Recipe: Plantain Nachos

So here's where I see the state of the country right now:

  1. If you live on the East Coast, Midwest, or South, then I'm sure you've had it up to HERE with this soul-crushing winter weather we've had.
  2. If you have any family or friends in those regions, I'm sure you're sick of reading their Facebook status messages about the awful winter they're enduring.
  3. If you're in California, you desperately need some of the bad storms everyone else has been having and you kinda want them to quit their whining.

Our family is solidly in the first category.  But we have ways of coping.  One way is by declaring an evening "St. Martin Night."  Why St. Martin?  Because we've fallen in love with the island (I'll be making my third trip there next month), and we spend a good portion of the time we're not there wishing that we were.

What does one do on St. Martin Night?  We crank up the heat A LOT (one of the joys of radiator heat - it doesn't cost us an arm and leg in electric bills) and put on our vacation outfits.  We listen to lots of Marley and Gipsy Kings while making lip-smacking rum drinks (El Diablos and Dark and Stormys are both favorites).  Then we usually watch a beach-themed movie as a family, like Mamma Mia, Weekend at Bernie's, or...Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights.

This last weekend, we were in desperate need of a pseudo beach getaway.  So we made an imitation of the Plantain Nachos that we created while in St. Martin last November.  Sadly, we did have to substitute bagged plantain chips for the fresh plantains we fried on the island, but we refused to be deterred.  And, er, I did buy pre-made guacamole, albeit freshly made.  The bacon in the recipe?   A little odd, true, but I had some left over in the fridge and thought I might as well add it.  Who cares, though?  Island fever was the goal and we achieved it.

Serves 3
4 c. plantain chips, approximately
1 c. grated oaxaca cheese (or queso blanco)
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
6 slices of bacon, cut into 3/4-inch slices
1 clove garlic, sliced thin
1/2 tsp. chili powder, or to taste
1/2 tsp. cumin, or to taste
2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tbsp. cilantro, roughly chopped, or to taste
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
Guacamole, to taste
Salsa, freshly made or store-bought, to taste
Sour cream, to taste
Lime wedges or slices, for garnish
  1. Sauté bacon in a medium-high pan until just crispy.  Remove bacon with a slotted spoon on to a paper towel-lined plate.  Pour out all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat.  Add garlic over medium heat and sauté until soft, about 2 minutes.  Add black beans and lime juice.  Stir until warmed through.  Remove from heat and add bacon, chili powder, cumin, cilantro, salt, and pepper.  Taste to make sure the seasonings suit you.
  1. Assemble desired amount of plantain chips on plate.  Spoon desired amount of black bean-bacon mixture over the chips.  Sprinkle cheese over the dish.  Add desired amount of guacamole, salsa, and sour cream.  Garnish with lime slices.
SIDE DISH SUGGESTION: As a side dish, grilled fresh pineapple makes a great sunny weather addition.  Core and peel a fresh pineapple, then cut into large slices.  Brush with olive oil and grill until grill marks show and pineapple softens a bit.  Remove from heat and sprinkle with sea salt.  Enjoy!

Is it the same as laying on a white sandy beach?  Hardly.  But we got to feel super warm while wearing swimsuits and sarongs, and it made us forget about winter, if just for one evening.

Eat, drink, and make the most of it.


Recipe: Barley Soup with Scotch...

...otherwise known as my New Favorite Recipe.

This recipe appeared in an October 2011 issue of Food & Wine and I'm horrified that I kept it this long without trying it.  That means I've lived TWO YEARS without this in my life.  It's the culinary equivalent of curling up under a warm blanket on the couch...or soft cashmere mittens on a chilly day...or warm mulled wine shared with a friend.

In my version below, I substituted chopped parsley for the celery leaves, adding them to the soup fresh at the last minute.  F&W's recipe also doesn't specify which Scotch to use.  Adam's a peat-y guy - he loves himself some Laphroaig - but I love my Scotch more toasty and woody so I used one of my personal favorites: Balvenie 12-Year Doublewood.

Barley Soup with Scotch
Adapted from Food & Wine
Serves 4

6 cups vegetable broth
1 cup barley grits (I found pearled barley on Fresh Direct)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon Scotch whisky
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 oz. dry salami, sliced paper-thin (about 20 slices)
Crème fraîche, for serving

1. In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a boil.  Keep hot over low heat.  In a large skillet, cook the barley over moderately high heat, tossing, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes.  Transfer to a plate to cool.
2. Add vegetable oil to the skillet and add the onion.  Cook over moderate heat, stirring a few times, until softened, about 10 minutes.  Add the barley and stir well.  Add 1 cup of the hot broth and cook over moderate heat, stirring often, until most of the broth has been absorbed.  Continue adding more broth, 1 cup at a time (yes, just like risotto), and stirring often between additions.  The soup is finished when all of the broth has been added and the barley is just tender, about 25 minutes.  Add the Scotch and then stir in the butter.  Season with salt and pepper (make sure to taste it!).
3. Ladle the soup into shallow bowls.  Top with the salami and dollop of crème fraîche.  Garnish with the parsley and serve hot.

Can you believe it?  That's it.  And I really don't think you lose a lot if you leave out the salami and make it vegetarian.  I do insist, however, that you keep that dollop of crème fraîche - it's the divine richness that just makes the entire dish.

And, yes, Isabell ate this.  I just "forgot" to mention the Scotch.  Seriously, guys, she would have gone on about how she's "too young to get drunk" and it would've been a big dramatic thing.  But at a single tablespoon for the whole dish, I hardly think she was in danger of getting sloshed under the dining room table.  (And I diced the onion so fine that there was no way she could even detect they were there.)

Make this dish ASAP while we're all still mildly entertained by winter's charms.  I can guarantee that you'll be flipping off recipes like this one come March...and then you'll have to wait until NEXT YEAR to try this amazing soup!

Eat, drink, and ACT NOW.



Orecchiette with Smoked Ricotta and Salami

I know, I know.  It's been a long, long, loooong time.  And I've so missed being here.  Sure, I could tell stories about how my life has been this or that...but that's boring.  So I won't.  My lovely online blogging friend, Carina at We Are All in the Gutter, said, "I hope you're simply busy living."  Indeed, I have been! XO

So let's get back to it, shall we?  You all may remember my French post - I received the most comments on it and many of you sent personal notes expressing support and divulging your own challenges with maintaining a healthy lifestyle (and being bien dans votre peau).  Well, I am SO THERE AGAIN (though not neeearly to the extent as before).  I've had many life changes recently - most important of which is going back to work full-time - and I just slipped a bit.  But I'm back and feeling so much better already after two weeks of Frenchification.

With that in mind, one thing I've been trying to do more of is eating at home.  Adam, Isabell*, and I got into a rather awful habit of eating out often - about 3 times a week.  No more!  I need to be back in the kitchen for my emotional well-being and my health!  I've been trotting out some favorites (such as the Robiola Wrapped in Mortadella), but I also winged it a couple nights ago (what's the past tense of "to wing it"?  I wung it?) and made this:

Orecchiette with Smoked Ricotta and Salami.

I don't have exact measurements; everything below is an approximation.  That's probably bad food blogging on my part, but how boring to measure everything exactly, right?  This is precisely the sort of recipe that lends itself to experimenting, tasting, and exploring.  Here is the list of ingredients:
  • 8 oz. orecchiette pasta (you could substitute cavatappi, bowties, or even macaroni)
  • 4 oz. smoked ricotta (we used Salvatore Bklyn's version available from Fresh Direct, but you can substitute regular ricotta, if you can't find smoked)
  • 1/4 lb. thinly sliced salami (I particularly love Rosette de Lyon, but use any kind you like...spicy could be awesome if you're using regular ricotta)
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 6 basil leaves, thinly sliced
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon
  • Olive oil (high quality for drizzling)
  • Olive oil (for sautéing)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add pasta and cook until al dente.
2. Meanwhile, heat small sauté pan over med-high heat and add olive oil.  Add tomatoes and cook until blistered and spitting.  Remove from heat.
3. Drain pasta into large bowl.  Add ricotta, salami, lemon zest, salt, and pepper; toss pasta.  Top with tomatoes, basil, and excellent quality olive oil.  

Serves 4.

I loved this dish.  It was light but satisfying, and it lends itself to improvisation (see spicy salami note above...it'd also be wonderful with thyme); the ricotta makes a creamy sauce all on its own, and the charred tomatoes help ward off the winter blues.  This also reheated well the next day for lunch.

Well, it's wonderful to be back and you should start seeing more of me!  Happy New Year, all!

Eat, drink, and start anew!

* Isabell was 6 years old when I started this blog, and now she's nearly 13.  It just seems silly to keep calling her Kiddo.