A Little Sweet… A Little Heat

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Appetizer / Mexican

Chorizo and Sweet Potato Empanada with Salsa Verde

I recently visited a popular restaurant in Los Angeles’ art district, Guerrilla Taco. They are famous for their sweet potato taco. It doesn’t sound like it would be good, but it came highly recommended by the late Jonathan Gold. I wondered how a mushy centered taco would taste in a soft corn shell. Well, it works because he adds chopped corn nuts for crunch. Genius, I tell you! I realized that I don’t use sweet potato enough in my cooking. I thought about where to place it, and how would I add texture. After some experimenting, I think I came up with an answer. I use puff pastry in this recipe, for crunch and flakiness, with a sweet and spicy filling. Salsa Verde adds a much needed tart counterpoint to the empanadas. Enjoy!

Time-1 hour 30 minutes

Servings-11 Empanadas

Ingredients

2 sheets of frozen puff pastry, 9 oz of pork chorizo, 1 large or 11 ounce sweet potato, 1/4 cup chopped onion, 1/4 cup chopped green pepper, 1/4 chopped red pepper, 1 garlic clove minced, 2 tsp of honey, 1 TBS of oil, 1 tsp Kosher salt, purchased salsa verde, crema and cilantro for garnish. Egg and water for egg wash.

Preparation

Remove puff pastry from freezer and start to thaw. In a large saucepan fill with water and place sweet potato in and bring to boil. Once brought to boil lower heat to medium-high until potato is cooked and fork tender all the way through. Place on cutting board and once cooled peel skin from potato and set aside. While cooling prep all the ingredients. Chop onion, peppers, garlic and cilantro. In a non-stick skillet on medium heat add onions and peppers. Sauté onions and peppers until softened. Then add the sweet potato and season with salt. Sauté sweet potato for about 5 minutes. The potato is cooked but this allows the natural sweetness and flavors to combine. Add the garlic last so that it does not burn or add bitterness. Add garlic and cook for no more than one minute.

To complete the filling add the chorizo. It will all start to look the same color and it will be hard to know when the chorizo is cooked because it looks mushy. Sauté the chorizo and sweet potato filling on medium heat for at least 10 minutes. Lastly, add 2 tsp of honey. The honey should not add too much sweetness it’s only there to balance the heat and enhance the sweet potato. Set the filling aside. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.

Dust your work space with flour so pastry does not stick. Place your 9″ x 9″ pastry and roll out to 14″ x 12″. Use a 5 1/2 inch pastry cutter or in my case a bowl and stamp out rounds.

Once rounds are cut out, place 1 tablespoon of filling and pinch ends together and finish with a fork for crimping. If your dough has trouble sticking use egg wash around ends to help seal. You will have to roll out scraps of puff pastry to get 11 empanadas.

Scramble one egg and 1 tsp of water and brush empanadas. The egg wash will make your empanadas look golden and delicious.

Add a slit for venting and place all empanadas on parchment paper and bake in oven for 25 minutes.

Garnish with creama and cilantro. The empanadas are very sweet and savory if you serve with salsa verde for dipping it really adds a much needed tartness. Enjoy!

Cook’s Note

Make this vegetarian by using soyrizo.

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Sea Candy

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Appetizer / Fish

Seared Scallops with Corn and Red Pepper Relish and Cilantro Oil

Scallops are delicate, sweet and buttery. I refer to them as sea candy, because of their inherent sweetness. This dish is bright, fresh and delicious. Definitely suitable as an appetizer served with a crisp glass of white wine.

Time-30 minutes

Servings-2

Ingredients for Corn and Red Pepper Relish

16 ounce frozen corn thawed, 1/2 red pepper chopped, 1 small shallot diced, 1 clove of garlic, 2 TBS of olive oil and 1/2 tsp of kosher salt.

Ingredients for Cilantro Oil

1 Bunch of cilantro stems included, juice of 1 lemon, 1 cup of canola oil and 1/2 tsp of kosher salt.

6 Sea Scallops or 3 per person 2 TBS of butter and olive oil for searing.

Preparation

First start with cilantro oil. In blender add cilantro, lemon juice, salt and oil and blend until smooth. With a fine mesh strainer strain the oil into a dressing bottle and set aside.

Cilantro oil

Next start relish by adding olive oil to a sauté pan on medium heat. Sauté thawed corn for 2 minutes to warm through and bring out its sweetness. Add red pepper and sauté for another 2 minutes. Follow with shallots and garlic until softened and lightly browned. Turn of heat and set aside.

Corn and Red pepper relish

When purchasing scallops ask fish monger if the side tendon is removed if not ask him/her to do it for you. Rinse scallops under cold water then throughly pat dry with a paper towel. They can sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before needing to refrigerate them . Add 2 TBS of olive oil and 2 TBS of butter on medium high heat. Sprinkle salt to taste on both sides of scallop while oil heats up. When oil starts to move in pan it’s ready. Add 3 scallops at a time flat side down and cook until brown about 2-3 minutes. Using tongs flip scallop if scallop sticks to pan don’t force just add more butter. Cook on other side for another 2 minutes. Prepare for plating.

Plating

Place relish on platter and create little wells to house cilantro oil and for scallop to sit in. Add chopped cilantro or micro greens to finish dish.

As appetizer
As individual dish

Enjoy!

Remembering Nana

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Mexican / Soup
Albondigas Soup

Everyone in my family has a speciality dish. My late Nana (grandmother) was the undisputed Albondigas champion. She spent most of her life in the kitchen. I can still see her short stature and experienced hands rolling out tortilla dough. She made tortillas from scratch everyday. I remember how her greasy glasses would fall from her nose frequently as she stood over the stove. She brought me into the kitchen when I was young to cook together. I was the prep chef while Nana did the actual cooking. We would talk about owning a restaurant together. We even had the name picked out, “Nanitas.” I didn’t know then how these moments together would shape my love for cooking. My recipe writing and cooking is inspired by a compilation of memories and experiences. Every meal I blog about is attached to a fond memory. It’s been three years this month since we lost my grandmother. I honor her memory by emulating her. My Albondigas will never be as good however, after some trial and error and help from my mother I’m glad to share this recipe. I am proud of this one and I think my Nana would be too.

Nana Minnie

Time-2 hours

Servings-4

Ingredients for Albondigas

24 ounces of ground veal, 16 ounces of ground pork, 2 large eggs, 1/2 white onion diced, 4 garlic cloves minced, 3/4 cup of dried cotija cheese, 25 or more mint leaves finely chopped, 2 tablespoons of cilantro finely chopped, 2 tsp of kosher salt, 2 tsp of crushed pepper, 1 tsp of black pepper, and 1 cup of white rice but will only need 1/2 cup for meatball the rest is used in soup.

Ingredients for Soup

1/2 white onion chopped, 2 celery chopped, 1 carrot medium chop, 2 green zucchini large chop, 2 garlic cloves minced, 1 large russet potato peeled and large chop, 1 12.5 ounce can of petite diced tomato in juice, 1 Bay leaf, 7 cups of water, 1/4 tsp of cumin, 1 tsp of mexican oregano and 2 tsp of Kosher Salt. Garnish with rice, avocado, mint and cilantro. A squeeze of lime over avocado and soup is high recommended.

Preparation of Albondigas

In a sauce pan cook long grain white rice. Add 2 cups of water and 1 cup of rice to a boil. Add lid and lower heat to low and cook for 12 minutes. Turn off burner and lift lid when cooked and allow rice to cool.

In a large bowl combine all the listed ingredients for Albondigas. Only add 1/2 cup of rice into meatball mixture. Form meatballs into golf ball sized balls. You should get a minimum of 12 meatballs. That would be 3 large albondigas each.

Albondigas mixture

In a large pot add olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot and place the burner on medium heat. When the oil is hot brown the meatballs in pan and set aside. It’s important to brown in batches. If the meatballs are sticking add more oil.

Browned and set aside

Once meatballs are browned empty oil and scrape excess browning but don’t place under water to clean. Leave a little bit of the browning marks for flavor. Your pot should look like this.

Add just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan and add onions, celery, and carrots to pot. Soften for 2-3 minutes on medium heat. Add garlic just until fragrant then add can of diced tomato. Sauté until all the liquid is evaporated. Incorporate the meatballs, zucchini, potatoes and water. Add kosher salt, bay leaf, cumin, and oregano. Bring pot to a boil then add lid and reduce burner to low for 20-30 minutes. Once soup is ready taste broth for salt add if desired.

When plating albondigas it’s traditional to add a tablespoon of white rice to the bottom of the bowl then ladle the soup into it.

Garnish with mint, cilantro, avocado and lime.

Enjoy this soup with someone you love. I just know that my Nana is fine as dandy and sweet as candy. She would always say that when we asked how she was. This ones for you Nana from your little Nanita.

Can’t, Fahgettaboudit!

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italian

I still haven’t gotten over my trip to Italy this summer.  While decorating my Christmas tree, I was thinking about the differences between “Americanized” Italian food and the food in Italy.  Tonight I felt like something Italian and comforting.  Eggplant parmesan sounded good, and it happens to be red and green.  Hello…. Christmas colors!   While taking a cooking class in Rome, a Roman Chef taught me how to make the perfect pomodoro sauce.  You have to make this sauce.  It is absolutely perfect.

Time-1 hour

Servings- 4 to 8

Ingredients for Pomodoro

2 28 ounce Whole peeled tomatoes (San Marzano), 2 shallots halved, 3 cloves of garlic smashed, 4 leaves of fresh basil, handful of thyme bundled with twine and 1 tsp of kosher or sea salt.

Ingredients for breading of Eggplant

8 ounces Italian Panko breadcrumbs, 5 eggs, 1 cup of flour, 2 eggplants sliced into 16 slices no larger than 1/2 inch thick, 1.5 L Extra light olive oil, parsley, parmigiano-reggiano cheese, 1-6 oz package of shredded mozzarella cheese and salt.

Preparation of Pomodoro

Blend whole peeled tomatoes until desired consistency.  Add tomatoes to sauce pot and add shallots, garlic, basil, thyme and salt.  Bring to a low boil and add lid then bring down to a low simmer.  Simmer for 40 minutes with lid on then take lid off for last 20 minutes for a thicker sauce.  The Chef in Rome said, “You Americans like chopped onions and garlic in your sauce.”  The Italians like the flavor the onions and garlic impart but don’t like it in the sauce.  They leave things almost whole so they can fish them out when the sauce is ready.  It’s easier to make and actually tastes better.  Life changing!

Preparation of Eggplant

Pre-heat oven to 4oo degrees.  Place olive oil in pot and bring to 350-365 degrees.  Slice eggplant into 16 slices with skin on.  Prepare breading station by placing the flour in a platter with 1/2 tsp of salt.  The 5 eggs should be mixed and in its own platter.  The breadcrumbs in it’s own platter with 1/2 tsp of salt and some parmigiano-reggiano cheese.  

Breading order- flour then egg and lastly breadcrumbs

When oil is between 350-365 degrees gently add breaded eggplant into olive oil and fry until golden brown on both sides.  Set eggplant on a raised metal rack so eggplant doesn’t sit in oil.  




I like to assemble the eggplant layered like a lasagna in its own dish.  Start with sauce then eggplant, mozzarella cheese, parmigiana-reggiano cheese and repeat.  The last layer add some fresh parsley and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbling.  

Layering
Ready for baking

This can be layered in a larger pyrex like a lasagna if desired.  Enjoy!

Manga Manga

That’s Amore

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Fish / Pasta

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Positano Inspired Seafood Pasta

My family and I visited Spain and Italy this summer.   I was so inspired by the food, drink and the culture we experienced.  The food in Italy was not what I expected.  I found it to be simplistic, not in a negative way.  I think in the United States we add more cream and coat our pasta with more sauce.  In Italy the pastas texture is by far and away better than what we experience in the states.  The sauce lightly dresses the pasta and the use of olive oil is in the forefront of the flavors you taste.   One of my favorite meals was in the Campania region of Italy, Positano.  This should be of know surprise since the Campania region is known for their volcanic fertile soil.  Mount Vesuvius blesses this region because it’s soil produces some of the best tasting tomatoes, lemons and buffalo mozzarella.   The charming vertical city of Positano is a coastal town along the Amalfi coast.

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The best meal we had all vacation was at Chez Black Restaurant.  If you visit Positano you can’t miss it.  Chez Black is beachfront encircled by terraces of homes and hotels rising on the limestone mountains of the Amalfi Coast.  I ordered the seafood pasta and a glass of white wine.

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The pasta and seafood were perfectly cooked.  The sauce was a mixture of pomodoro, seafood flavor and olive oil.  The white wine was crisp and refreshing and a perfect counterpoint to my dish.  After eating I went shopping and found the perfect made in Italy Ceramic Dish to recreate this meal with.

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We dipped out feet in the ocean then grabbed some gelato on our way out.  It was absolutely perfect.

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After being home for a week and adjusting to the time change.  I was determined to recreate my seafood pasta.  What I came up with is almost exactly the same flavors I remember.

Time- 40 minutes

Servings-4

Ingredients

1 lb of high grade Italian spaghetti from Italy, 2 cups of pomodoro sauce, 1 1/2 cups of white wine, 1/2 cup of jarred clam juice, 3 TBS of shallots diced, 1 TBS of chopped fresh fennel, 2 garlic cloves chopped, 1/2 Serrano pepper chopped, zest of 1 lemon, olive oil to coat pan and handful of parsley chopped.

The amount of seafood depends on the amount of people you are cooking for.  Here is a guideline I like to follow.

2 scallops, 2 shrimp, 3 mussels, 3 little neck clams per person.  This is just a guide so add whatever seafood you enjoy.  However, the shellfish are very important they add the pot liquor that makes this dish delicious.

Preparation

It’s very important to prep all the ingredients before cooking.  In a bowl of ice water scrub and debeard the shellfish.  Chop all the shallots, garlic, serrano pepper, fennel, and parsley.  Pat dry the scallops and shrimp with a paper towel.  Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.  In a large skillet coat the pan with olive oil and turn to medium heat. When oil is hot season shrimp and scallops with salt and pan fry.  The shrimp will be ready in 2-3 minutes.  The scallops may take a little longer.

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When shrimp and scallops are golden brown set aside on platter.

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Using the same skillet add the shallots, serrano peppers, fennel and garlic.  Sauté for a few minutes then add mussels, clams, wine, clam juice and turn burner to high and cover with lid and bring to a boil.

When your large pot of water comes to a boil season water with kosher salt and drop pasta and cook for 7 minutes.

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Once the pot is at it’s boiling point the shellfish will open in approximately 4 minutes.  Shake the pan with lid on to help the shellfish open.  Lift lid and any shellfish that didn’t open discard occasionally clams may take more time if you are using manilla clams.  Give it a couple more minutes but if they don’t open they are dead and throw away the clam.  Once all the shellfish is cooked add the pomodoro sauce.  When pasta is ready drain and add to the skillet and mix together.  Return scallops and shrimp to the dish and finish with lemon zest, parsley and drizzle some finishing olive oil.  Transfer to serving platter.

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Buon Appetito!

Cook’s note

  1.  If you are not using your own pomodoro I vouch that this brand of jarred sauce works great.  I can’t speak to any other jarred sauce.  San Marzano pomodoro.  You can find it on Amazon or Whole Foods.

 

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2.   When platting add another drizzle of olive oil to pasta.  You should taste it on your      lips when you eat the pasta.