Monday, January 30, 2006

Lighting the fire within...

It strikes me that this salsa thread could seem a bit out of place in January. But up here in the northern tier, one often has to try anything just to keep warm (especially when your furnace conks out on a single-digit overnight, BOO HISS!). So that may serve to explain why I have been all about the chiles and the South-of-the-Border (the other border!) flavors lately. In addition to my salsa reflections, last night, my dear friend June and I ventured into Montreal to take in a double feature of Match Point and Good Night, and Good Luck (I am singly-focused on the goal of seeing all possible Oscar contenders). Afterwards, we spied a new little taqueria on Ste. Catherine called La Nacion. It was a cozy little place where people curled up on sofas and watched soccer while enjoying a Tecate. I had something called Tacos Campechano, involving a variety of meats served with delectable little corn tortillas hand-formed by actual Latin folk (it’s always a good sign when you are in a minority of gringos in a taco joint!). Then this morning, I made it my business to cook and can six jars of the delectable Blueberry-Habanero Chutney that the kitchen Mage swears by (refer to the Oct. 19, 2005 entry of her blog for the recipe), which led to a scrumptious dinner of pollock fillets served with the chutney and black beans and rice. YUM!

So if like me, you can’t wait for summer to feel some culinary heat, I offer one of my other all-time favorite salsa recipes, as promised. This came to me, once again, from Salsa Derek, but was originally found in a great book called Salsa, Sambals, Chutneys, and ChowChows: Intensely Flavored “Little Dishes” from Around the World by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby. Be forewarned, it’ll feel like you’ll be cutting and chopping for days, but it’s darn well worth the effort! (This is why the God gave us the Cuisinart.)

Mango-Jicama Relish with Scotch Bonnet Peppers

1 jicama (size of a softball), peeled and finely grated
1 carrot, peeled and finely grated
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 ripe mangoes, peeled and diced small
2 cups mango (or pineapple) juice
¼ cup minced garlic
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
8 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons ground coriander
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 fresh habanero peppers, split, seeded and minced
(or 2 tablespoons hot sauce such as “Inner Beauty”)
½ cup fresh lime juice (about 4 limes)
salt and pepper to taste

*By the way, if you’ve never tried jicama, don’t be afraid. It’s kind of an ugly root vegetable (distant cousin to a turnip or rutebaga?). But inside, it’s the consistency of something like a parsnip or even a water chestnut. It’s very crunchy and refreshing in salads, and it’s great in this salsa. However, DO be afraid of scotch bonnets/habaneros. For my household, we would probably stick to just one and not two as the recipe calls for. But that's your call. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Salsa Derek and the Superbowl

I have been watching the Food Network--as is my way--and everything today is about snacks for the big game. Now anyone who knows me knows that I LOATHE sports (except gymnastics, figure skating, and sometimes Wimbledon in the summer, but I suspect those don't count). But anything involving teams and a ball, count me out...except when it comes to a Superbowl Party. Truly, I love any kind of theme party, especially one that revolves around fun appetizers and finger foods. So while everyone else is watching the big game, you'll find me in the kitchen, cranking out the wings and the cocktail weenies and the seven-layer dips and such. (I only come out in time to see if Mr. JT is going to disrobe Miss Jackson and scandalize the national viewing audience.) So in the spirit of foods for the big game, and as no Superbowl party would be complete without chips and great salsa, I would like to share one of my all-time favorites. And as I am immensely fond of "recipes with a history," allow me a quick reminiscence? Sit back,'s story time.

When I started my Ph.D. program in communication from University of Utah in Salt Lake City back in the fall of 1995, I didn't know any of my new classmates. They all seemed so learned and brilliant, and of course, I was worried that I would suffer by comparison! No doubt, they would find out that I knew nothing, and it was a mistake that they accepted me into the program in the first place, and that I would soon be asked to leave! But shortly after the term began, a very nice fellow named Derek invited all of the new students over to his tiny apartment for an informal get-together. There weren't enough places for people to sit, so we all pulled up a piece of carpet in a cozy circle, listened to some good music, and sat around chatting, laughing, and getting to know each other better. It was one of my best memories of grad school. And as is always the case, food is the glue that brings people and parties together, and at this particular fellowship, we were served (among other things), several different kinds of homemade salsa, prepared with much love from the host, who thereafter became known to us as SALSA DEREK for his wizardry in the salsa-making arts. Furthermore, we began referring to his wife as Salsa Anne, and collectively, they were known as "The Salsas!" (When they eventually had a child, we even called him Baby Salsa!) Over the years as we attended University of Utah together, Salsa Derek never ceased to amaze us with his spicy culinary efforts. For example, one of his most masterful combinations at a certain summer barbecue was a Mango-Jicama-Habanero Salsa that was to die for! (I'll post that one at a later date.) But at that first gathering in "The Avenues" in Salt Lake City, among several salsa choices, the one that captured my fancy the most was his Salsa Verde, a cross between a tomatillo salsa and guacamole (indeed, the Superbowl would be more aptly named the Avocado Bowl). Yum! This is my version of it, tinkered with over the years, that is a loving homage to my friend, and salsa mentor, Salsa Derek.

Salsa Verde (for Salsa Derek)

1 lb. tomatillos (10-12 large or about 20 small), husks removed, rinsed, cored, and quartered
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 serrano chile, seeded and diced (if you are bold like Salsa Derek, use 2!)
juice of two limes
4 green onions, roughly chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro (leaves and tender sprigs only, cut from the stems), roughly chopped
1/2 tsp. of salt (or to taste)
2 medium-sized ripe (Haas) avocados, peeled, pitted and cut into large chunks

Add the quartered tomatillos, garlic, chile, and lime juice to the bowl of a food processor. Process by repeated pulsing until it is just shy of your desired consistency (I personally prefer it fairly smooth, but Salsa Derek left his very chunky!). Then add the green onions, cilantro, salt and avocado and pulse a few more times until the avocado starts to smooth out and thicken the mixture. Serve this delicious salsa with tortilla chips, or on tacos or tostadas, or on chicken or fish.

*Of course, you may play fast and loose with this. If you love garlic (and my own personal motto is "NEVER TOO MUCH GARLIC"), add more. If you don't care for cilantro, cut back on it.

Have fun, and enjoy the Big Game!

Friday, January 27, 2006 own space!

Hello out there...

I have finally given in and started my own blog. I spend so much of my time reading others and posting to them, that I figured I should have my own space to share my own thoughts with whomever might float in from the far reaches of cyberspace. Mostly my thoughts are about cooking and baking, but I may also divert into t.v., film, books, music, and other tidbits from pop culture from time to time. Then again, I might discuss travelling and road trips, or gardening, or life with my dogs and the other critters on the farm. Who can say? But I am quite pleased to have accomplished one of my New Year's resolutions before January is even through! Now, I don't usually subscribe to pointless endeavors that I have little to no chance of completing. But that's why, this year, I have chosen resolutions that are, above all, realistic and do-able. Here they are (in no particular order):

1) Start my own food blog (check).
2) Always have homemade vinaigrette in the fridge (check).
3) BAKE MORE BREAD! (I have recently reached the end of a prolonged brioche phase over my winter break from school, and soon, I may gather up enough courage to move on to the laminated doughs like puff pastry, croissants and Danish--yikes!)

Well, that seems sufficient for an initial post...just getting my feet wet in the World O' Blogs. There will be more...and whatever it may be, it will surely be LUSCIOUS!