Monday, July 19, 2010

The Great Lime Massacre of 2010

It's summer time and it is particularly hot this year. In order to cool off, I tend to drink tons of water and eat ice cream. But I've grown tired of ice cream. It's hard to believe, right? I mean, unless you don't care for it in the first place, who honestly gets sick of ice cream? I couldn't make sense of what I was saying until I thought about cool, creamy alternatives that are just as delicious in the summer. One of the first things that came to mind was Key Lime Pie.

Being the specific breed of Elle that I am, I often think things are more complicated than they really are and the recipe for Key Lime Pie was no exception. Here I was thinking that I'd have to make a curd filling and pray to goodness that it doesn't come out grainy. Uh huh. Turns out this is one of the easiest recipes on the planet. I got my recipe from and added my own twists (of course). The ingredients go something like this:

For crust:
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs from 9 (2 1/4-inch by 4 3/4-inch) crackers
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For filling:
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh or bottled Key lime juice (if using bottled, preferably Manhattan brand)

For topping:
3/4 cup chilled heavy cream
2 Tbsp powdered sugar
Super simple. Now, remember just a few minutes ago when I mentioned that I like to make things complicated? It's true! And I'll prove it.

While I was in the grocery store, it came time to make a decision- fresh squeezed or bottled? It was $6 for a bottle of key lime juice or $2.99 per pound of key limes. Like any glutton for punishment, I chose to pick up 2 lbs of key limes and squeeze them myself. I will say that it was totally worth it. That way I could also use the zest of the key limes as well as save a few for garnish. Admittedly, my hands hurt. I used a wooden reamer and a fine mesh strainer. I also discovered another way to dull my favorite chef's knife. This can be accomplished by slicing 2 lbs. of key limes in half. Oh! And did you know key limes have seeds? I didn't. Or at least I didn't remember them having seeds. I'm so used to our little seedless limes that it really threw me off.

Below are some pictures I took of the Great Key Lime Massacre of July 2010 and the end result:

2 pounds of key limes

Let the massacre begin!

The aftermath...

The recipe makes 1 pie. I doubled the recipe to make 2; one for dessert this week and one to be frozen for later use.

The end result!

A few suggestions:

I chose to simply spread the whipped cream on top of the pie. You can also pipe the whipped cream on and make it a little more decorative if you'd like.

I highly recommend adding about a teaspoon or two of the zest if you can. I personally feel that it brings out the actual lime flavor rather than just tartness.

These pies can easily be frozen and saved for a potluck, a welcome to the neighborhood gift, or just another nightly dessert.

There is no shame in eating it frozen!

The End.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Arroz Con Pollo

Arroz con Pollo, Pollo con Arroz...tomato, tomahto. It's a classic Latin dish meaning 'rice with chicken'. I made it for supper tonight and shared a picture of it. Within a few hours I've had numerous people (via facebook and e-mail) asking for the recipe. Admittedly, I sighed. I'm one of those annoying, budding chefs who doesn't really measure or do the exact same thing twice. While I love it when people take interest in my food, giving you a recipe isn't always easy. Never-the-less, I love you all and have really thought through what I was doing tonight. Yes, I have a recipe! I do things a little differently than that of the traditional dish. I like having more control over what the chicken tastes like separately from the rice/veg, so I chose to cook mine separately. There are a few differences in what spices I used as well.

Elle's Arroz con Pollo (serves 4)

1 medium onion, diced small
1 poblano pepper, roughly chopped
8 fresh, plum or campari tomatoes, diced large
1 can original Ro*tel
2 tsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes (if you like it hotter, add more)
1 Tbsp kosher or sea salt
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
4 C. chicken broth, low sodium is best
2 C. long grain white rice
1/4 C. fresh chopped cilantro

4 boneless/skinless chicken breasts or 8 tenders, thawed and trimmed as necessary
2 to 3 Tbsp Tabasco
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil
The juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder

Fresh lime wedges
Warm flour or corn tortillas
Salt and Pepper (to taste)
Vegetable or Canola oil for cooking

Marinate the chicken about 2 hours in advance by combining all liquid ingredients with the spices and pour over the chicken. Cover and place in the refrigerator.

In a medium stock pot or dutch oven*, heat a few tablespoons of cooking oil on medium-high heat. Sweat the diced onion until translucent. Then, add the poblano peppers. Cook until tender. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Next, add the fresh tomatoes. Cook until the vegetables start to look saucy, stirring frequently.When the tomatoes start to give off their juices and form a sauce with the other vegetables, add the Ro*tel, all of the spices, and about half of the chopped cilantro. Stir to combine well and continue cooking for about 3 minutes. At this point, you should check for seasoning. Add salt, pepper, or more cayenne/red pepper if you'd like. Next, stir in the rice. Coat the rice well with the vegetable mixture. Then, add the chicken broth. You will need to bring this entire mixture to a low boil. When it's reached a low boil, turn the heat down to medium/medium-low, cover, and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender. While the rice is simmering, grill or saute the marinated chicken. Combine the chicken and rice when both are done, or serve separately. Fresh lime wedges, a sprinkle of cilantro, and warm tortillas are good accompaniments.

I grilled the chicken. I like the way it looks and prefer the char-grilled flavor for this time of year. Once both chicken and rice were done, I stacked the chicken on top of the rice and sprinkled the remaining cilantro over the dish. I served the rice in a bowl with 2 chicken tenders on top, along with warm corn tortillas on the side.

*I used a well-seasoned, cast-iron dutch oven. I know not everyone has one of these and that's just fine. A medium sized, heavy-weight stock pot will do nicely.

A few final things:
~I strayed from the traditional recipe in several ways, but I'm still confident that this is damn tasty and it's close enough to still be considered a classic Arroz con Pollo dish. I didn't use saffron, because I wanted a zestier flavor and I knew the heavier spices would completely over power the scent and flavor of saffron.
~There are a lot of ingredients and you can really tame down the spice list if you'd like. Just be sure to taste the dish along the way. Seasoning each layer is very important. Use a light hand when seasoning during each step. You can always add more, but it's a lot more difficult to reduce the amount of seasoning.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

You're gonna love my nuts!

No, really. While I don't endorse this guy or his products, I think he's hilarious (and creepy). Plus, it's true. Nuts are delicious and I think they are under appreciated. I'll give you a minute to get your mind out of the gutter.

Done? Okay, good. I really think that nuts, specifically tree nuts, aren't utilized enough. True that they are in a lot of baked, sweet, and pastry items-breads, baklava, cookies, garnishes, candied, brittles, in spreads, etc. But in the savory side of cooking, not so much.

I just ate one of my favorite pasta dishes* for dinner and the superstar of the dish is pine nuts. It got me thinking of how little nuts are used in savory dishes. Now maybe many of you can come up with a million and one savory dishes that include nuts, but I really can't. I think of pesto, peanut butter sauces in some Asian cooking (Yeah, yeah. Peanuts are ground "nuts"), stuffing or dressing, crusts for meats, and garnishes for salads.

Now, part of this under-utilization is due to allergies. I get that. I can count about 20 people or more that I know that have some sort of nut allergy. Some allergies are very severe. It's tragic. I'm very fortunate to not have any known food allergies, so I can't relate. And honestly, more for me!

Nuts can add healthy oils that your body needs to your diet. Nut oils can add great flavor to a simple meat or vegetable dish. Tired of olive oil? Try using walnut oil. Just be mindful of your cooking temperature. Certain nut oils can burn fast and shouldn't be used for frying. Need some texture in your pasta or rice? Toast some pecans or almonds and toss them in for crunch. Take a few risks and play with your food. Pine nuts in a simple marinara sauce changes the flavor entirely. Roasted, chopped walnuts (and some golden raisins) in sauteed spinach is fantastic and adds a gourmet touch to what can be a boring green. And please, please, please use a different nut to make pesto. Traditional pesto is great, but have you tried using pistachios instead? You ought to. The next time you need a new idea, think about using some nuts in your savory recipe.

*My supper was linguini with prosciutto and pine nuts. Toast 3 Tbsp of pine nuts in a dry saute pan. Remove when just starting to turn golden and smell nutty; allow to cool. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp butter in a pan. Add a serving of linguini or whatever pasta you have on hand, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Warm through. Add two slices of prosciutto cut into ribbons. Toss the pine nuts back in and finish with a few leaves of basil, torn. Top with parmagiano if you'd like (I, personally, do like). It's a great way to use up leftover pasta.