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Prickly Pear Cactus Sorbet

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Prickly Pear Cactus Sorbet

Time: 30 minutes to prepare (chill overnight); 10-20 minutes in sorbet maker.

Serves: 6 – 10 single small scoops.

Inspired by: My long time friend Emmett Lynch brought some goodies from nearby orchards. One bag he said was “dangerous” and not to stick my hands into. I peeked inside and saw those beautiful prickly pear fruits that I grew up with in the Arizona dessert! I had a dinner planned with some friends with multiple courses, so decided to use them to make a beautiful deep purple sorbet with lots of lemon and lime. My plan was to serve it as a palate cleanser, or as a transition between the last dinner course and dessert, so I made it a bit more tart than sweet.

Ingredients:

  • 1.5-2 pounds of large prickly pear fruits
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1-2 teaspoons Cointreau (optional)
  • 3-4 tablespoons lime juice
  • 3-4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon or lime zest
  • Pinch of salt
  • Fresh mint for garnish

Preparation:

  • Make a simple syrup by simmering the 1/2 cup water with the 1/4 cup sugar.
  • Cool mixture in refrigerator.
  • Use tongs to hold the fruits over an open fire (gas stove) and burn off the needles (without burning the fruit).
  • Cut off the outside layer of skin and preserve as much fruit as possible. Use a non-staining plastic cutting board and gloves if you don’t want purple stains on your hands and board.
  • Put fruit in blender with the simple syrup, pinch of salt, zest, and half of the lemon and lime juices. Puree well and taste.
  • Add additional lemon and lime juice until you get your desired level of acidity.
  • Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove seeds and any pieces of skin.
  • Chill in refrigerator overnight if possible – or at least for several hours.
  • Run this through a sorbet maker. Freeze for a few hours if you would like a harder consistency.

Traditional Red Sangria

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Traditional Red Sangria

Time: This shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes for one batch, but if you are making multiple batches for a party, it can be time consuming to cut up the fruit. It’s also best if you make it 24 hours or so before drinking.

Serves: This recipe yields 6 large wine goblet sized glasses, or 10 smaller glasses.

Inspired by: My visit to Barcelona, Spain in the early 1990’s to visit my friend Georgia when she was living there. We had fabulous sangria with fabulous friends. I think the fruitiness/sweetness of sangria goes well with many of the spices and garlic used in some of the typical Spanish tapas. I don’t make this often, but now and then it’s fun and festive for a party.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle of red wine (wine suggestions in the “notes” below)
  • 1/2 cup of orange liqueur (I prefer Grand Marnier to Cointreau but both are better than triple sec)
  • 1-1/2 cups of orange juice
  • 1 orange sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 lemon sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 lime sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 apple cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 nectarine (or other stone fruit – peach, plum, mango) cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup sugar (optional)

Preparation: Put the wine, orange liqueur, and fruit into an airtight container (ideally something easy to shake). Refrigerate it overnight and then taste it to decide if you’d like to add some sugar to sweeten it a bit. If you do, first dissolve the sugar in 1/4 cup of boiling water. Let it cool to room temperature and then add it and shake up your sangria well. You might even want to add a little bit at a time so you can taste it before you add too much.

Notes: Most sangria recipes call for at least 1/4 cup of sugar per one bottle of wine – but I often feel this makes it way too sweet. Sweetness will depend a bit on the type of wine, liquor and orange juice you use, and it is also just a matter of personal preference. Don’t waste your fine wine on sangria, but don’t use 2 buck chuck either!  You can usually get 1.5 liter bottles of a basic Mondavi or Woodbridge Cab or Zinfandel at BevMo for $10 and that is a good enough base. You can blend different a couple of different varietals too.


Gazpacho

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Gazpacho

Time: 15-30 minutes to prepare; I prefer to prepare this a day or two ahead of serving so flavors can meld.

Serves: 6 (I typically make 2-3 batches at a time for a party and fill up a punch bowl).

Inspired by: My mom made this when I was growing up. This is very similar to her original recipe. I’ve had many different versions of gazpacho over the years and love them all.  If you have access to really flavorful tomatoes, this is fabulous.

Ingredients:

  • 1 firm medium cucumber (2-3 cups chopped). I prefer English or Persian cucumbers so I can leave the skin on.
  • 6-8 medium to large ripe, red tomatoes, quartered with white cores removed (this recipe is all about the tomatoes so pick really yummy ones!). I leave the skins on.
  • 1-2 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2-4 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons Tobasco
  • 1 small piece fresh Jalapeño (optional for extra heat)
  • ¼ Bermuda or other sweet, white onion cut into a few pieces (optional – I skip this because I’m not a fan of raw onion)
  • ¼ – ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 -3 cups organic tomato puree  – this is optional, but boosts the flavor and red color
  • Optional garnishes: garlic croutons, blue corn chips, chopped cucumbers, parsley, cilantro, green onions

Preparation:

  • Chop the cucumber into large chunks and pulse in the food processor. I prefer keeping the cucumber a bit chunky and crispy instead of turning it into white puree or foam. I think it improves the texture and color. White puree can make red soup turn pink. Remove and put into a separate bowl.
  • Use food processor on pulse mode again to combine the rest of the ingredients. You can stop pulsing when it is still a bit chunky or you can blend it smooth. I prefer it a little bit chunky. It’s best to do this in batches if your food processor isn’t that large.
  • Taste, and if needed, add additional salt, chili powder, Tobasco or Jalapeño to your preference.
  • Pour into large bowl and hand mix in the chopped cucumber.
  • Refrigerate to chill and blend the flavors.
  • Serve at room temperature or just slightly chilled.
  • You can garnish with chopped parsley, spring onions, cilantro, or with something crunchy such as blue chips or croutons.

Mango-Nectarine Sangria

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Mango Nectarine Sangria

Time: This shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes for one batch, but if you are making multiple batches for a party, it can be time consuming to cut up the fruit. It’s also best if you make it 24 hours or so before drinking.

Serves: This recipe yields about 5 large wine goblet sized glasses, or 8 smaller glasses.

Inspired by: I went to Joya in Palo Alto with my good friends Christine and Kristi a couple of months ago to celebrate Kristi’s birthday. The bartender gave us a taste of their peach sangria and it was yummy! It was the first time I had white sangria. I hosted a Spanish themed-party last night and finally got a chance to try something similar. Peaches aren’t in season right now, but I did find nectarines and I love mangos so decided to give that a try with ingredients similar to my red sangria recipe. We all thought this was really yummy. The flavors of the fruit really came through!

Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle of white wine  (see notes below)
  • 1/2 cup Grand Marnier
  • 1 mango, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 2 nectarines, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 lime, cut into thin circles (optional – good to include if the wine is a very low acid wine)
  • ¼ cup mint leaves
  • ¼ cup sugar (optional)

Preparation: Put the Grand Marnier, wine, mango, nectarines and lime in an airtight container (ideally something easy to shake). Refrigerate it overnight and taste it the next day. If you’d like it to be a bit sweeter, dissolve the sugar in boiling water, let it cool to room temperature, add it to your sangria and shake it well. You might want to add a little bit at a time and taste it until it reaches your desired sweetness. A few hours before serving, stir in the mint leaves. Serve chilled.

Notes: Viongier or Torrontes seem like great options for this sangria because of their fabulous aromatics. However, I’ve even tried this with a fairly rich chardonnay and surprisingly, that worked just fine too. Most sangria recipes suggest adding sugar when you combine all the initial ingredients, but I thought it turned out a bit too sweet when I did this the first time. The type of wine and fruit you use will influence the sweetness, and sweetness is also a matter of personal preference. This is why I’ve suggested waiting to add the sugar after it sits overnight so you can get it to your desired sweetness.


Roasted Brussel Sprouts

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Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Time: 10 minutes to prepare; approximately 15-20 minutes to cook.

Serves: 4

Inspired by: My good friend Jeanette brought these to the Thanksgiving dinner I hosted this past year. That dinner reminded me how much I love them and I’ve been making them much more often ever since. I don’t know why so many people turn up their noses to brussel sprouts. It makes me wonder if they’ve had them cooked properly. When they get roasted like this with olive oil, they get soft and even a bit sweet. I think the key is to cook them really well – I don’t even mind if they get pretty charred – yum!

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups brussel sprouts, washed and cut in half
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  • Toss the halved brussel sprouts with the olive oil on a cookie sheet or in a baking dish – keep them spread out well.
  • Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes.
  • How fast they cook depends a bit on your oven. If one side seems to be cooking much faster than the other, you can flip them over with a spatula or thongs about half way through cooking.

Seared Ahi Salad with Wasabi-Ginger Vinaigrette

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Time: 20-30 minutes

Serves: 2-4

Inspired by: My Armenian “sister” Michelle Babayan, who is a phenomenal personal chef and caterer. Michelle’s Ahi (Yellowfin Tuna) salad with a creamy wasabi dressing is to die for, and the 18 spice blend she uses to coat the Ahi before searing is amazing with fabulous flavors to bring out the flavors of the fish without being spicy hot and overwhelming the fish.  I love her spice blend on the Ahi and have now found that I love mine too!  When I use mine, I use it more like a rub – because it’s much spicier than hers. I like it to add beautiful flavor, but not overwhelm the fish. What’s interesting is that when I use my blend, I find that it tastes a lot different than when I use it in other dishes. It’s very chameleon-like! I really love both spices with this salad. This is one of my favorite meals.

Ingredients – Dressing:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/8 cup lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons wasabi (I get it freshly prepared at the sushi counter at whole foods)
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Ingredients – Salad:

  • 1 pound sushi grade or searing grade Ahi tuna
  • 4 tablespoons Michelle’s 18 spice blend or 1-2 tablespoons Spice it Up …by Karen™
  • Mixed greens or watercress
  • Papaya or mango – cut into small pieces
  • English cucumber – sliced
  • Red radish – sliced (optional)
  • Red pepper – sliced (optional)

Preparation:

  • Mix all of the dressing ingredients in a shaker.
  • Put the salad ingredients in a large bowl.
  • Rub olive oil on the Ahi and coat it with the 18 spice blend, or give it a good rub with my spice blend.
  • Heat a skillet to sear the fish (a cast iron skillet is best as it gets very hot) – add a tablespoon of olive oil, and then sear just a couple of minutes on each side – it should get crispy on the outside but not cooked through.
  • Slice the Ahi quickly so it doesn’t continue to cook – 1/4 to 1/8 inch slices.
  • Toss the salad with the dressing (but reserve a bit of it).
  • Lay the Ahi over the salad and then drizzle it some dressing over it.

Notes: I also love charred red pepper in the salad – especially when I want a warmer salad. You can cook that on one side of the skillet and the fish on the other  – but start it about 5 minutes before the fish. Spread that over the top of the salad along with the Ahi.

Wine Suggestions: My favorite with this salad is a California Pinot Noir or a Red Burgundy. I’ve also had it with a light Chinon that was really yummy. I’ve also found that when using my spice blend, it’s really nice with a slightly bigger red such as a Grenache/Syrah or a Rioja.


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