Mexican Red Wine Cooler with Fresh Lime

No, you’re not imagining things- there have been a lot of alcoholic beverages around here lately.  And that trend is going to continue through next week.  After that, I’m cutting myself off for a bit.  But until then, let the good times roll…

This refreshing red wine cooler is like sangria’s slightly ghetto cousin.  But what it lacks in sophistication it makes up for in terms of ease and speed- the only additions to the wine are a fresh lime juice syrup and some sparkling water.  You’ll easily be able to make a batch in minutes.  And if you choose a fruity red, it’s actually very reminiscent of a Cape Codder.

Mexican Red Wine Cooler with Fresh Lime

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients:

* 3/4 cup fresh lime juice
* 3/4 cup sugar
* 1/4 cup water
* 3 cups red wine
* 1 cup sparkling water
* ice
* slices of lime for garnish (optional)

Directions:

Combine the lime juice, sugar and water in a pitcher and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the red wine and sparkling water and stir gently to combine. Pour over ice and garnish with a slice of lime, if desired.

Mexican Gorditas Stuffed with Poblano Peppers and Queso Fresco

When friends saw these they seemed surprised that gorditas were a real Mexican thing and not just a Taco Bell thing.  But these are clearly not what you’re going to get at your local Taco Bell.  In this version freshly made masa cakes create a crispy corn pillow that gets stuffed with roasted poblano peppers and queso fresco in a light tomato sauce.  Yes, there’s some deep-frying involved, but the vegetarian filling keeps them from being too heavy.

Making the masa cakes is a multi-step process, but it’s not overly complicated.  First they’re dry toasted on the stove before getting deep-fried.  Although I first rolled them out to 1/8 of an inch, per Rick Bayless’s instructions, I found that thicker cakes had more success puffing open.  So aim for cakes about 1/4- to 1/3 of an inch.

Mexican Gorditas Stuffed with Poblano Peppers and Queso Fresco

Ingredients:

Gorditas:
* 1-3/4 cups instant corn masa (I’ve always used the Maseca brand)
* 1-1/4 cup water, plus extra if needed
* 2 Tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/3 cup rice flour
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* Oil to a depth of 3/4 inch, for frying

Filling:
* 1 can diced tomatoes in their juice
* 4 large Poblano peppers (also called Pasilla in some parts), roasted*, peeled, seeded and cut into thin strips
* 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
* 2 cups crumbled queso fresco
* salt and pepper

Directions:

Combine the corn masa with the 1-1/4 cups of water in a large bowl, mix, and let sit aside for for about 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting, prepare the filling. In a blender or food processor, blend the tomatoes until smooth. Strain through a medium-mesh sieve into a medium saucepan. Add the peppers and broth and cook over medium heat until the tomato and broth liquid has reduced to a light coating on the peppers. Remove from heat, stir in the cheese and then add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Add the lard, salt, rice flour and baking powder to the masa harina mix. Mix until the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Add just enough water so that when you take a ball of the dough in your hands and press it down firmly, it doesn’t crack around the edges. Roll the dough into 12 balls of the same size.

Preheat a large skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat. Take one of the portions of masa dough and put between two pieces of waxed paper. Press the dough into a circle about 3-4-inches in diameter and about 1/4 to 1/3 of an inch thick. Remove from the waxed paper and place in the preheated pan. Repeat with as many as can fit in your pan. Cook on one side until browned and crispy, about two to three minutes. Flip and repeat on the other side. Remove to a cooling rack and repeat with the rest of the dough.

Heat the oil to 375 and drop a couple gorditas into the oil. Fry until golden and the two sides of the cakes have separated and puffed open. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels.

When ready to serve cut a small opening along the perimeter of the masa cake and spoon in some of the pepper and queso fresco filling, Serve immediately.

Basque Bacon, Red Pepper and Potato Tortilla

Although smoothies are my go-to breakfast on the weekdays I have been known to make what I call an epic breakfast or brunch on weekends.  There are three requirements I have for the meal to garner an epic rating.  The first requirement is an egg dish- I usually make a scramble.  The second requirement is some sort of breakfast meat, like sausage or bacon.  And the third requirement is a potato dish, like home fries or hash browns.

So I was pretty much guaranteed to like this tortilla, or open-faced omelet, which knocked off all my epic requirements in a single dish.

Combining the eggs, meat and potatoes into one dish doesn’t necessarily make things any quicker or easier, but it does ensure that everything is all hot and ready at the same time.  In addition, you’re sure to have any leftovers in the perfect combination.  Great as a one-dish meal, or would be a pretty addition to brunch.

Basque Bacon, Red Pepper and Potato Tortilla, Adapted from several sources, most notably Bon Appetit

* 4 Tablespoons olive oil, divided (plus extra, if needed)
* 2 red peppers, cut into thin strips
* 1/2 medium onion, cut into thin strips
* 1 medium potato, peeled and cut into small 1/2-inch cubes
* 6 eggs, beaten
* 4 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
* chopped parsley for garnish

Heat 2 Tablespoons oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the red pepper strips and onion and saute until tender.  Remove and set aside.  Add the remaining 2 Tablespoons of oil and the potato cubes and cook until browned and crispy.

Preheat the broiler.  Evenly distribute the potatoes around the skillet, adding extra oil, if necessary, to coat the skillet.  Add the eggs and peppers and cook without stirring until the bottom begins to brown, about three minutes.  Cover and cook an additional three minutes… the top of the eggs may not be set at this point.  Remove from heat and sprinkle the crumbled bacon across the surface.  Place under the broiler for several minutes, until the top of the tortilla is set and is beginning to brown.  Remove from under broiler and sprinkle with parsley.

Cut into wedges and serve.

Serves two to three as a one-course breakfast, or four to six as a brunch item with other sides.

Potatoes and Peas in Green Sauce

Part side, part soup, this potato dish is simple and satisfying.  It’s also a pretty good indication for how things are going to be around here these next two weeks.  Meaning: short ingredient lists with common items. It’s something of a detox for somebody like me who leans towards super spiced cuisines like Sri Lankan and Moroccan.

Potatoes and peas have always been a favorite combo of mine although I usually have them as a heavy side (mashed potatoes and peas) to an even heavier meat main course (meatloaf).  This dish is much better suited for summer eating; the broth is light and surprisingly flavorful and the parsley keeps things nice and fresh.

Apparently Basque people often garnish their dishes with wedges of hard-boiled eggs.  If you’d like to make this a one-dish meal, feel free to adjust the recipe to allow for one egg (or more) per serving.

Potatoes and Peas in a Green Sauce

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

* 1/4 cup olive oil
* 1 medium onion, minced
* 2 cloves garlic
* 4 large potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
* approx 4 cups water
* salt
* 1-1/2 cup peas (fresh or frozen)
* 1/4 cup chopped parsley
* pepper
* 2 hard boiled eggs, cut into wedges (optional)

Directions:

In a large saucepan heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and saute the onions and garlic until they are beginning to brown. Add the potatoes and stir to coat. Cook for 2-3 minutes.

Add just enough water to cover the potatoes, about 4 cups. Salt lightly and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the potatoes are just tender. Stir in the peas and parsley and cook until the peas are heated through. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.

Ladle into shallow individual serving bowls and garnish with a couple wedges of hard-boiled egg.

Poached Pears in a Spiced Honey Syrup

I definitely gravitate towards heavier (read: more fattening) desserts like cake, cookies, ice cream, brownies, etc., etc., but fruit desserts are the more common way to end a meal in Morocco.

These poached pears are relatively simple to prepare but are a pretty and elegant way to follow a heavy Moroccan dinner.  Spiced with ginger, cinnamon and cardamom with just a little bit of honey, they’re also a relatively healthy dessert.  Although if I had my way, I’d be serving these pears with a generous scoop of ice cream.

Poached Pears in  Spiced Honey Syrup, Adapted from Modern Moroccan: Ancient Traditions, Contemporary Cooking

* 3 Tablespoons honey
* 3 Tablespoons lemon juice
* 1 cup water
* 1 cinnamon stick
* 1 cardamom pod, smashed
* 2 thin sliced fresh ginger
* 4 pears

Combine the honey and lemon juice in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Stir to dissolve the honey and then add the water, cinnamon, cardamom and ginger and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes.

Peel the pears but leave the stalks intact.  Add the pears to the saucepan and simmer, turning the pears regularly, until soft, about 20-25 minutes.  If the syrup is gets too thick and dry while cooking, add a couple Tablespoons of water.

Leave the pears to cool in the syrup and serve at room temperature either plan or with vanilla ice cream.

Serves four.

Passion Fruit Ice Cream

When life gives you egg yolks, make some ice cream.  That’s my new motto.  I had a bunch of leftover egg yolks in the fridge from making pavlova earlier in the week and so making some ice cream was a no-brainer.   I also had wanted to make something with passion fruit, since it’s so common in Australia, especially in desserts.  So passion fruit ice cream it was.

Most passion fruit recipes call for frozen pulp; my local Latin market had run out and only the juice concentrate was available.  But the juice worked just fine.  The ice cream ended up smooth, creamy, fragrant and pleasantly tart.  I think sherbet fans would really like this one.

Passion Fruit Ice Cream

Ingredients:

* 2 cups heavy cream
* 1/2 cup milk
* 1 cup sugar
* 5 large egg yolks (or 6 medium egg yolks)
* 1-1/2 cups passion fruit juice concentrate, divided

Directions:

Combine the heavy cream, milk, sugar and 1/2 cup of the passion fruit juice in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is warm.

Place the yolks in a small bowl and, while whisking constantly, add about 1/4 cup of the cream mixture to the eggs and stir until smooth. Gradually add the yolk mixture to the saucepan, again whisking constantly.

Cook, stirring often, until the mixture coats a wooden spoon. Place the remaining passion fruit juice in a large bowl and pour the custard mixture through a fine sieve into the passion fruit juice. Let cool to room temperature and then cover and chill in the refrigerator overnight.

Freeze in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Moroccan Spiced Carrot Soup

I know, I know.  For a girl who claims she doesn’t really like carrots, I sure post a lot of carrot recipes around here.  But this soup was so fresh tasting and easy that I just had to include it.  Plus, I have a feeling that the next couple weeks will be rather dessert and booze-centric so I wanted to get as many healthy items up before the nutritional value of this blog takes a major nosedive.

I usually make carrot soups with coconut milk, but keeping it out of this one really allows the carrot flavor to shine.  Which is good… even for those people who claim to be on the fence about carrots.

Moroccan Spiced Carrot Soup

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

* 2 Tablespoons butter
* 1 medium onion, chopped
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
* 1 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
* 2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
* 1 Tablespoon honey
* 1 teaspoon lemon juice
* 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
* salt and pepper
* 1/2 cup yogurt
* chopped cilantro

Directions:

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened. Add the garlic, ginger and cumin and cook another minute. Add the carrots, stir, and cook another 2-3 minutes.

Add the broth, bring to a boil and then reduce heat, cover and simmer until the carrots are soft, about 20 minutes. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Add the honey, lemon juice, and allspice and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle into individual soup bowls and add a dollop of yogurt and then sprinkle with cilantro.

Kiwi-Strawberry Pavlova

Don’t worry my Kiwi friends, I’m not taking sides on the whether Australia or New Zeland invented pavlova.  Consider me Switzerland.  I also fully intend on making more pavlova when I make my way to New Zealand.

After all, who wouldn’t want as much as they can get?  Topped with fresh fruit and a large pillow of whipped cream, these crispy meringue shells give way to a chewy interior.  So so good.

They take awhile to cook, but they otherwise get high marks for convenience, adaptability, and looks.  You can make them ahead of time and just store them in an airtight container until you’re ready to use them.  A bunch of cookbooks state they’ll keep for up to a week.  That might be true but I didn’t have the opportunity to find out if it’s true since they only lasted a couple days around here.  And if kiwifruit and strawberries aren’t your thing, use any fruit that floats your boat.

Kiwi-Strawberry Pavlova

Ingredients:

Pavlova:
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar (optional)
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Toppings:
1 pound strawberries, washed, stemmed, and sliced
3 kiwifruit, peeled and sliced
Whipped cream for topping

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Using an electric mixer, whip the egg whites on low speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar, if using, and the salt and increase the mixer speed to high and beat until the whites hold droopy peaks when you lift the beaters.

Keeping the mixer running, gradually add the sugar, vanilla, vinegar and cornstarch and keep beating until the mixture is shiny and holds stiff peaks.

Drop the meringue into 6 equal mounds on the parchment paper. Use a wet spoon to create nest-like circles with slightly raised edges.

Bake in the preheated oven for 1-1/2 hours. Turn off the heat and keep the meringues in the oven for an additional hour. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

Top with sliced strawberries, sliced kiwifruit and a large dollop of whipped cream.

Grilled Fish Wrapped in Grape Leaves with Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce posted

Here’s another food on a stick recipe for you guys, although this one is a little more fancy-pants than the kind I usually post around here.  But don’t worry, there’s nothing too difficult going on here.  Firm chunks of fish get a quick soak in chermoula, a marinade common in Northern Africa, before getting wrapped in grape leaves and cooked quickly on the grill.

Although they’re pretty tasty just like that, these little packets of fish goodness become extra special when paired with the sweet and sour dipping sauce.  Even if you don’t want to go through the trouble of hunting down grape leaves, definitely try the marinated fish with the sweet and sour sauce.  It’s bright, flavorful and easy to adapt to your desired level of heat.I ended up using shutome (swordfish) and nairagi (striped marlin), but I’m sure any firm white or pale fish would work well here.

Grilled Fish Wrapped in Vine Leaves with Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

* about 15-25 preserved grape leaves

* 1 1/2 pounds firm white fish fillets, skinned and boned
* 6-8 wooden skewers, soaked

Chermoula Marinade:
* Small bunch cilantro, finely chopped
* 3 cloves garlic, minced
* 1 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1/4 cup olive oil
* 3 Tablespoons lemon juice
* 1/2 teaspoon salt

Dipping Sauce:
* 1/4 cup lemon juice
* 1/3 cup sugar
* Pinch saffron threads
* 1 onion, very finely chopped
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1/2” piece fresh ginger, grated
* 2 hot chili peppers, minced (seed the peppers if you’d like a more mild sauce)
* Small bunch cilantro, minced
* Small bunch mint, minced

Directions:

Blend the chermoula ingredients in a blender or food processor and set aside.

Rinse the vine leaves and let them soak in cold water.

Cut the fish into small chunks, place in a large bowl and coat with the chermoula marinade. Place in the refrigerator and let marinate for an hour.

Prepare the dipping sauce by heating the lemon juice and the sugar in a small saucepan over high heat and stir until dissolved. Bring to a boil and let boil for about a minute. Remove from heat, let cool and then add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Drain the vine leaves and place one flat on a kitchen work surface. Place a piece of fish in the center and wrap up the fish into a small packet (note: if the vine leaves are very big, cut into smaller pieces or in half…you want the leaves just large enough to wrap once around the fish with a little overlap to seal. You don’t want multiple layers of grape leaves around the fish as it changes the taste and texture of the dish… things get a little too chewy and the flavor of the grape leaves start to dominate).

Thread the fish packets onto the wooden skewers and repeat with the remaining fish and grape leaves.

Heat the grill to high heat and cook the kebobs for 2-3 minutes on each side. Serve immediately with the sweet and sour dipping sauce.

Djaj Matisha Mesla- Moroccan Chicken with Tomatoes and Honey

I sure have had a bunch of really good chicken lately.  Just in the past couple weeks alone there’s been the Sri Lankan black chicken curry with roasted spices, the spicy cashew coconut chicken, and now this gem.

In this Moroccan tangine, boneless chicken enjoys a nice, slow simmer until it’s falling apart tender and the tomatoes break down into a thick, rich sauce spiced with ginger, cinnamon, saffron, honey and harissa.  Toasted, blanched almonds and sesame seeds top the dish to give it some crunch. I kept this recipe family friendly, but feel free to double the amount of harissa if you’d like a little extra heat.

If there are any fans of Persian food out there, this dish was very reminiscent of chicken fesenjan, an Iranian chicken dish with pomegranate and walnuts.  I’m sure I’ll be making that dish again to post for you guys when I head back to the Middle East.  Until then, this is one darn tasty substitute.

Djaj Matisha Mesla- Moroccan Chicken with Tomatoes and Honey

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients:

* 1-1/2 – 2 pounds boneless chicken (I used a mixture of breasts and thighs)
* 3 Tablespoons olive oil
* 1 large onion, sliced very very thinly, and then roughly chopped
* 4 cups canned diced tomatoes, in their juice
* 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
* 1 teaspoon cinnamon
* 1/2 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
* salt and pepper
* 3 Tablespoons honey
* 1 teaspoon harissa
* 1 cup blanched almonds, chopped and pan toasted
* 2-3 Tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Directions:

Heat the oil in a stockpot or dutch oven over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and brown on each side. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until the onion has softened. Add the tomatoes, ginger, cinnamon, crushed saffron, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper and stir to combine.

Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for one hour. Remove cover and cook, until the tomatoes have begun to break down and most of the tomato juice has evaporated. Stir in the honey and harissa and cook until heated through.

Remove from heat, put chicken on a serving plate and sprinkle with the blanched almonds and toasted sesame seeds.