Choros à la Chalaca- Peruvian Mussels with Corn Salsa

Mussel lovers, meet your new favorite party appetizer.  I’m not even that much of a mussel fan, but when I saw photos of these pretty Peruvian dish, I knew I had to make it.  Mussels get topped with a fresh and simple corn salsa and served on the half shell.  They’re simple, tastes great and are one heck of an attractive dish, if I do say so myself.

Most Choros à la Chalaca recipes call for fresh, live mussels or frozen, pre-cooked mussels on the half-shell.  I thought I’d bought the latter, but as it turns out, the New Zealand mussels I’d bought were actually uncooked.  I popped them in the oven per the instructions on the box, but steaming is more traditional, and probably better, way to cook them (I wrote out the instructions below using the steaming method).

And although serving them on the half shell is clearly the most photogenic way to serve the mussels, you can also pop everything into a large bowl if you’re short on space or need to take the dish to-go.  In that case, you can either leave the mussels whole, or give them a rough chop for more even distribution and smaller bites.

Choros à la Chalaca- Peruvian Mussels with Corn Salsa

Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

* 24 New Zealand greenshell Mussels, defrosted in the refrigerator if using the pre-cooked frozen variety
* 1 corn cob, shucked
* 1/2 red onion, diced
* 2 Jalapeno chile peppers, seeded and diced
* 1-2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
* 2-3 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
* salt and pepper
* lime wedges to serve (optional)

Directions:

Scrub and de-beard the mussels. Discard any that are open and do not close when tapped. Place in a large pan with a thin layer of water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover and cook for about 4-5 minutes until the shells have opened. Drain the mussels (you can save the liquid for seafood stock) and discard any that failed to open. When cool enough to handle, remove one side of each shell and cut the mussel away from the bottom shell to loosen it. Omit these steps if using frozen, pre-cooked mussels.

In a large covered pot, boil the corn for 8-10 minutes. Remove from water and let cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, slice off the kernels. Place the corn in a bowl with the onion, chile peppers, parsley, lime juice and salt and pepper. Let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

Arrange the mussels on a serving plate or platter. Scoop a little of the corn salsa on top of each mussel and serve with lime wedges on the side (optional).

The Fruity Root – Pear, Parsnip and Lime Juice

Is it just me or are parsnips having something of a moment right now?  I never gave much attention to these root vegetables (which I always imagined to be bland, anemic versions of carrots) until very recently.  But just in the past couple months I’ve had them pureed as a side dish at a fancy-pants dinner party and seen them featured at one of my favorite downtown Honolulu gourmet lunch spots.  Bland and boring they are not.

And now I find out that they’re an excellent juice ingredient as well.  Combined with pears, they create a mellow, sweet and thick juice that’s almost smoothie-like (and dare I say, quite photogenic).  A touch of lime adds brightness and a touch of acidity.   If you’re getting adventurous and want to start branching out from strictly fruit juices, this is a good one to try.

The Fruity Root – Pear, Parsnip and Lime Juice

Yield: 1-2 servings

Ingredients:

* 2 pears, washed and quartered
* 2 parsnips, washed, ends trimmed, and cut into several pieces
* 3-4 calamansi limes

Directions:

Process the ingredients through a juicer. Serve immediately over ice.

Roasted Cauliflower with Spicy Tomato Sauce

For many years the only way you’d catch me eating cauliflower was if it was drenched in gooey, processed cheese sauce. Although I warmed up to broccoli pretty early in my tween years, I considered cauliflower boring and unworthy of my time, attention and limited space in my tummy until somewhat recently.

And while I still prefer most other roasted vegetables in their naked state, roasted cauliflower turns into quite the showstopper when topped with a bright, Indian tomato sauce.  It’s a colorful, healthy and unique dish that is simple to make but packs a spicy punch.

If you’re truly heat adverse, you can remove some of the seeds in the Serrano chile pepper or cut back on the cayenne pepper.  But remember, the cauliflower is mild, and there’s plenty of vegetable to balance out the heat in the sauce.

Roasted Cauliflower with Spicy Tomato Sauce

Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

* 1 head cauliflower, washed and cut into large florets
* 3 Tablespoons olive oil, for extra for drizzling
* 1-inch piece fresh, peeled and grated ginger
* 3 cloves garlic, minced
* 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1 teaspoon ground coriander
* 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
* 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
* 1 Serrano chile pepper, quartered lenthwise
* 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
* salt and pepper
* 3 Tablespoons chopped cilantro

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a rimmed baking mat with parchment paper. Spread the cauliflower florets in a single layer and drizzle with olive oil. Toss to coat. Roast for 15-20 minutes, or until the cauliflower begins to brown.

While the cauliflower is roasting, prepare the spicy tomato sauce. Heat 3 Tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying or saute pan over medium-high heat and add the ginger and garlic. Cook, stirring, for a minute or two. Add the cumin, coriander, and turmeric and cook, stirring frequently, until very fragrant, about two minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the tomatoes and all of the juice from the can, chile pepper, and cayenne. Simmer until the tomatoes are cooked and use the back of a wooden spoon to mash the tomatoes to break them down into a chunky sauce. Add the cilantro and cook for another minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Place the roasted broccoli florets onto a serving plate and top with the spicy tomato sauce. Serve immediately.

Bittersweet and White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Bittersweet and white chocolate chip cookies… because sometimes you just need a cookie.  And not some overpriced, packaged, gritty gluten-free cookie, but one hot from the oven oozing with melted chocolate with crispy edges and a soft, chewy center.  A cookie that people have to ask whether they’re truly gluten-free because, according to them, they look and taste like a regular cookie.
Although I’m not sure whether I should I be flattered or offended by the question/statement because I’d like to think they taste a whole lot better than “regular” cookies.  These are a slight variation from my regular chocolate chip cookies… I subbed some white chocolate for the milk chocolate chips but stuck with my usual ratio of 50% butter and 50% shortening.

I made note of this before in my top tips for gluten-free baking post, but it’s absolutely essential to use superfine rice flour for all your gluten-free baking.  You can find superfine rice flour at Asian markets; I’ve also heard good things about the Authentic Foods brand rice flour.   Trust me, your taste buds will thank you and your baked goods will finally taste just like their wheat-based counterparts.
Update:  after I posted these I got an email from Notebook Noise’s Thaddeus James about a super sweet song he sings about baking chocolate chip cookies with his daughter.  The song is, appropriately enough, named Cookies.  Food  blog marketing- gotta love it 🙂  Anyways, here’s the link if you guys are interested- you can listen and download it for free.  The chorus, when his 9-year old daughter joins in, is pretty much guaranteed to make you smile… and make you want to make a batch of cookies or two.  
Bittersweet and White Chocolate Chip Cookie

* 1/2 cup butter
* 1/2 cup shortening (I use Spectrum Organic, which is trans fat-free)
* 1 cup sugar
* 1/2 cup brown sugar
* 2 large eggs
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1 cup rice flour
* 3/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon potato starch
* 3/4 cup sorghum flour
* 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
* 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
* 1 cup chopped white chocolate (or high quality white baking chips)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly grease a cookie sheet or line with a Silpat baking mat.

Beat butter, shortening and sugars until well combined.  Add the eggs and vanilla extract and mix until smooth. Add the rice flour, potato starch, sorghum flour, baking soda, xanthan gum and salt and mix until thoroughly combined.  Add the chocolate chips and chopped white chocolate and stir until well incorporated.

Drop heaping teaspoons of dough onto the cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges turn a light golden brown.  Let cool for a minute or two on the cookie sheet and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes approximately three dozen generously-sized cookies.

Spicy Sweet and Sour Tamarind Shrimp

My mother commented not too long ago that I post a lot of shrimp recipes… and she’s totally right.  That’s because shrimp is inexpensive, festive, and quick-cooking.  And unlike a lot of seafood, it’s so easy to cook well.  In fact, many of my favorite meals are shrimp based: there’s been Basque Lemon Shrimp, Greek Shrimp with Feta, and Creamy Shrimp with Cilantro Stems, just to name a few.

This is recipe is definitely a keeper and it’ll be nice addition to my predominately legume-based South Asian meals.  The Jalapeno peppers and cayenne add a nice level of heat (those who dare can substitute Serrano peppers for the Jalapenos) while the tamarind adds a sour fruitiness to the dish.  You can find the tamarind paste at Asian markets and leftovers can always be used for Tamarind Ketchup, a great twist on a refrigerator staple.

Spicy Sweet and Sour Tamarind Shrimp

Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

* 3 Tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
* 1 large onion, diced
* 2 Jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1/2-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
* 1 teaspoon garam masala
* 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
* 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
* 1 cup diced tomatoes, drained
* 1/2 cup cooking tamarind (also called concentrate and/or paste)
* 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1-1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
* 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Directions:

Heat oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion and chile peppers and cook until nicely browned. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for about a minute. Add the garam masala, turmeric and cayenne and stir to coat. Cook until very fragrant, about a minute or two. Add the tomatoes and tamarind and cook until the tomatoes begin to break down and the sauce has thickened. Add the sugar, salt and shrimp. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp turns pink.

Stir in the cilantro leaves and serve.

Roasted Balasamic Strawberry Parfait

For years I’ve been hearing about how strawberries and balsamic are an amazing flavor combination.  And just recently came the slew of roasted strawberry recipes from food blogs, or food blogger cookbooks.  Since I’m behind the times on both, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone in order to get myself up to speed.  The result?  Balsamic roasted strawberries.

Strawberries get a quick soak in balsamic vinegar and black pepper and then roasted with brown sugar until just softened.  Layer them with Greek yogurt for an elegant brunch dish or with ice cream for an unusual dessert.

I went with the Greek yogurt route, but secretly wished I’d had some goat yogurt or goat ice cream on hand.  Sound weird?  Just think of the salad with strawberries, goat cheese and balsamic dressing… so so good.  I ended up throwing some crumbled fresh goat cheese on top, which definitely worked in a pinch.  Next time I’m pairing the strawberries with some Laloo’s or Redwood Hill Farm yogurt.

Note:  Argh… sorry for the typo in the title.  Unfortunately I’m going to have to keep it up there, since otherwise it’ll create a bunch of broken links around cyberspace.  Bummers.

Roasted Balsamic Strawberry Parfait

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

* 1 pound strawberries, cleaned and stems removed
* 2 Tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
* 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* 2 Tablespoons butter
* 2 Tablespoons lightly packed brown sugar
* 24-ounce container of plain Greek yogurt (or substitute ice cream, goat milk yogurt or goat milk ice cream)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the strawberries with the balsamic vinegar and black pepper. Let sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

Place the butter in a square baking dish or pie plate and place in the oven. Watch it carefully to make sure that the butter doesn’t burn. When the butter is melted, remove from the oven and transfer the strawberries and any of the accumulated juices to the dish. Sprinkle with the brown sugar and toss gently.

Put the strawberries in the oven and bake until the strawberries are soft and the liquid is syrupy. Remove from the oven and let cool. Slice the berries.

In four individual bowls or glasses, layer the strawberries with the Greek yogurt. Drizzle with the balsamic syrup.

Meyer Lemon and Ginger Spritzer

After reading Erika’s post yesterday about her Meyer lemon tree (so jealous!), I was inspired to share with you guys one of my favorite ways to use Meyer lemon juice.  I love ginger with just about any type of citrus and Meyer lemons are no exception.   What follows is more of a general guideline than a true recipe- play around with the ingredients to get your preferred level of tartness, spiciness and sweetness!

Meyer Lemon and Ginger Spritzer

Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients:

Ginger Syrup:
* 2 cups sugar
* 1-1/4 cups water
* several inches fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into thin rounds

Meyer Lemon and Ginger Spritzer:
* juice of one Meyer lemon
* ginger syrup
* sparkling water
* ice

Directions:

To make the ginger, syrup, combine the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer until the mixture has thickened slightly and is nice and syrupy. Let cool, transfer to a bottle and refrigerate.

To make the spritzer, combine the lemon juice, a small amount of ginger syrup and sparkling water and stir to mix. Taste and adjust the amount of syrup and/or sparkling water, if necessary. Add ice and serve immediately.

Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes with Fresh Strawberries

Over the past year or so ricotta has transitioned away from being something I use only in lasagna or stuffed shells to being a favorite baking ingredient.  Ricotta is an essential ingredient in Nonna’s Lemon-Ricotta Muffins and these Mini Ricotta Doughnuts with Bittersweet Chocolate and Salted Caramel Dipping Sauces, magically keeping things light and moist.

And they do the exact same thing here.  You know those pancakes that are so starchy and dry that you need a heavy dose of syrup to avoid cotton mouth?  Not a problem here.

A bit of lemon zest adds a nice, subtle lemon flavor.  I paired the pancakes with sliced strawberries, but fresh blueberries or homemade blueberry jam or syrup would also be an excellent match as well.

Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes with Fresh Strawberries

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

* 2/3 cup superfine rice flour
* 2/3 cup potato starch
* 1/4 cup tapioca starch
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1-1/2 cups buttermilk
* 2 eggs, separated
* 1/4 cup sugar
* 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
* zest from one lemon
* butter for frying
* pint strawberries, sliced

Directions:

In a large bowl whisk together the rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl combine the buttermilk, egg yolks, sugar, ricotta, and lemon zest. Add the buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until just blended.

Beat the eggs whites until they reach soft peaks. Gently fold the whites into the prepared mixture.

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Melt a pat of butter over the surface and ladle the batter onto the pan. Cook until bubbles appear and the edges have dried out a bit. Flip the pancakes over and cook until golden.

Transfer to a plate and top with sliced strawberries. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Gluten-Free Lemon Cupcakes Filled with Lemon Curd

I’ve professed my love for lemons here at least once or twice.  And you know the only thing that’s better than a bright, lemony cupcake?  A bright, lemony cupcake that’s filled with a delicious little secret.

It’s impossible to tell from looking at them that a dollop of sweet and tangy lemon curd is lurking under the swirl of frosting… it’s a great element of surprise.  I tried to refrain myself a bit by going with a basic vanilla frosting, but if you’d like to go totally overboard, lemon frosting would definitely be the way to go…

Gluten-Free Lemon Cupcakes Filled with Lemon Curd

Yield: one dozen cupcakes

Ingredients:

* 1 cup sugar
* 2 eggs
* 1/2 cup superfine rice flour
* 1/2 cup potato starch
* 1/4 cup tapioca starch
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
* 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
* 1/2 cup milk
* 1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract
* 2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
* lemon curd
* jar of prepared vanilla frosting

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place paper liners in a 12-well muffin pan.

Beat the sugar and eggs together. Add the rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, salt, baking powder, xanthan gum, oil, milk, lemon extract and lemon rind and beat for about a minute, making sure there are no pockets of dry ingredients.

Evenly distribute the batter among the cupcake wells. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the tops begin to turn golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Let cool for about five minutes in the pan and then remove to cool completely on a wire rack.

Use a pastry bag with a injector tip to fill the cupcakes with lemon curd* and then spread with your favorite prepared vanilla frosting.

* Note: if you don’t have a pastry bag with an injector tip, you can also use a cupcake corer or use a more basic method. Check out these instructions/tips for how to make a filled cupcake from Annie’s Eats.

Everyday Ginger Chai Syrup

I’m a big fan of  little food luxuries like artisan chocolates, real vanilla beans, or an excellent cup of gourmet coffee.  After all, what’s the saying?  Life’s too short for bad coffee?  Well, I think that goes for tea as well.

I love chai, but have found that the commercially available varieties (whether in powder, liquid concentrate, or tea bag form) fall short of my expectations.  The traditional method of simmering spices with tea is clearly the way to go, but who has time to do that every morning?

It finally occurred to me to make a spiced chai syrup to add to plain black of green tea.  You get all the complex spice of the traditional method but it won’t take any longer to make than your basic cup of tea.

Everyday Ginger Chai Syrup

Ingredients:

* 2 cups sugar
* 1-1/4 cup water
* 2-inch piece ginger, sliced into several pieces
* 4 pods cardamom, smashed
* 3 cloves
* 2 sticks cinnamon
* 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
* pinch salt

Directions:

Combine the ingredients in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer until is has thickened slightly. Let cool and then strain into a jar of bottle. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.