive variety of fresh food - from seasonal fruit to exotic herbs to seafood.

On the corner of Sutphin Boulevard and 91st Avenue in Queens is King Fish. From outside, it is hard to imagine that this establishment, with its small store front and simple sign, is one of the most popular in the borough. Traffic through here is always constant which can easily be due to New York's dense population but which just as easily can be attributed to the impressive selection of seafood here. Red snapper, grouper heads, scungilli, king fish. An excellent variety to say the least; a selection that caters to the city's diverse communities - those grouper heads are a favorite among Trinidadians for fish soup.

If all I could do was peruse the market, I would be content with that. But as luck would have it, I did get to do a bit of cooking during this trip. I knew I wanted to make a seafood dish but the question was which seafood. It's funny how an abundance of fish, clams, and fresh water crab can confuse a usually decisive person. In the end, I settled with squid. My plan was to fry it and serve with a dressing made up of fresh garlic, jalapenos and culantro. Not cilantro. Culantro.

Ask any Trinidadian cook what herb they must have and culantro (also called shadon beni - pronounced shadow benny- and bandanya) tops the list. We use it to season meats and fish (bound for stews, the grill, the frying pan or the oven), salads, soups, curries. You get the picture - anything savory. Its peppery, lemony scent is quite distinct and offers a level of freshness lacking in other herbs. Ok, I am biased. What can I say? It's been used in cooking throughout my life so forgive my sales pitch. Finding culantro in the markets of Queens was not a difficult task- look right next to the thyme and cilantro- but Minnesota is a different story altogether. I was lucky a couple of years ago to find it at the farmers' market. If not, try your closest Vietnamese store. (Last I checked, Sun Foods in Brooklyn PArk stocked it.) If you have exhausted all means and still cannot find it, then a suitable substitute in this recipe is the common cilantro. Whichever herb you use, I hope you have fun with this recipe and enjoy eating it as much as I did.

Crispy Squid with Fresh Culantro (Shado-beni) Dressing
Serves 4

1 lb squid, cleaned and cut into rings
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup corn meal
salt and pepper
vegetable oil for frying
juice of 1 lemon
8 culantro leaves
1 garlic clove
1 jalapeno
1/3 cup olive oil

1. Combine the all purpose flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper. Toss the squid in the flour mixture and fry in small batches until lightly golden brown. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
2. Add the lemon juice, culantro leaves, garlic, and jalapeno to a blender and pulse until coarsely chopped. With the motor running, slowly pour in the olive oil. Drizzle this dressing over the squid and serve immediately.