Today is ‘More Herbs, Less Salt Day’. While Salt is a wonderful all-purpose seasoning that would be hard to do without, Herbs play another role in our culinary efforts. Herbs impart wonderful flavor, each one distinctive from another. Even the different herbs in the same family have different distinctive flavors and aromas.
My favorite all-around Herb is Basil. There are dozens of varieties of Basil, but of all the ones that I have encountered, Sweet Italian Basil is my favorite. Here are just some varieties of Basil that are available in local nurseries in Southern California. Varieties will vary throughout the country and throughout the world.
African Blue Basil – blue hue to the leaves and has purple flowers
Greek Basil – small green leaves – lasts long into the Fall
Italian Sweet Basil – large green leaves (probably the most popular)
Lemon Basil – small leaves with slight lemon scent
Thai Basil – smaller leaves with some purple hue to them – purple flowers, slightly spicy
The Varieties of Basil above are listed in alphabetical order. The Greek and Sweet Italian are probably the most popular and used most frequently in Italian and Greek Cuisine.
The Thai Basil is used in South Eastern Cuisine and does have a distinctive taste, somewhat sharper than the sweet varieties.
I prefer to use the Sweet Italian most of the time just because it is easier to clean and mince because of the size of the leaves. I also use the African Blue, but usually just use the whole leave as they are small.
I use Thai Basil in all my Asian Cooking. I really love the Thai Basil and if you don’t grow it you can easily find it in Asian markets.
Oregano –The second most popular Herb is probably Oregano. I planted Oregano when we first moved into this house and the same plant is still growing. It sometimes freezes in the Winter but always comes back in the spring. It is an essential in Italian and Greek Cuisine and is of course used in other types of cooking as well.
Pineapple Sage – normally I don’t like Sage, but the Pineapple variety is another story. It actually smells like Pineapple when you tear a leave or water and does impart the flavor of Pineapple to your dishes. I planted a tiny plant several years ago. This plant is now huge in spite of being constantly cut back. I have also endowed many of my friends with a shoot from this plant. All you have to do is stick a piece in water and let it root, then plant it. The result eventually will be as pictured here in this blog. One of the assets of this Sage plant is the Red Flowers which attract Humming Birds to our yard.
Mint – is popular in mixed drinks, desserts and in South East Asian Cuisine. This too grows like crazy and is easy to root. We have mint that comes over from our neighbors yard and I constantly have to pull it out. I sometimes will wash it and then steep it in hot water and make a mint fusion which can be used for drinks or mint jelly. Mint also comes in several varieties, such as Spearmint, Peppermint and my favorite, Chocolate Mint.
Lemon Grass – an essential in South East Asian Cuisine, especially Thai and Vietnamese. In fact, there is a restaurant named after this Herb on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai. This too grows like crazy. I just planted a small plant and this is the result.
Chives – part of the Onion Family – frequently served as a topping for Baked Potatoes – but beware! those Chives in the Restaurants are more frequently Green Onions or Scallions which are thicker and less flavorful (but stronger) than the Chives. Chives are very thin and it is best to cut them with scissors. Chives make a nice flavorful addition to many vegetable and meat dishes.
Try some Herbs today and you will find that you don’t need to use too much salt in your food!
Tonight is the Oscard Awards Ceremony and we wanted to have something simple, easy and quick for dinner. The only way to really do this is to either have it sent in or make something ahead. I opted for the ‘Make Something Ahead’ meal. This is my Macaroni and Cheese Suprema Dish. I have a standard recipe on line, but I never ever or hardly ever make it as stated. The recipe is just a guide and I use whatever happens to be on hand, especially if I have leftovers to get rid of.
I am a person who just cannot throw out leftovers until they are really no good to eat. But when I do use them, I can make some really good dishes from them and no one would ever know they were made from leftovers unless I tell them.
Todays leftovers were:
Onion (the only non-leftover item – only used half so it is now a leftover)
Shredded Cheddar/Jack (in freezer)
Fusili Pasta (in freezer)
Orange Bell Pepper
In addition to the leftovers I added some:
2 Tbsps. Flour
I made the Mac and Cheese in this wonderful stainless steel oval shaped stove-top to oven casserole pan. I use it for almost everything and it is perfect for the two of us and if we have company will hold at least enough for 4 people, maybe even six.
- Melt the Butter in the Pan over low heat. While the Butter is melting, dice the Onion and then add it to the melted Butter.
- Stir in the Flour and cook until the Flour is well-blended with the Onions and Butter. Continue to cook for about another minute and then add 1 cup of Cream or Half/Half or even Milk.
- Cook and stir until the mixture thickens and then add about 1-2 Tbsps. of Dijon Mustard along with 1/2 tsp. of Salt and 1/4 tsp. White Pepper.
- Stir in the Brie, in any amount up to 1 cup, (Cream Cheese can also be used) and the shredded Cheese (about 2 cups)
- Stir well to combine; if the mixture is too thick add additional Half/Half or Milk. Taste for seasonings and adjust to your taste.
- Stir in the Cooked Macaroni with a rubber or silicone spatula; be sure to have all the Macaroni covered with the Cheese Sauce.
- Dice the Bell Pepper and add to the Cheesy Pasta; combine well or just leave on top for a garnish.
- Snip the Chives with pair of Kitchen Shears and sprinkle on top for a Garnish. (Green Onions may be used instead or even dill if you like dill with Cheese)
- The dish is now ready to serve. If you are planning on serving it later in the day or even tomorrow, refrigerate until about one hour before serving time.
- If you are using a metal pan like mine, then you can put it in the oven while it is cold, but if it is a ceramic or glass dish, allow it to come to room temperature before placing it in the hot oven. Alternatively, place it in a cold oven and then turn the oven or even better, Microwave it for a minute or two to warm up the dish)
- Serve and enjoy!
For the full recipe please see macaroni-and-cheese-supreme/
June 15th, 2012 is ‘National Lobster Day’. Lobster without doubt is one of the most expensive items that you will find on a restaurant’s menu or even at the fish market or supermarket. But this wasn’t always the case. In the early days of our couontry’s history, lobster was thought to be garbage or throwout food. The reason for this is that lobster, like most all shell fish or crustaceans are bottom feeders and bottom feeders are thought be the dregs of society or the aquatic world.
When fishermen found lobster caught in their nets, they often left them on the beach for the poor or indigenous to eat. Lobster was food that was left to the lower members of society and indentured servants. Servants often specified in the employment agreements that they would not eat lobster more than twice a week. How many of us would love to eat lobster even twice a month, let alone twice a week! Alas, this attitude towards lobster did not last long and in the mid part of the 19th century lobster became a popular item on the menues of New York and Boston restaurants. With the development of lobster fishing boats, the crustacean became even more popular.
Without a doubt, Maine Lobster is probably one of the favorite and most available here in the United States. However, with the advent of air travel and shipping, lobster from all over the world is available. One can purchase giant lobster tails from Australia, mid-size ones from the Carribean and even smaller ones from ???
One of my favorite lobsters are those found in Rosarita, Baja California. The Mexican variety are smaller than the Maine Lobster, but they are sweet and usually at least two or more are served at a sitting.
One of my favorite ways to prepare lobster is to purchase one tail and cut it up in large bite-sized pieces and serve it in an Alfredo Sauce with Linguini. This way, one lobster tail will easily serve two people. However, we do sometimes just want to savor the lobster meat itself and in this case at least one lobster tail per person is called for. (This is the Carribean variety – one large Australian lobster tail would do for two people, provided they do not have HUGE appetites.
To observe National Lobster Day, here is one of my versions of a Lobster Tail Dinner. For two people, you will need two mid-size lobster tail, two large baked potatoes, fresh chives, fresh herbs such as basil, oregano, chives, etc., unsalted butter and a nice green salad made with artisan greens and dressed with a blue cheese dressing.
Scrub the Potatoes and pierce with a fork; this will prevent them from exploding in the hot oven – just as a precaution, I always make an extra potato and if none explode you can use the extra for home fries for another meal. If you like your potatoes to have a crsipy skin, coat the skin with vegetable or olive oil before placing in the oven. If you do use oil on the skin, be sure and place a piece of foil under the potatoes so the oil does not drip down onto your oven floor and cause smoking. If you are going to have Chives with your Baked Potatoes, prep them now. We have Chives growing in our garden, so I picked them just before using them to preserve the flavor. Wash and dry and then snip. The easiest way to snip them is with a pair of kitchen shears. Before doing so, hold the chives in one hand and cut them in a straight across. This will make it easier to snip the chives evenly.
The next thing to do is to clarify your butter. Take a quarter pound of butter (1 stick) and melt it in a microwave proof bowl or measuring cup. Let it settle so that the milk solids fall to the bottom. (The better the grade of butter, the less milk solids there will be in it) Once the solids fall to the bottom pour off the fat portion through a cheese cloth lined strainer into another bowl.
If you are going to make an herb butter wash and dry your herbs and then mince them either by hand or in a mini-food processor.
Once the Butter has settled and is clear, you can add the Herbs to the Butter; set it aside until ready to serve. When ready to serve, you can just re-heat it until melted. (About 30 seconds or less in a microwave oven)
Next, prepare your salad and refrigerate until serving time. Make the Salad Dressing – in this case ours was Bleu Cheese. Bleu Cheese can be purchased in small portions in the Cheese Section in your supermarket or you can go to a speciality store. For the complete recipe please see bleu-cheese-dressing/
Since I was serving Mushrooms with the Lobster, the next thing I did was prepare the mushrooms. Wipe the mushrooms with a damp paper towel. (Since mushrooms act like sponges and soak up water, it is best to avoid washing them if possible – I don’t often follow this advice as some mushrooms also pick up a lot of the growing compound and just have to be washed) If you do wash your mushrooms, be sure to blot them dry really well with a paper towel. I quartered the Mushrooms and then sauteed them in Olive Oil with 2 cloves of minced Garlic. When they were done, I shut off the heat and set them aside. Just before serving, I reheated them for a short time.
The next item on the agenda was to prepare the Lobster. We had two tail which I decided to steam first before broiling. When you broil them you are never sure when they are done – you don’t want your lobster to be over-cooked and when broiling for the whole time, sometimes the tops get charred.
I split the tail down the back of the shells. This can be done with a cleaver, a sharp knife or a pair of kitchen shears. Then I placed them in my steamer – steaming takes only 5-10 minutes depending on the size of the tail. Just before serving I placed them under the broiler and broiled them for about five minutes.
While the lobster were broiling, we started on our Salad and I microwaved the butter, just to warm it up. This took about 15 seconds.
The main course was the Lobster, Baked Potato with Butter, Sour Cream and Chives and the Caramelized Mushrooms. These are all some of my favorite foods. Even though the Carribbean Lobster Tail, was ample in size, I still could have eaten more. I just love lobster! In any form!
MY CULINARY DIARY
CURRIED CHICKEN SALAD
Friday, June 8th, 2012
It is Friday and we have gone through many culinary avenues this week and do not wish to repeat anything, so it is time for Chicken. We both love fried Chicken, but since the weather is warm and I really did not want to start frying anything, we decided on Chicken Salad. Since all we needed for the salad was enough chicken to feed the two of us, I decided on purchasing a chicken breast rather than the whole chicken.
Since it was only a breast that we needed, I decided to splurge and purchase a free range organic chicken breast. The difference in flavor and moistness, between this type of chicken and the normal supermarket ones is astronomical. The organic, free range chicken reminds me of the chickens that we used to get delivered years ago when we lived in Granada Hills. A poultry company called Bob’s Poultry use to deliver Chicken and Eggs directly to our home and there was nothing like those chickens. They were so good! In those days, I had to cook at least 2 Chickens at one time! Later on it was three!
Along with the Chicken Breast I purchased some white corn and an Orange Honey Dew Melon and some Croissants to go with the meal.
To make the Chicken Salad I poached the Chicken Breast in some Madera Wine with fresh Pineapple Sage Leaves, fresh Greek Basil and freshly cut Chives. All the herbs were direct from our garden. I placed the Chicken Breast in the poaching liquid, brought it up to a simmer and cooked them for about 10 minutes and then shut the heat off. You can cut the breasts in half to make sure they are done or you can use a poultry thermometer. One hundred seventy degrees is more than done!
Once the Chicken Breasts cooled off, I sliced them against the grain and then cut the slices into bite-sized pieces. (The pieces were a healthy size, as I didn’t want pate.) I washed and dried some celery ribs and cut them into bite-sized pieces. I cut the celery considerably smaller than the Chicken pieces as celery has a tendency to get stuck in between teeth.
Along with the Celery were some more snipped Chives, Gherkin Pickles which I diced and a Pink Lady Apple, which I quartered, cored and cut up into bite-sized pieces. I leave on the skin, because the color adds a nice contrast to the white Chicken Breast.
To season the Chicken Salad, I added ½ tsp. Salt, ¼ tsp. White Pepper, 1 tsp. Curry Powder and approximately ½ cup of Mayonnaise.
For the complete recipe please see curried-chicken-salad/
Ev husked the Corn and I washed it and made sure all the silks were off. To cook the Corn, I placed it in my steamer with water in the lower portion and steamed the Corn for 1 minute. Young fresh Corn does not need to be cooked for more than 1 minute – all you want to do is to get it hot – young fresh corn even tastes good raw. In fact, I always taste it before cooking it to make sure it is sweet. If it is not sweet you can add 1 Tbsp. Sugar and the Juice of half a Lemon to the Water and then just cook it directly in the water which should not be more than 1 inch deep. Again, do not cook it more than 1-2 minutes unless it is old and tough and in which case you should not even be eating it off the cob.
For our Beverage we had Ginger/Peach Sun Tea brewed in the sun with orange slices and fresh ginger.
Dinner tonight was the Chicken Salad, steamed Corn and warmed Croissants. We decided to keep the Honey Dew for Sunday night when we would again eat the Chicken Salad, since I can never make just enough food for only 2 people.
This was just one variation on Chicken Salad. There are hundreds of ways that you can prepare it. Chicken Salad can be an Hawaiian Variation, Chinese Chicken Salad, Thai Chicken Salad, and on and on. Just use whatever you have on hand and what you think will go well with Chicken. Don’t forget that Chicken Breast has somewhat of a neutral flavor that can be enhanced with most anything! Even nuts and noodles will work in a Chicken Salad!