Category Archives: Sauces and Condiments

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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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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Sofrito

The base of all the best Puerto Rican dishes is sofrito, a brilliant blend of onion, pepper, garlic, cilantro and culantro.  I can’t believe in the five years I’ve been writing this blog I haven’t posted it yet.  I’ve searched high and low for the post but it ain’t there so here goes.  Sofrito is what makes Puerto Rican food dance in your mouth.  Simple and inexpensive to make, this is a Hispanic kitchen staple and should always be  in your kitchen as well.  Typically it’s prepared in large amounts then frozen in individual portions to be taken out of the freezer and used as needed.  You will taste sofrito in almost all of our chicken, bean and rice dishes.  Oh, and in soups and stews.  It is loved and used in Latin American, Spanish, Italian and Portugese cooking.  Every country, every town and every household has its own recipe.  Some use tomatoes, some don’t.  Some use bell peppers and cubanelles in addition to local sweet peppers.  In Puerto Rico a small sweet pepper called “aji dulce” is always used but as I’m unable to find them here in Fort Lauderdale I just stick with the cubanelles.

At the farmer's market in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. Here you can find everything from fresh beef and goat from the mountains to fresh tamarind, mavi bark and all the island herbs a girl could want!
At the farmer’s market in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. Here you can find everything from fresh beef and goat from the mountains to fresh tamarind, mavi bark and all the island herbs a girl could want!

Sofrito to Puerto Ricans is like oxygen to human beings.  The minute it hits the hot oil the onions, garlic and herbs open up.  There is always a head jerk reaction when a Hispanic smells this blend cooking!  It will perfume your home like nothing else.  As with most recipes this fragrant condiment is best homemade although it can be found jarred in most grocery stores in the international section.  If you try this recipe I’m pretty sure you’ll be adding it to many of your dishes.  Enjoy!

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Sofrito

  • Servings: 3-4 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 very large onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 heads of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cubanelle peppers, seeded and white inner ribs trimmed off, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, tough stems cut off, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch culantro, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh oregano leaves, (optional)
  1. Add the onion to a food processor or blender and process until it becomes a thick, smooth paste.
  2. Add the garlic cloves and pulse until almost smooth.
  3. Add all the remaining ingredients and process until smooth and the cilantro and culantro are lovely green specks.
  4. Store in individual portions in the freezer.  I portion the sofrito and store it in air tight baggies but ice-cube trays also work well after transferring the frozen cubes to an air tight freezer bag.

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Bacon Jam with Spiced Rum

Lately I’ve been leaning towards simple but satisfying weekend dinners.  I find Saturdays can be exhausting, whether one is grocery shopping, making Home Depot and dry cleaning runs or staying home to spend the day doing yard work.  I always seem to bite off more than I can chew  and pay dearly for it hours later with sore muscles or Sunday morning when the alarm goes off at 6:15 to get ready for 7:30 mass.  No, weekends aren’t always the restful breaks we want them to be.  In order to make life easier and keep my family happy, I often prepare some sort of grilled sandwich or panino, served with a salad and some fruit, for dinner at the end of the week.  This stuff makes a sandwich absolutely sing.  The jam may be cooked in a crock pot or stove top.  I feel the crock pot just makes the entire process foolproof plus one doesn’t need to check on it every half hour to make certain it’s not too dry or, worse yet, burning.  But it’s up to you as either way yields a gorgeous product.   On Thursday I prepared this bacon jam and we enjoyed it over the weekend.  Saturday night I roasted brussel sprouts  and tossed them mid-roast with a few spoonfuls of the jam.  I’m sorry to say they were so good they were eaten before I could snap a photo.  You’ll just have to take my word they were fantastic!  I made grilled cheese sandwiches with Monterey jack cheese on a rich, dark whole-grain bread and spread both slices of bread liberally with a swath of bacon jam.  They were delicious served with the brussel sprouts and cold apple slices.

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For the Super Bowl game I kept my people entertained by giving them bacon jam palmiers made from store-bought puff pastry.  They were gone before you could say, “lickety-split”.  I spread the jam evenly over each sheet of puff pastry, rolled up the sides, sliced them with dental floss and baked them off.  What a luxury!  Even easier is to only roll one side and you’ll have pinwheels instead of palmiers.

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Monday morning as my son headed off to work I surprised him with the same grain bread toasted, bacon jam on both pieces of bread and a fried, organic egg nestled in the middle.  That’s some kind of treat, huh?  I hope you try this recipe.  I’m pretty sure you’ll find plenty of ways to enjoy it…including directly off the spoon!

Bacon Jam with Spiced Rum

  • Servings: 2 1/2 to 3 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 1/2 pounds thick sliced bacon, if the package is a few ounces less that’s fine
  • 2 cups yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/3 cup spiced rum, I use Captain Morgan
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup, I use dark amber
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 packed cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup strong brewed coffee
  • 1/8 teaspoon or 1 large pinch of red pepper flakes
  1. In a large skillet cook bacon over medium high heat until the bacon is crisp but not burned.  Transfer the bacon to drain on paper towels and drain the pan of all but 3-4 tablespoons of bacon grease.
  2. Lower the heat to medium and return the pan to the heat.  Add the onion and garlic to the skillet and cook until the onion begins to soften and turn clear.
  3. To the pan add all of the remaining ingredients except the red pepper flakes and stir until all the ingredients are well mixed and any browned bits of bacon are loosened and combined.
  4. Crumble the bacon by hand directly into the onion mixture and stir well.
  5. If cooking in a crock pot, transfer the mixture to your slow cooker.  Set the temperature to high and allow to simmer uncovered for 3 1/2-4 hours.  The liquid should be somewhat syrupy.
  6. If cooking stove-top drop the heat to low and allow to simmer for 2 hours uncovered.  Check the pan every 30 minutes and stir.  If the mixture is sticking to the bottom of the pan lower the heat a bit and add 1-2 tablespoons of water.
  7. From the crock pot or the pan transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender or use an immersion blender and pulse until the jam still has texture and a few small chunks.  Try not to over-blend.
  8. Allow to cool 30 minutes, add the red pepper flakes and stir well to combine.
  9. Spoon into clean jam jars and cool completely before storing in the refrigerator.
  10. The jam will keep 2-3 weeks stored in the refrigerator.

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Spicy Asian Peanut Dressing

With autumn settling in I am ready to bulk up.  Give me a salad with lacinato kale and Napa cabbage.  I want peppery sprouts, sweet shredded carrots and savory red onion.  No longer does a light lime vinaigrette dressed on romaine cut it.  This girl’s hungry and I have the perfect dressing to tame my runaway appetite.  My spicy asian peanut dressing marries well with the heft, sometimes tough and often leathery texture of kale and cabbage.  And when it starts getting dark at 5:30 in the evening I’m ready to tuck into an enormous salad topped with an organic grilled chicken breast or a spicy jerked Mahi filet.  The dressing keeps well for a week.  It’s also superb over cool noodles with grilled or raw vegetables or as a dip for meat or chicken.  Children love it but if you are serving it to little ones, definitely scale back on the chili oil as it packs some great heat. Gosh, I almost forgot.  All these products can be found in the Asian section of your grocery store.  Please, please try the fish sauce.  If you’ve not tried it before know it smells bad.  Really bad.  But only in the bottle.  You don’t taste it at all in the dressing but it adds a depth, a level of flavor that you expect in a quality restaurant peanut dressing.  Without fish sauce this dressing is flat and one-dimensional.  So go for it and enjoy!

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Spicy Asian Peanut Dressing

  • Servings: 1 1/2 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter, I use one with no additives what so ever
  • 2-3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoons plus 3 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 teaspoons hot chili oil
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
  • salt to taste
  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor, blender or Magic Bullet and pulse until mixture is completely smooth.
  2. Refrigerate until ready to use.  Allow to sit out at room temperature for 10-15 minutes if dressing thickens too much in the refrigerator.

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Fig and White Wine Jam

Yay! Fresh figs have hit the grocery stores and I, for one, am thrilled.  The season is short so I grab them when I see them.  I’ll figure out what I’m going to do with them later.  My father’s father, Grandpa, used to put up different jams, though as a child I remember looking at a bubbling pot of figs and being completely grossed out.  All those little seeds, millions of them…not going in my mouth!  However, now that same memory of the same simmering pot is beautiful.  And when sunlight hits those pretty, little jars of jars of jam they sparkle like Burmese rubies.  I don’t have Grandpa’s recipe and that’s okay because I’m pretty certain he didn’t use one.  Just kind of eyeballed it.   This fig jam is gorgeous and easy plus it’s one of those recipes that works well simmering it less time or longer depending on the consistency you want.  I enjoy my jam thick and chunky so I simmer it longer.

 

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The white wine brings another fruity note to the pot.  I use a Sauvignon Blanc but that’s what I drink.  Feel free to use any good white wine you have on hand.  The alcohol will burn off after its long simmer so there’s no need to concern yourself there.  With the jam I had prepared I served fontina, fig jam and honey panini for dinner…with a sprinkle of fresh thyme leaves.  OMG.  Alongside a big salad of baby greens, my boys were more than happy.  Enjoy!

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Fig and White Wine Jam

  • Servings: approximately 7 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 4 pounds fresh figs, stemmed and cut into 1/4″ pieces.  I used equal amounts of Brown Turkey and Kadota figs
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup white wine, I like a Sauvignon Blanc
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice
  1. In a large non-reactive pot place the cut figs and both sugars.  Toss lightly and let sit for 20-30 minutes so that the fruit will let out its juices.
  2. When the sugar has dissolved in the juices of the figs add the white wine and lemon juice.
  3. Simmer the jam, uncovered, over moderately low heat.  You’ll see slow, fat bubbles, you don’t want a furious boil.  Cook until the fruit syrup is thick and the figs are soft and have fallen apart, about 60-90 minutes.  I go for 2 hours as I like my jam thick.
  4. Spoon the jam into clean jars, leaving 1/4″ space at the top.  Close the lids tightly and allow to cool completely before storing in the refrigerator.
  5. Keeps well in the refrigerator 2 months.

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Citrus and Coconut Vinaigrette, your new favorite summer salad dressing

This is the summer of counting my blessings.  It’s a stay-at-home kind of summer.  And that’s okay!  I recently found myself thinking, “I wish we could go someplace a little bit cooler.  Eat buckets of rich food and wash it down with gallons of local wine.  Maybe do a bit of shopping after seeing the sights…”.  There were loud notes of complaint in that daydream and I had to remind myself that I am darn fortunate exactly where I am.  Even if it’s not the most exciting place.  Mama taught me that lesson a very long time ago; a lesson she learned when she was a little girl in Puerto Rico.  My mother’s family lived in a town called Fajardo, pronounced fah-HAR-do, on an enormous piece of land my grandfather inherited from his father who, in turn, inherited it from his father, etcetera, etcetera.  Mama had four sisters and five brothers and her mother ran a smooth household.  My grandfather, whom we affectionately called “Papa Pepe”, tolerated no misbehavior from my uncles although they all had near fatal adventures never known to him.  The boys all had their own horses and rode through the fields and stream on their land.  They chased animals, had races, swam, played Zorro and indulged in all usual hijinks of young boys.

My uncle, Tio Hector, playing Zorro. He was 17 at the time.
My uncle, Tio Hector, playing Zorro. He was 17 at the time.

The girls, on the other hand, were almost housebound.  My mother and aunts could read and do needlework.  They played with china dolls, sang songs and made up skits under the shade of mahogany trees.  One day my mother found herself standing alone in the house, looking out of a large window onto a splendid meadow.  Mama said the sun was shining, the grasses were green and there were butterflies.  Under the butterflies was a little boy, dancing and skipping, the happiest ever.  It was Miguelito, the youngest of Pedro, my grandfather’s driver, and Angelina, who helped my grandmother with the children.  My mother was  entranced….such freedom…such happiness!  Standing at the window she thought, “Oh, how I wish I was Miguelito!”.  She stayed looking out of the window until long after he was gone.  When suddenly came Miguelito’s mother, Angelina flying around the corner of the house, leather belt in hand, all the while roaring, “Miguelito! Ven aca!  Te voy a dar!  Miguelito!”, “Get over here! You’re gonna get it!”.  Crystal clear was the realization Mama had at exactly that moment that you never know what life has for you or anyone at any given moment.  Life can change on a dime.  She was practically limp with relief that she wasn’t, and never would be, that little boy, Miguelito,  whose happiness would end as soon as the leather belt his mother was waving around struck his scrawny legs.  This was what I told myself when I started grousing about not going away for the summer.  This was what I told myself when I whined about not being in Greece or France or England.  I quickly reminded myself of the beautiful neighborhood I live in and see every morning when I workout.  I thought of afternoon dips in our pool, wearing flip-flops every waking moment of the day, summer hours with girlfriends and cool drinks and foods we savor day in and day out.  No.  I’m blessed beyond belief that I have all this and more.  I’m happy to munch on mountains of cold, crisp salads, refreshing myself with tervis tumbler after tervis tumbler packed with ice and coconut water and doing this in my beautiful home.  Because life is very, very good.

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This salad dressing is a marvel.  Whether it’s plain field greens you are dressing or the combination of arugula and shaved fennel, this dressing will be a summer favorite.  The coconut oil will solidify as it is kept  in the refrigerator so I portion out the amount I’ll be using when I want it.  I allow it to come to room temperature on the counter or gently zap it in the microwave to liquify the coconut oil.  The dressing may be prepared with fresh orange and lemon juice or with just fresh lemon juice.  It is extremely thin and runny but somehow works really well.  The citrus is like a tonic and the coconut  oil gives the dressing a sweet smoothness like no other oil.  Every night I heap this salad on my dinner plate and I am happy, happy.  Hope you like it!

Citrus and Coconut Vinaigrette

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 2 navel oranges, juiced
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, can be found at the grocery store
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Combine all ingredients in blender or magic bullet and blend until smooth.
  2. Taste for any needed salt or pepper and adjust as needed.
  3. Bring to room temperature to liquify coconut oil before serving.

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