Mexican Chopped Salad with a Creamy Cilantro Dressing

Being that we’re having summer weather here in south Florida we’re well into our salads.  All my friends who grew up here are salad people, obsessed with cold, crunchy, live food.  Weekends and summers found us on the beach.  Junior and senior years of high school we spent at the club, that would be Dana, Andrea and me, lounging in the pool, playing tennis or catching rays.  All our plans were created there…whether it be a date, outfit or college.  Someone in our group, never us but somebody, always had a boom box blaring with the 70’s sounds of Doobie Brothers, Earth, Wind and Fire or Stevie Wonder that made us so happy.  We all knew they were good, good days.  We loved the waves rolling in the background.  We loved the ever so slight breeze which cooled the droplets of pool water running down our flat, toned tummies and lean, tanned legs.  We took delight in the smooth coral stone under our feet after burning up on the beach.  The in our dangerously low-cut black maillots, the three of strolled about the pool and beach as though we owned the place.  It was home to us and we were always welcomed.  We charged little dinner salads for lunch and chased them down with enormous iced coffees laced with half and half and who knows how many packets of Sweet’N Low.  Late in the day we moved our lounge chairs into the shade, under clusters palm trees set in islands of grass.  They were easy days.  Pretty and safe days.  Certainly not days that would prepare us for the hard knocks and bumps of life which we’ve all felt!   But I know this trio thoroughly embraced these times.   We each cried over different boys or our parents.  We danced on the beach as though no one was watching, and quite frankly, no one was.  And laugh.  My goodness!  A laugh a minute.  Even if we had to stoop to cheap humor by grabbing one of Dana’s majestic boobs and hollerin’, “Titty!” while leaping into the pool.  None of us remember not knowing one another, that’s how long we’ve been the closest of friends.  In all those years we’ve shared umpteen sleepovers and girl’s weekends and although the iced coffees have been upgraded to tequila we still go crazy over our salads.  Crispy, ambrosial and what we want.

This is the perfect salad if you have a couple of leftover ears of grilled corn.  We throw a few extra ears on the grill so as to have this salad the following day.  The recipe for this salad is just a guideline.  Add more or less of any ingredient depending on your taste.  If you’re not up to making your own tortilla strips, merely crumble a few tortilla chips over the salad right before serving.  I also serve this salad with grilled shrimp or fish on top as well as grilled boneless chicken breasts.  It’s delicious as a wilted salad, too.  Any all ready mixed, leftover salad topped with fresh tortilla strips or chips is fabulous.  Stay cool!

Mexican Chopped Salad with a Creamy Cilantro Dressing

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Dressing:

  • 1 1/2 cups cilantro leaves
  • 1 1/4 cups cream fresca, sour cream or Greek yoghurt
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1-ounce package original Ranch dressing, not buttermilk
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced
  • 2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Salad:

  • 1 large head romaine lettuce, washed, dried and cut into 1/8″ strips
  • 1 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 7.75-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 ears grilled corn on the cob, kernels sliced off
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped into 1/4″ pieces
  • 1 California avocado, cut into 1/2″ chunks
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • tortilla strips for garnish
  1. Place all ingredients for salad dressing in a food processor or blender.
  2. Process until smooth.  You will have small flecks of cilantro in the dressing.
  3. Transfer to a jar and chill until ready to serve.
  4. In a large bowl place all the ingredients for the salad, except the tortilla strips, in a large bowl.
  5. Spoon 3-4 tablespoons of dressing over the salad and toss lightly.  Add more if necessary and gently toss to coat all ingredients.
  6. Taste for salt and pepper.
  7. Garnish with tortilla strips.

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Kickin’ Sweet Vidalia Onion Dip

For someone who tasted flavor only when in friends’ homes, I vividly recall many first tastes.  Butter…Ann Avery’s house.  That was  beyond stellar.  Tuna salad would be at Andrea’s house.  Her mama mixed in a teaspoon of mustard that certainly made it the chicken of MY sea!  Pork chop gravy  at Dana’s house was seared into my flavor bank.  I had never had ANY gravy before and her mama made it from scratch.  Where has this stuff been hiding?!?  I experienced a double first at my neighbor and classmate, Susy Tankard’s, house.  We had come in from playing “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” outside, all hot and sweaty.  Her mama and mine were very close but worlds apart when it came to cooking.  Susy’s mom baked, cooked and liked it.  My mama couldn’t give a fig what went on in the kitchen nor would she have recognized a fig if there had ever been one sitting on the counter.  Anyway, that noteworthy day stands out because it is the day Susy offered me an English muffin with strawberry jam.  I had no idea what either one of those things were.  At first bite I was head over heels in love with both.  But probably my favorite first was a double of potato chips and onion dip, both processed, filled with preservatives and loaded with salt.  Holy smoke.  Talk about a lifelong passion for that kind of bad.  And I’m still a fool for chips and dip but now I prefer the real thing.  Homemade onion dip is from another realm.  Once you make homemade you will never go back to that powdered stuff in an envelope.  After caramelizing naturally sweet onions, you’ll end up with a skillet brimming with the flavors of a savory jam, all thick and gooey.  I add fresh thyme leaves and that brings out the earthiness and allows the dip to “pop”.  The addition of cayenne pepper lightens each bite and keeps the onion dip from becoming too heavy.  It’s always one of the first dishes to fly at a party; in fact, you’ll be hard pressed to stay out of it before you leave your house.  Perfect for a beach or pool party, whether it’s game day or not, this kickin’ onion dip will become a life long favorite!

This recipe makes quite a bit which is great for a party but if you don’t need that much, it’s easily halved.  It’s an incredibly flavorful appetizer so if you’re not a fan of heat, rest assured the cayenne pepper may be omitted and you’ll still have a fantastic dip.  Take your time caramelizing the onions.  You don’t want them to burn but to release their liquids and sugar.  Give them a good stir every now and again, cook them uncovered letting all excess moisture evaporate and you’ll achieve the flavors and consistency you want.  I tried a mess of chips to see which really brought out the flavor of the dip and this is my conclusion.  The best potato chip turned out to be Kettle Chips.  They were sturdy enough to stand up to the stiff dip both in structure and potato taste.  But my number one chip pick wasn’t a potato chip but a plantain chip.  Holy smoke!  They really complemented each other, not to mention, the plantains were much better looking.  In closing, I hope you’ll take the time to search out Vidalia onions as their sweetness truly stands out and makes a huge difference in this dish.  Enjoy!

Kickin' Sweet Vidalia Onion Dip

  • Servings: 6 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 3 pounds Vidalia onions, about 3 large Vidalia onions
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  • 1 heaping tablespoon fresh thyme leaves plus additional to garnish
  • 1 teaspoon to 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  1. In a large, heavy bottom skillet melt the butter over medium heat.
  2. Add the olive oil, chopped onions, one tablespoon of salt and stir well until the onions are thoroughly coated with the olive oil and butter.
  3. Lower the heat to medium low and cook the onions uncovered until they are golden brown in color and all liquid from them has evaporated, anywhere from 45 minutes to one hour.  Stir often to keep onions from browning or sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  4. Remove onions from heat and allow to cool.
  5. In a large bowl mix the cream cheese to loosen.  Add the mayonnaise and whisk until completely smooth.
  6. Add the sour cream, thyme, cayenne pepper and remaining teaspoon of salt.  Mix until smooth.
  7. Add cooled onions to cream cheese mixture and mix until thoroughly combined.
  8. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.
  9. Serve chilled with chips and crudite.

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Tzatziki, Greek Yoghurt Sauce

Wake up your meals!  Fish, chicken, lamb, beef, it matters not.  Put a new spin on lunch and dinner with this Greek classic, Tzatziki; a thick spread of tangy yoghurt, cool cucumber and the savory snap of garlic made smooth and mellow with the addition of fruity olive oil.  As someone married to a Greek, I have a tendency to overlook…almost forget tzatziki and this is one sauce which makes all your meals taste oh, so much better.  All over Greece incredibly thick, plain yoghurt is served at breakfast but come lunchtime and dinner?  It’s always tzatziki, in every kitchen, on every menu.  Incredibly good for you, this yoghurt dish is the best natural probiotic on the planet.  You won’t know how good it is for you, though, when it’s wrapped up with in soft pita bread with lamb, lettuce, tomato and french fries in a perfect gyro.  Remember how much you like gyros?

Well, it’s because of the tzatziki making everything all runny and yummy.  I’m not sure why it makes everything taste so much better but grilled fish, chicken, pork or beef on skewers, never mind shrimp are positively mind bending with the addition of this sauce.  In Greece it’s served as a side or as an appetizer with other delectable tidbits to dip into.  Fried calamari, steak tips, fried pork chunks and grilled octopus become stellar alongside tzatziki.  I served it yesterday for Easter dinner and it flew out of here.  I use only Fage 0% fat yoghurt, in the large container.  It’s so rich and thick I only like the 0% fat.  There’s a first.  This sauce is so easy to prepare plus can also be made one day in advance of serving.  With summer right around the corner you’re going to really love tzatziki.  Enjoy!

Here’s an easy tip to get ALL the excess moisture out of the cucumber.  And you want the cucumber as dry as you can get it otherwise you risk a watery, thin tzatziki,  which nobody likes.  Drape a clean dish towel over a large bowl.  Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the peeled cucumbers over the towel so the shreds fall right into the towel.  When you’re finished grating, gather the corners of the towel and, over the kitchen sink, twist and squeeze the ball of grated cucumber until there is no more liquid dripping out.  Isn’t that great?  I know.  In fact, I have one dish towel set aside that I use only for squeezing grated cukes.  This recipe is still fabulous the following day and can easily be halved.  Tzatziki is served often with a Greek olive or two on top and a quick drizzle of olive oil.

Tzataziki, Greek Yoghurt Sauce

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 35.3-ounce container of Greek yoghurt, any excess liquid on top drained off
  • 2 seedless or “English” cucumbers, grated and well-drained
  • 3 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1/2 cup high quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
  1. Combine all ingredients and mix well.
  2. Taste for salt, cover with plastic wrap and chill until serving.

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Southern Buttermilk Biscuits

Nothing says southern hospitality more than hot biscuit straight out the oven, especially when you have a house full of people.  Buttery and fragrant, these biscuit can be the foundation of a great southern breakfast.  They’re not the easiest…then again, I wouldn’t say they’re hard to make either.  I guess the best description would be messy.  Yes.  They’re a big, fat mess but well, well worth it.  While testing this recipe I found out several things. 1.  If you eat too many biscuit you’ll get sick of them and never, ever want to eat them again.  At least for a day or two.  2.  If all your ingredients and tools are in place this recipe is infinitely easier.  And 3.  If you are the least bit fussy or persnickety, making these biscuit will most assuredly help you lose that type A mantle we all sometimes wear.  The messy part is when you gently mix together the flour and butter with the buttermilk.  You DON’T want to over mix the dough yet it seems impossible to mix as it all clumps up on your hands.  I’m here to tell you, it’s okay!  When I couldn’t mix the dough anymore because it was stuck like a big, heavy ball on both hands, I squeezed it off each finger, back into the bowl it went and onward I mixed…gently…almost coddling the dough.  After that it was pretty smooth sailing.  Here are some tips I wish I had had prior to baking these nuggets of love.  Believe me when I say, freeze your butter.  You’ll use a box grater to grate it into the flour and you don’t want it  to melt while you grate.  Clear off your counter.  You’re going to need more room that you think.  Do not use parchment paper.  For some reason the bottoms of the biscuits kept browning waaaay too fast when I used it.  I used a large, non-stick, light-colored baking sheet.  Have it out and placed next to the area you plan to roll out the dough.  Generously flour the area where you will be rolling out the dough with all-purpose flour, not self-rising flour, along with your rolling-pin and bench knife if you have one.   If you don’t have a bench knife then grab a sharp chef’s knife.  Keep your flour bag for dusting close at hand.  Have a ruler close by to measure the rolled out dough if you can’t eye-ball it.  I can’t.  I have to measure everything so I keep an old, thin ruler in a kitchen drawer.  It also has all the presidents on it ending with President Clinton so I like to impress myself with all the presidents I’ve forgotten.  Could you identify President A. Johnson?  Didn’t think so.  It’s my favorite as it’s plastic so it can quickly be washed then stored.  I think the last tip would be to move as quickly as you’re able to maintain a cold dough.  Wait, one more tip.  Never twist the bench knife, knife or biscuit cutter while cutting the biscuit dough.  Cut straight up and down and you’ll have lots of pretty layers.   I prepared 3 sweet butters  to serve with the biscuits.  Cinnamon butter which consisted of butter, confectioners sugar and cinnamon.  Blueberry butter made with blueberries, butter and confectioners sugar.  And the last was strawberry butter prepared by finely chopping a few strawberries and mixing them into butter and confectioners sugar.  Add to this breakfast some thickly sliced bacon prepared in the oven for easy clean up,  some spicy Southern sausage, a beautiful, freshly made fruit salad and you are a belle of a hostess!

As I mentioned above I baked these biscuit on a light-colored, non-stick baking sheet.  If a dark-colored baking sheet is used make it a point to keep a close eye on the biscuit bottoms as they will brown much faster.  You might want to consider baking them at 400° so as to avoid rapid browning.  I haven’t tried it with these so I’m not certain what the outcome would be but it is a suggestion.  These biscuit don’t color up much; the tops remain blonde so don’t go by overall color in terms of how done they may be.  I cut this dough into squares in order to have fewer scraps to re-roll.  Feel free to use a round or square biscuit cutter, just make certain it’s sharp.  A soft wheat flour will make all the difference in your biscuit.  White Lily is my all-time favorite but King Arthur and Bob’s Red Mill are perfectly fine.  Try to find buttermilk from a local or small dairy.  Whole Foods has a great one by the name of Lazy Meadows.  It’s whole, not homogenized, non-GMO and from north Georgia.  Good stuff!

Southern Buttermilk Biscuit

  • Servings: 30-35 biscuit
  • Difficulty: moderate
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  • 5 cups self-rising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) salted butter, frozen
  • 2 cups ice-cold buttermilk
  1. Pre-heat oven to 425°.
  2. In a large bowl mix flour and salt.
  3. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the butter directly over the flour.
  4. Using a pastry cutter or a fork, cut the butter into the flour until the butter is coated with the flour and the butter is in lumps the size of peas and smaller.  If you have naturally cold hands you may use your hands to cut the butter into the flour.  If they’re naturally hot, as are mine, use either the pastry cutter or fork because the heat from your hands will melt the butter.
  5. Make a well in the middle of the bowl and pour in the cold buttermilk.
  6. Using your hands gently mix the ingredients together, scraping the dough off your fingers when you need to.
  7. When the buttermilk is almost incorporated into the flour transfer the dough, with your hands, to a floured board or counter.
  8. Gently fold the dough over and over, maybe 7-8 times, then gently roll out or pat into a 11″X9″ rectangle.
  9. Cut off any rounded edges and set the scraps aside to re-roll if using a square biscuit cutter or cutting the dough with a sharp knife.  If using a round biscuit cutter, cut out the biscuit and set the scraps aside to re-roll.
  10. Place the cut biscuit on a baking sheet, close to each other if you like an all-soft biscuit or 1″-2″ apart if you prefer crispy corners.
  11. Bake 13-15 minutes or until golden on the bottom.
  12. Serve immediately.
  13. To re-heat, warm in a 225° oven for 10-15 minutes.  These biscuit are warm and tender again after re-heating.

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Way Southern Grits and Greens Casserole

All y’all Southerners out there know and love this casserole.  It’s rich with cream,  two kinds of cheese and lots of bacon.  However, the addition of collards and tomatoes shine brightly through to make this one damn fine dish.  I’m crazy about grits.  I could eat them every.single.day.  But I wasn’t raised on them.  Oh, no.  Remember, Mama couldn’t cook, she grew up in a world where nice girls didn’t cook…”we have help for that”, besides grits ain’t Puerto Rican.  No.  I was introduced to grits when I was in college in Macon, Georgia.  I was close with some girls in another sorority, I had pledged the wrong sorority but that’s neither here nor there, and consequently ran around with a few Phi Mu’s who are still incredibly close to my heart.  These are girls who grew up in Macon… Southern… utterly, thoroughly, to the core, Allman brothers, Fincher’s Bar-B-Q, ATO, SAE, fix your hair, put on lipstick, Southern.  I don’t remember what BettyGeorge’s daddy did, but Parks’ daddy was a physician and bred roses.  All the girls in Macon called Parks’ daddy the minute they were engaged, “Doctuh Popejoy? Hey! It’s Elizabeth Louise and I’m gettin’ married in May.  Do you think you might could do the roses for the weddin’?”  Every girl wanted Dr. Popejoy’s roses.  Anyway, the morning I first tasted grits, Parks was to pick me up in her car and then we were to go on to BettyGeorge’s house and from there probably to some day drinking party or something event I’ll never recall.  I always thought “George” was Betty’s first or middle name but years later I found out it was her last name, though, to me, she’ll ALWAYS be BettyGeorge, one name, first name.  Regardless, Parks pulled up to my dorm, tooted the horn and off we went.  We laughed and chatted as she flew through the twisted streets of Macon when suddenly we slowed, entered huge wrought gates and stopped in front of the most gorgeous, majestic estate encircled by enormous, ancient trees dripping with Spanish moss.  The windows were floor to ceiling; the front door double and very, very thick.  The house was positively exquisite in every possible way. Now, Gentle Reader, I had traveled a good bit.  I had seen many a stately home.  I had not just fallen off the turnip truck.  But this was something else.  My jaw actually dropped.  As Parks popped out of the driver’s side of the car I turned to her and asked in complete disbelief, “THIS is Betty George’s house??”  Parks whooped and laughed while announcing, “No! I just always wanted to do this!  C’mon…we gotta get outa here before we get caught for trespassing!”  Gosh, but that was one good-looking piece of property.  Two seconds later we pulled into BettyGeorge’s house, Park’s let herself in and we met BettyGeorge in the kitchen.  Her parents weren’t home so we flopped down as teenagers are wont to do while BettyGeorge poured us glasses of sweet tea in faceted glasses, none of that plastic stuff.  As I sat I spied a cast iron skillet on the stove with a few golden rectangles each about the size of a pack of cards still glistening with oil and I innocently asked, “What’s that?”  They both whirled around and replying, “That?  Are you kidding?  You can’t be serious.”  “No, really.  I mean, I don’t know.  What is it?”, I questioned, embarrassed that I, clearly, didn’t know what “that” was.  “Those are fried grits,  shug!  Haven’t you ever had ’em?”  “No!”, I emphatically answered, “My mother doesn’t cook.”  They shot each other that pathetic, “Oh, God. Poor li’l thang” look.  I didn’t care.  I’d gone my entire life hungry and I did not care.  Just explain it to me, okay?  You don’t have to feel sorry for me, only will you please fill me in?  And they did.  Both girls ever so patiently explained to me that all manner of dishes can be made from grits, whether they be left over from breakfast or not.   All manner of ingredients could be added to them from cheese to sausage to greens.  There were only two rules.  The first, and most important, never, ever prepare quick or instant grits.  Ever.  Just don’t do it.  It’s nasty.  Only old-fashioned, regular grits will do.   You WILL know the difference.  And number two.  Always, always, always stir the liquid to make a “tornado” while slowly pouring in the grits.  And there ya go.  I’m pretty certain those girls have absolutely no recollection of that morning in BettyGeorge’s kitchen,  but I do.  It was magic.  Southern magic.  Make this.  You’ll swoon.

This casserole is beyond perfect for brunch or a special occasion.  It’s one of the dishes I’ll be serving this Easter Sunday.  It’s rich and gorgeous and everyone goes crazy over it.  All ingredients can be prepared in advance except the grits.  That said, cook up the grits before church, mix it all together, slap it in the oven and take off.  When you come home the casserole will be all warm and bubbly.  Btw, sliced spring onions scattered over the top right before serving are really great.

Way Southern Grits and Greens Casserole

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 15 or 16 regular bacon slices or 10 thick sliced bacon slices
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely grated
  •  1 1 pound bag frozen, chopped collard greens
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, well-drained
  • red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups grits, not instant or quick cooking
  • 1 1/4 cups parmesan cheese, grated and divided
  • 1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, grated and divided
  • 2-3 pinches red pepper flakes, optional
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350° and grease a 9X13 casserole dish and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet cook the bacon, set aside to drain on paper towels and discard bacon fat leaving 3 tablespoons in the pan.
  3. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and cook until soft and clear.
  4. Add the collards, stirring continuously until completely coated with the onions and garlic.
  5. Add tomatoes and pepper flakes, stir well and turn off heat.
  6. To a large pot add the heavy cream, half and half, chicken broth and bring to a boil.
  7. Drop the heat to simmer, and stirring the liquid with a large whisk, slowly pour the grits into the boiling liquid.
  8. Continue whisking until the grits are done according to the package directions, 15-20 minutes.
  9. Add to the grits 1 cup of parmesan and 1 1/4 cups of Monterey Jack to the grits, stirring until melted.
  10. Add the collard mixture to the grits and gently fold until well combined.
  11. Pour the collard and grits mixture into the baking dish.
  12. Top the dish with the remaining parmesan and Monterey Jack.
  13. Crumble the bacon and scatter over the casserole evenly.
  14. Bake until golden on top or serve at room temperature.

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Thickest, Richest Hot Chocolate

 

Nothing better than breakfast in bed for yourself and your lover!

Do you recall your first truly spectacular cup of hot chocolate?  Not the kind that comes out of a packet but the first cup you ever had that was so thick and luxurious you almost had to eat it with a spoon?  Well, I remember mine.  It was on my first trip to Europe with my parents and we were in Germany where Daddy had to do some business.  We stayed at a beautiful bed and breakfast which served a typical European breakfast, i.e. croissants served with jam and butter and all the water, coffee, juice or hot chocolate you can drink.  Mama was always a chocolate addict…she didn’t care if it was a 25¢ candy bar from the corner gas station or a sumptuous, elegantly ribboned box of bonbons straight out of a fashionable Parisian confection shop.  It was all great  to her and she loved every bit of it.  Mama and I went down to breakfast, Daddy was already off with his people, and sat outside at a pretty little table on a patio surrounded by a riot of Old Garden Roses, all in bloom, sharing their heady perfume to our surprised pleasure.  Being on holiday we ordered a pot of coffee and one of hot chocolate with plans to enjoy several cups of each.  I only remember the chocolate which came out hot, steam pouring out of the spout.  Mama poured then we settled in to plan our day.  At first sips our eyes met and widened with astonishment.  This was not like any hot chocolate we had ever had before, dense and smooth with none of the watery, chalkiness the powdered stuff always imparts.

Layer after layer of mysterious but most pleasing flavors went on and on overwhelming our senses.  This hot chocolate was silky and velvety yet earthy.  And, get this, it came with a side of freshly whipped cream.  Oh, man!  After that there was no stopping us.  We ordered hot chocolate at every breakfast, in every country we visited and not once were we disappointed.  Back in the States I promptly forgot about our newly found breakfast drink and it has remained in the deep, dark recesses of my forgetful mind.  Probably safer that way.  It’s not exactly slimming.  For me, this is a once-a-year extravagant indulgence.  This hot chocolate is a dream of creamy, chocolate joy.  It’s like The Moldau symphony in a cup.  Evocative and enigmatic, it will transport you.  I wish you a magnificent journey!

Dark and rich, this drink is worth every calorie.  It’s very easy to prepare but because there are so few ingredients you really should try to use the best chocolate available to you.  I have been able to locate only one whole powdered milk at the grocery store.  I don’t want non-fat powdered as it takes away from the full-flavor you’re working towards.  On the boxed milk aisle you’ll find a yellow labeled tin of powdered whole fat milk called “Nido” by Nestle Corporation.  Dark chocolate is a must but be adventurous an experiment with different kinds.  You get what you pay for so if this hot chocolate is made with cheap chocolate chips, well, that’s just what your drink will taste of…chemicals, fillers and artificial “things”.  Trader Joe’s has a super 1 pound block of 72% cacao dark chocolate that is not only loaded with flavor but super inexpensive.  I believe it’s $5.00.  The bar is huge and you’ll get quite a bit of baking out of it.  A small whisk is needed to ensure all the lumps are taken out.  If you don’t have a whisk, grab two or three forks, place them back to  back, wrap a rubber band tightly around the handles and whisk away.  It can also be gently reheated the following day by placing in the microwave on the defrost level and warmed in 2 minute increments, stirring between each increment.

Thickest, Richest Hot Chocolate

  • Servings: 3 1/2 generous cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1/2 cup whole-fat powdered milk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 8 ounces dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together powdered milk, sugar, cornstarch and espresso powder.  Set aside.
  2. In a heavy bottomed pot bring the milk to almost to a boil, whisking often.
  3. Add the dark chocolate a little at a time, continually whisking.
  4. When the chocolate is almost completely melted, take off the heat and whisk in the powdered milk mixture.
  5. Continue whisking to desired thickness.
  6. Serve immediately.
  7. Cover any remaining hot chocolate with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

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Fried Green Plantain Chips

One of the highlights of our summers in Puerto Rico was our trips into Viejo San Juan, Old San Juan.  Cynthia and I would be taken by our aunt, Madrinita, and, of course, Mama would accompany us.  It was an all-day affair of shopping at my aunt’s favorite jewelry store, always lunch at La Mallorquina, the oldest operating restaurant in the Western Hemisphere and culminating perhaps with a tour of cellist Pedro Casals’ house.  What wonderful times we had!  In and out of shops we went, Mama buying gorgeous French and Belgian sets of tablecloths and napkins, Madrinita giving in to the siren call of a particularly lovely gold bracelet as Cynthia and I stood by watching wide-eyed and highly impressed.  My mother and aunt adored each other and this outing gave them the opportunity to spend uninterrupted hours catching up on family news and their own sister secrets.  Cynthia and I were already BFF’s so we, too, shared our own 8-year-old/six-year-old secrets, whispering that maybe, just maybe, this was the trip Madrinita would buy us some pretty little earrings, a delicate ring or exquisite charm for our bracelets.  As we grew older, Madrinita and Mama strolled ahead of us, arm in arm, chattering away.  Cynthia and I lagged behind enjoying the lazy afternoon, soaking in the beauty of cascading bougainvilla spilling off the balconies above us and the magnificence of the smooth blue cobblestones below our feet dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries.  One of our favorite games was to hunt for ruts and grooves cut into the cobblestones by horses dragging canons up to the fort and back.  Puerto Rico was a Spanish territory, a jewel in their crown, and the Spaniards were quick to defend it against land attacks.  We were content with the pleasures of the sun on our skinny, little arms, the soft padding sound of our shoe leather against the rounded cobblestones and the dichotomy between the loud, riot of colors and the quiet, graciousness of the residents.  Toward the end of the day Cynthia and I tended to unravel.  After a day  of walking and getting too much sun we both needed energy, a small pick-me-up to tide us over until we got back to home base: our grandparent’s house.  On every corner it seems there was a minute wooden cart, always gaily painted a bright red, shielded from the searing afternoon rays of the sun by a striped awning or umbrella.  Alongside the cart and in the shade sat the vendor usually on a folded, wooden chair, wearing a straw hat and welcoming us with a brilliantly white and friendly smile.  All the vendors were kind and patient with us, treating us as the adults we had yet to be.  Some sold ice cream, some snow cones shaved from huge blocks of ice and others offered little bags of plantain chips gathered in small, wax paper bags, folded at the top and fastened with one staple in the center of the parcel.  We were, and still are, crazy about them.  Each bag was 10¢.  When enjoying these plantain chips with my husband, Jimmy, he pointed out it gives new meaning to “dime bag”.  But they were a fabulous treat for us and gave us the stamina needed until we reached home.  We loved everything about them, from the “snap” of the first chip down to the bits of salt at the bottom of every bag.  Another perfect ending to a perfect day.

This is one hors d’oeuvre you won’t often see here in the states unless you are at a gathering with Latinos.  Plantain chips are easy and quick to prepare.  And although they are fried, you will find that properly stored, the chips stay fresh and crisp for two or three days after preparing…if they last that long.  In fact, I find their flavor almost deeper the following day.  Plantain chips are typically served as an appetizer or snack but my family and I love them crumbled over shrimp, fish or mixed green salad.  We like them sprinkled with sea salt or drizzled with a little chimichurri sauce. They marry exceptionally well with all manner of sea food.  This recipe may be doubled or tripled and if not serving immediately, do not need to be reheated. Just serve them at room temperature.  The thick, hard peel of the green plantain has to come off, easily done but not as easy as peeling a yellow banana.  Plantains stain your fingers so I always wear disposable gloves.  The following is how I peel them.  You will find 3-4 ridges running lengthwise on each plantain.  Using a paring knife cut through the peel down the length of the plantain taking care not to cut into the flesh.  Starting at the top, slide your finger under the skin and pry each section away.  I run the paring knife lightly over the surface of each plantain to scrape off any bits of peel left behind.  You’ll see the flecks of peels as they will turn gray in color making it easy to scrape off any missed.  The chips are thinly sliced into a 1/16″ thickness.  I use a lightweight mandoline that makes slicing the plantains a snap but obviously a sharp kitchen knife will work just fine.  Some people then give the sliced plantains a quick rinse of salted water, drain them well, then fry them.  The rinsing keeps the starchy slices from sticking together.  However, I find no matter how well I drain them there is always a certain amount of moisture causing the hot oil to pop so I don’t rinse.  It’s up to you.  I keep my gloves on while frying, also, to avoid any stains as my fingers touch the slices while dropping them into the hot oil.  Last of all, and this is important, the very second you take the chips out of the hot oil and drain on paper towels sprinkle them with sea salt.  The tiny bit of oil on them will help the salt to stick whilst the oil drains off.

Fried Green Plantain Chips

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 2 green plantains
  • vegetable or canola oil
  • sea salt
  1. Peel the plantains and cut into round slices 1/16″ thick, about the thickness of a quarter.
  2. In a frying pan heat about 2-3 inches vegetable or canola oil to a little lower than high, about 375°.
  3. If rinsing the slices do so now.  Fill a large bowl with salted water, put the sliced plantains in the water, swirl with your hand and drain in a colander.   Pat dry with paper towels.
  4. Carefully drop the chips into the hot oil in batches.  I typically fry one sliced plantain at a time.
  5. As the slices hit the hot oil, stir with a spider or slotted spoon to keep the chips from sticking together.
  6. Fry until golden, about 3-4 minutes, gently stirring all the while to ensure even cooking.
  7. With the spider or slotted spoon, remove the chips and transfer to paper towels to drain.
  8. Immediately sprinkle with sea salt and serve.
  9. If serving another time, store the cooled plantain chips in an airtight gallon freezer bag or plastic container.

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