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Margaritas

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Time: Depends on how many you’ve already had

Inspired by: My love for Mexico.. and tequila makes all parties rock! While I already enjoyed Tajín® Clásico Seasoning, in numerous ways, my surfer friend Nicole was the one who suggested it as an alternative to salt for rimming a margarita glass. There is NO BETTER WAY. And I also thank her for this picture. We surf together every November (my birthday month) in Southern Mexico. She makes margaritas for us each night, while I make dinner. Her job (squeezing all of those limes!) is much more difficult. The picture above is the gift she made for my 49th birthday. Nothing could have been more perfect 🙂

Supplies: Margarita shaker, plate wide enough for dipping/salting the rim of the glass, and margarita pitchers if you are making these in larger batches

Ingredients:

  • 3 parts reposado tequila
  • 3 parts fresh lime juice
  • 1 part Cointreau
  • Tajín® Clásico Seasoning, salt, or salt with a bit of Cayenne mixed in to rim your glass

Preparation for One Glass:

  • Moisten the rim of your glass with a lime wedge and dip it into the Tajín or salt
  • Add to shaker: tequila (3 shots), lime juice (3 shots), Cointreau (1 shot), ice cubes, and shake well
  • Put some ice cubes into the glass
  • Pour the shaker contents into the glass while straining out the ice, then add additional ice as needed
  • Garnish with a slice of lime

Notes:  I do not like sweet margaritas – I prefer to really taste the tequila and the fresh lime. If you prefer yours sweet, add additional Cointreau or a dash of Agave syrup.  Fresh lime juice is the only way to go and rimming with Tajín is the final perfect touch to me. In case you are not familiar with the salty/chile/limey flavor of Tajín, I included a link above. These are pretty strong margaritas, but they rock! If you plan to be drinking them like they are going out of style, you might consider cutting the tequila quantity back just a bit!


Roasted Tomatillo Soup with Shrimp

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Time: 60 minutes

Serves: 6

Ingredients:

  • 5 – 6 tomatillos
  • 1 large Anaheim pepper
  • 1 very small Jalapeño pepper
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 leek (white part only), halved lengthwise and sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 pound shrimp, cleaned with shells removed – you can leave tails (or substitute black beans, white beans or shredded chicken)
  • Cilantro or another green for garnish (I’m not a fan of Cilantro, but had some arugula)

Preparation:

  • Roast the tomatillos and peppers at 375 degrees F for approximately 30 minutes. Turn half way through roasting. They will be done when soft, lightly browned, and oozing liquid.
  • Meanwhile, sauté leek and onion in olive oil for 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to sauté until they are well cooked, but not browned. Add approximately ¼ teaspoon of salt while cooking.
  • Put all of the above ingredients into a blender and purée. Return to soup pot. Add the chicken stock and cumin and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10-20 minutes covered.
  • Add the shrimp 2-3 minutes before serving (if the soup is boiling, medium-sized shrimps will take approximately 2 minutes to cook). Rock shrimp or other small shrimp will likely cook in a minute. Previously cooked shrimp, beans or chicken will heat through in 2-3 minutes. If chicken is your protein of choice, you can add a chicken breast when the soup comes to a boil. It should get cooked through in about 20 minutes. You can remove it, shred it with a fork, and put it back into the soup.

Notes: This will likely be relatively spicy with the roasted peppers and pairs well with an off-dry or dry riesling. It should also pair well with any white wine with nice acid – either light and crisp or full and round. It went really well tonight with a beautiful Chassagne-Montrachet.


Papaya-Cucumber Salad

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Serves: 4-6 as a side dish

Prep Time: 10-15 minutes

Inspired by: Tony Khalife, amazing musician/artist. He taught me so much about the beauty and nuances of food.  This was one of those many salads that he just threw together one day because it sounded good and we had the ingredients. It has become a favorite because it balances out many of the spicy dishes I love to make, and when I’m in Mexico, which is quite often in the winter, I can easily find all the ingredients at a tiny market. It is often my contribution to potluck parties there with friends.

Ingredients – Salad:

  • Papaya  – 1 cup diced
  • Cucumber – 1 cup diced
  • Slivered almonds – 1/2 cup
  • Jicama – 1 cup diced (optional)
  • Avocado – ripe but firm (optional) – 1 cup diced

Ingredients – Dressing:

Preparation: Put all ingredients into glass bowl and toss gently (if you include avocado add this at the end). I do not normally add the spice, but this is fun if you want to add some zing.

Notes: This is an easy salad to bring to a party. Use the entire papaya with the same cucumber and almond proportions. Dice the cucumber and papaya in advance and add the almonds and dressing near serving time.



Prickly Pear Cactus Sorbet

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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.

Mediterranean Grilled Vegetable Salad

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Time: 45 – 60 minutes (ideally with a couple of hours cooling time for the grilled veggies midway). Grilled veggies and dressing can be prepared ahead.

Serves: 6

Inspired by: My friend Rikke who always makes delicious food brought this to a party recently. I made just a few modifications. The dish was fabulous and will be something I make often.

Salad Ingredients:

  • 3 small bell peppers (red, yellow, orange) – about 1 pound, stemmed, seeded and quartered
  • 5 slender zucchini (about 1 pound), trimmed and cut lengthwise in half
  • Olive oil, salt, and pepper to toss the peppers and zucchini in before grilling
  • 4 small Persian cucumbers, halved, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (or English cucumber… or if you use another type, remove the seeds and some of the peel)
  • 1 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
  • 4 ounce square of feta cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup (packed) finely chopped mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup (packed) finely chopped Italian parsley
  • 2-3 teaspoons ground sumac to sprinkle on top

Dressing Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 clove garlic crushed (optional)

Preparation:

  • Heat your grill (medium).
  • Toss or rub zucchini and peppers with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Grill peppers and zucchini until slightly charred and just tender, turning often, about 12 minutes.
  • Transfer to a baking sheet to cool. Once cooled, refrigerate if you are preparing this ahead.
  • To make dressing: whisk 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup lemon juice, cumin, and optional garlic in small bowl to blend. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Cut peppers lengthwise into 1/2 inch wide strips, then crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces.
  • Cut zucchini lengthwise in half, and then into 1/2 inch pieces.
  • Put zucchini, peppers, cucumber, tomato, olives, mint and parsley into a large bowl and toss with dressing.
  • Add feta and toss gently.
  • Transfer to a large, shallow bowl. Sprinkle ground sumac over the top.

Wine Suggestions: A medium bodied red with some spice and earthy flavors is ideal. The first time we made this, it was with a vegetarian dinner of spiced lentils. A red burgundy, or earthy rustic Italian red or Southern Rhone would all be good pairings.


Chocolate Layer Cake with Chocolate-Orange Buttercream Frosting

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Time: approximately 2 hours (not including cooling time for the cake). Approximately 1.5 hours to mix and bake the cake. While cake is baking you can make the frosting. After allowing at least an hour for cooking, approximately another 15-30 minutes to frost the cake and make chocolate shavings.

Serves: 10-16

Inspired by: I know a lot of my friends like chocolate and chocolate cake. We celebrated the birthdays last week of two girlfriends, Kristi and Michelle, so I thought I’d try my first chocolate cake.  After reading a zillion recipes I settled on a combined version of one for the cake (really liked the idea of the lavender essence) and this icing recipe from the March 2004 issue of Bon Appetite got rave reviews. I thought the icing was a winner. The cake was good, but I’d like to still work on an even moister version when I’m up for experimenting again.

Ingredients for the batter:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 4 eggs (at room temperature)
  • 3 cups light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons dried lavender blossoms, finely ground in spice mill or mortar and pestle
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/3 cups sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups hot coffee

Ingredients for the frosting:

  • 8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 7 tablespoons (or more) water
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar, divided
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
  • Small piece of thick chocolate (use a vegetable peeler along the chocolate to create shavings)

Cake preparation:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter 3 (8 or 9 inch) cake pans. Lightly butter the pans. Cut 3 circles of parchment paper to fit the bottoms of the pans, press them in, butter them, and use flour or cocoa powder to coat them (or a combo).
  • Mix the dry ingredients with a hand whisk: sifted flour, baking soda, cocoa powder, lavender and salt and set aside.
  • In an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and eggs and mix until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix.
  • Add 1/2 of the flour, then 1/2 of the sour cream and mix. Repeat with the remaining flour and sour cream. Drizzle in the hot coffee and mix until smooth. The batter will be thin. Pour into the prepared pans and bake until the tops are firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Halfway through baking you can rotate the pans in the oven to ensure even baking, but otherwise try not to open the oven. Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks and let cool completely before frosting. You can also wrap them up well in plastic at this point and store them in the refrigerator overnight – be sure to separate them with parchment paper or plastic.
  • While the cakes are cooling, make the frosting.

Frosting preparation:

  • Stir 8 ounces chocolate in top of double boiler set over simmering water until smooth. Cool until barely lukewarm but still pourable. Mix cocoa powder and 7 tablespoons water in heavy small saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat in a seprate sauce pan until smooth and thick, but still pourable, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if necessary. Cool.
  • Beat butter, 1/3 cup powdered sugar, and orange peel in large bowl to blend. Add melted chocolate, vanilla, and salt; beat until smooth. Beat in cocoa mixture. Gradually add remaining 3 and 2/3 cups powdered sugar and beat until frosting is smooth. Mix in Grand Marnier.
  • Place first cake layer on platter. Slice off the very top to flatten if necessary. Spread a thick layer of frosting on the top of hte cake. Top with second cake layer. Again, slice off the very top to flatten if necessary. Frost the top of that cake, and then add the third layer and frost the top of that and the sides. Mound chocolate shavings all over the cake and platter. If you use warm chocolate you can create longer curls. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate. Let cake stand at room temperature 2 hours before serving.

The Last Piece of Chocolate Layer Cake


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