Pisco Sour

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Last year, my husband and I took a major trip through Central and South American countries. It had been our dream to visit Machu Piccu In Peru and we finally did.

After getting to Cusco right in time for lunch, I was handed my first Pisco sour. After one sip, I handed it off to my husband, who loves strong drinks.

So after that experience, I didn’t seek them out. At least I’d had a respectful sip!

Pisco is a clear brandy made by distilling fermented grape juice into a high-proof spirit. It reminds me of grappa, which you won’t be surprised that I also don’t like.

Peru and Chile both claim the pisco sour as their national drink. Ironically, the most pisco sours offered to us were in Brazil. Here is the staff making pisco sours in Rio de Janeiro, at the Copacabana Palace Hotel in town.

But then, when visiting the Christ the Redeemer statue, I was a bit parched (honestly, it was hot hot hot) and I ordered a pisco sour. And it was fabulous! Totally different. Look at all those limes! Unfortunately I never found another one like it.

Pisco Capel is the variety I can purchase where I live. Here is a nice description of it from Market View Liquor’s website:

There’s a story, that when Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations, drank a pisco sour in Valparaiso, Chile, he supposedly said, “That’s good, but… next time I’ll have a beer.”

Pisco Sour
Makes 2 drinks

4 ounces Capel Pisco
2 ounces fresh lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup
2 egg whites
4 drops Angostura Bitters, regular flavor

I used my handy dandy electric citrus juicer to squeeze the limes, plus more, cause freshly squeezed lime juice really comes in handy.


Place all ingredients in a blender jar or shaker jar. Blend until smooth and foamy. Pour in to glasses neat, or glasses with ice, if you prefer.


Serve immediately.

If you don’t want your pisco sours on ice, make sure all of the important ingredients are chilled first.

I actually really liked this ratio of ingredients. I wouldn’t want the drink any sweeter, stronger, or more tart.

Asparagus with Beet-Lemon Dressing

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It’s finally spring, and asparagus is abundant. Like many of you as well, I love asparagus. Simply steamed or packed into a savory pie, it’s a lovely vegetable with a punch of flavor.

Asparagus of course works well as a side vegetable, with a little olive oil and salt, but it also lends itself to a dressing or vinaigrette.

I posted on warm leeks with a spicy Creole dressing on the blog. It just shows that just about any vegetable can also be a salad.

For the salad, I decided to use a dressing made with beet juice and lemons. I use beets a lot in my cooking, and when I use canned beets, I always save the beet juice. That way, I can reduce the juice and create a fabulous beet syrup that can be turned into a number of things, like the beet-lemon dressing below.

Asparagus with a Beet-Lemon Dressing

Strained juice from 1 can (15 ounces) of beets, about 1/3 cup
Juice of 1 lemon, strained
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Generous pinch of salt
Few grindings of pepper
1 pound fresh asparagus
1 diced shallot, optional

Place the beet juice in a small pan and begin reducing it over very low heat. It’s best not to leave the kitchen during this process because it can happen quickly towards the end.

When only about 2 tablespoons of the reduced juice remains, remove the syrup from the heat and let it cool.

Whisk in the lemon juice and oil well, then add the salt and pepper.


If you don’t like the look of the syrup separating from the oil, place the mixture in a mini blender. If you prefer it a little creamier, add a 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise or cream, but know it will be pink! Set aside.

Meanwhile, clean the asparagus, which means removing the hard, woody ends. I simply snap off the ends where they snap.

Some people prefer to shave the ends, using a vegetable peeler. There’s really no right or wrong here. When you have a pile of asparagus ends, use them to make asparagus broth using a little onion and garlic, and use that for asparagus soup! It just adds a deeper flavor.

For this asparagus salad, I steamed the asparagus. They can be steamed with any kind of contraption, as long as the asparagus is sitting above water, in the steam, and the pan has a lid. Once the steaming begins, I don’t ever go beyond 5 minutes, but you’ll have to play with this time.

Once cooked, place the warm asparagus on a plate, and add some of the beet-lemon dressing. Sprinkle with some extra salt, if you like.


If you like shallots, sprinkle some on top.

Also, a bit of crumbled goat cheese or chopped toasted walnuts or chopped hard-boiled egg would also be good on this salad. It would make a fabulous first course.


Note: I know some people try to pick out the skinniest of asparagus, thinking that they are more tender, but they all come out of the ground in varying thickness, and are all tender, as long as the weather hasn’t gotten too hot.

Ratatouille Méridionnale

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Méridionnale is the southern region of France famous for its ratatouille, classic in that it contains tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, onions, and eggplant, but unusual in that it is cooked gently in the oven, not on the stovetop. This, according to Daniel Boulud, in his cookbook, “Café Boulud Cookbook,” published in 1999.


I bought the cookbook after going to Café Boulud in New York City, not once, but twice during the same visit back in 2010. My daughter and I stayed at the Surrey Hotel, located adjacent to the restaurant. I had accompanied my daughter to New York City for a major interview, which all turned out well.

To make our first night easy I’d made a reservation at Café Boulud, and it was so perfect that went went the next day for lunch. The food, the service, the ambiance – all was truly perfection. One thing that I remember is that when you were brought the check, it came with just-out-of-the-oven Madeleines.

The cookbook is uniquely divided into four parts.
1. La Tradition – the traditional dishes of French cooking
2. La Saison – the seasonal specialties of the market
3. Le Voyage – dishes from lands far and near, and
4. Le Potager – vegetarian dishes that celebrate the bounty of the garden.

So many recipes jumped out at me when I first read the book. A roasted chicken stuffed with a Tuscan bread filling that included chicken livers and prosciutto, for example, and veal chops stuffed with fontina and porcini. But I chose this ratatouille recipe, from the “La Tradition” section.

Right now my garden is abundant with most all of the ingredients in this hearty vegetable dish, so there’s no better time than the present to make ratatouille.

Ratatouille Méridionnale

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled, split, and germ removed
1 onion, peeled, trimmed, cut into 1” chunks
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, deveined, cut into 1” chunks
2 yellow bell peppers, as above
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 small eggplant, about 4 ounces, trimmed, cut into 1” chunks
1 zucchini, scrubbed, trimmed, cut into 1” chunks
1 yellow squash, scrubbed, trimmed, cut into 1” chunks
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, cut into 1” chunks
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon thinly sliced basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. In order for the vegetables to retain their distinctive flavors, you will need either to cook them in batches or to cook them in two separate sauté pans.

Warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add 1 clove of garlic, the onion, and the chunks of red and yellow pepper. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften a bit but don’t take on color, about 5 minutes.

Either remove the vegetables and wipe out the pan or, while the peppers are cooking, take another sauté pan and warm the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add the second clove of garlic, the eggplant, zucchini, and squash and cook and stir for 8 to 10 minutes, this time allowing the vegetables to color a bit.

Combine the sautéed vegetables in one large ovenproof sauté pan or baking dish and stir in the tomato paste, tomatoes, thyme, and bay leaves. Cover the pan with a circle of parchment paper, pressing the paper against the vegetables.


Put the pan in the oven and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, stirring the ratatouille every 15 minutes or so.

The ratatouille is done when the vegetables are meltingly tender but still retain their shape. Remove the bay leaves and garlic.

Serve while it’s hot, or when it reaches room temperature. Just before serving, stir in the basil leaves and the squirt of lemon juice.

The ratatouille can be made up to 3 days ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator.

Before serving, bring it to room temperature or warm it gently in a slow oven.

I served the ratatouille with roasted chicken. Simple and delicious.

I was really surprised after all the cooking time as well as stirring that the pieces of vegetables remained intact. I have seen many a ratatouille look like mush.

So it’s for that reason alone that I will make this recipe for ratatouille again. It’s pretty, delicious, and perfect for a glut of ripe vegetables.

Paloma Margarita

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Yes, one more margarita recipe! This is a recipe I had hand written on a recipe card many years ago, but then recently discovered it online when I was researching the source of the name “Paloma.” The same margarita is on the Food Network Website. It’s a different kind of margarita recipe in that it contains grapefruit juice.

But first I have to brag about my recent purchase, a Breville 800CPXL Die-Cast Stainless-Steel Motorized Citrus Press from Amazon. It’s not inexpensive, but so worth the expense if you love margaritas and your hands can’t handle squeezing 30 limes at a time.

This appliance works with any size citrus fruit, from limes to grapefruits.


What is also really nice is that with little effort, more juice is removed than any kind of manual squeezing in my experience.

In fact, it’s so “fun” to use, I’ve been keeping a bottle of lime juice in my fridge, and it’s more handy than I even expected! Need lime juice for a quick lime dressing? Done! How about some lime juice for guacamole, or even for a quick limeade! Done! It’s very handy and stays fresh in a lidded bottle.

But the Paloma margarita story doesn’t end here. (I never did figure out why the name Paloma…) My daughter and her family were visiting for a pool party kind of day, and I thought I’d serve the Paloma margaritas to the big people; it was a perfect opportunity to test the recipe.

Well, my daughter and I made them, and we hated them. So my more bartender-talented daughter stepped in and created the following recipe. (She’s always saved my sangrias in the past as well!)

There’s still grapefruit juice in this cocktail, but it’s also definitely a margarita.

Paloma Margarita
Makes 2 drinks

4 ounces tequila
4 ounces grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed
Juice of 1/2 small lime
5 drops of Stevia
Fresca, chilled

Prepare two glasses with a salt rim, and fill the glasses with ice.

Combine the tequila, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and stevia in a cocktail shaker. Add a little ice and shake to cool the margarita.


Strain the ice and divide the margarita between the two glasses. Top each drink with about 2 ounces of Fresca.

Ta da! You’ve got one of the most enjoyable margaritas ever. If you enjoy grapefruit juice.

Make sure to use good, ruby-red grapefruit for maximum sweetness.

If you don’t like salty rims, add a pinch of salt into each cocktail. It really adds something special.

You can adjust the amount of stevia used as well, or substitute a teaspoon of simple syrup.

I thought this margarita was spectacular. There’s something about tequila, grapefruit juice, lime, and salt….

Charred Carrots with Brie

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So, Facebook did it to me again! There it was, a post from Tasting Table, and a photo. An intriguing photo of what looked like charred carrot sticks. Then I read further.

It’s a photo of charred carrots, tossed with Brie, cayenne flakes, honey, and lemon juice. WOW! A sweet, spicy, smoky, cheesy, and tangy vegetable dish, by Tim Love.

Tim Love is a Texas chef best known for his “urban Western” cuisine, and more typically – meat and game. Not being familiar with him, I googled. He’s definitely not Tim Love, the plastic surgeon.

From chef Tim Love, “This is a dish that is actually the result of a little too much pink wine. I was cooking for a party and I drank a lot of rosé all day,” Love says with a laugh. “I forgot about the carrots under the broiler and had to figure out what to do with them — and it ended up being the most popular dish of the night.”

The most important part of this dish is charring the carrots, so don’t be afraid to get them dark. Since you aren’t tossing them while they roast, only one side will char, preventing them from tasting burnt. After you toss them with the Brie, honey and lemon juice, make sure to transfer the carrots to the platter without any of the accumulated liquid. That way the vegetables stay crisp.”

Charred Carrots with Brie

4 medium carrots
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 ounces triple-cream Brie (rind removed), roughly chopped
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat the broiler to 500°. (Don’t forget to have a rack on the top shelf in the oven like I did!)

Cut the carrots into cut into 4-by-½-inch sticks.

In a medium bowl, (I used a large Pyrex bowl) toss the carrots with the oil and cayenne pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper.


Transfer to a baking sheet and spread the carrots out into a single layer.

Cook until the tops of the carrots are well charred, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Immediately, add the Brie, honey and lemon juice to the bowl with the carrots, and toss to combine. (I used the same Pyrex bowl to toss the hot carrots with the other ingredients.)

Let sit for 2 minutes to allow the Brie to melt, then toss to incorporate.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the carrots to a platter, leaving any liquid behind.

Serve immediately.

To say these carrots are fantastic is an understatement. The flavor profile is incredible.

I will be making this recipe again, and experimenting with sweet potatoes and Cambazola, especially as it gets closer to the holidays! Thanks Chef Love!

Sauce Vierge

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I’ve mentioned how I plan my personal meals around condiments, and I’m not exaggerating! In fact, a condiment will inspire a whole meal for me. I guess it’s no different than a BBQ lover who sees BBQ sauce and immediately wants brisket, beans, and cole slaw.

Basic condiments like home-made aioli, mustards and ketchups are wonderful, but so are romesco, chimichurri, charmoula, persillade, harissa, chutney, and confit. So many condiments, so little time!

Recently I came across another sauce – Sauce Vierge – that is almost like a marriage of a fresh tomato salsa and persillade, loosely speaking.

I discovered the sauce on Food 52. Sauce Vierge translates to virgin sauce, and was created in 1976 by Michel Guérard, “one of the forces behind the lighter, fresher nouvelle cuisine that sprang up in reaction to cuisine classique, dripping with all its hefty mother sauces.”

I got excited when I read about the sauce, which includes tomato, lemon juice, and fresh herbs, because it’s a perfect sauce to make in the summer. And it’s summer!

Sauce Vierge

4 ripe tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 whole, peeled garlic cloves, lightly smashed
1 freshly squeezed lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Pinch of ground coriander
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs

Peel and seed the tomatoes, then roughly chop and place in a medium bowl.


Add the oil, garlic, lemon, salt, pepper, and coriander.

Then add the fresh herbs. I used chives, basil, tarragon, thyme, and rosemary.

Cover the bowl, and leave to sit at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours. Taste and adjust the seasoning, remove the cloves of garlic, and serve warm or room temperature.

To use the sauce, I grilled tilapia, and served the sauce at room temperature.

I wanted the sauce ingredients to really stand out.


I served the tilapia with boiled potatoes, on which I drizzled some of the herby oil. You can tell I’m not scared of a plate of olive oil!

In reality, is Sauce Vierge a condiment or a sauce? Where does a condiment start and end, and a sauce or paste begin?

My answer is “who cares?!!”

verdict: I will continue to make this sauce/condiment during summer months when I can get my hands on ripe tomatoes. It is exquisite. Over fish it was a great pairing, but I can see this on scallops, chicken, lamb, bread…

Note: Instead of using the ingredients at room temperature, you can alternatively mix the ingredients in a saucepan, and simmer the sauce slowly over low heat for 30 minutes.

Cilantro Garlic Shrimp

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I’ve rarely made the same dish twice since I began cooking. Thus my motto: “so much food, so little time!” I truly live by this only because there is always something new to make, or variations to try. It’s just fun for me to cook and eat that way.

My husband really enjoys it, I think, because he grew up with the Monday night meal, the Tuesday night meal, and so forth. Seven meals, exactly the same, every week. Not fun.

There are a few dishes that my kids request when they visit home. One loves my black bean enchiladas, the other loves my salads with salmon, but even these are never the same because I don’t follow recipes. But one thing both of them enjoy and request often during the warm months, is this cilantro garlic shrimp.

In this shrimp appetizer, cilantro adds a wonderful freshness, and pairs so well with fresh garlic. So this shrimp is wonderful in the spring and summer, for any kind of get-together.

Cilantro Garlic Shrimp

Cooked shrimp, tail or no tail, preferably poached
Olive oil, about 1 cup
Fresh garlic, 5-6 cloves if you want a sharp flavor
Fresh cilantro, a whole bunch
Salt

Spread out the cooked shrimp on paper towels to dry if necessary, then place in a bowl and keep refrigerated.

To prepare the marinade, pour the olive oil into a blender jar. Add a generous amount garlic cloves, fresh cilantro, stems and all, and a little salt.


Blend until smooth, then pour over the shrimp and toss. Don’t overdo it – you just want the shrimp coated, but not drowning in the marinade. If you have any left over, keep it for chicken. It’s fabulous!
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This shrimp can be made the day before, and kept refrigerated, but take it out of the refrigerator at least an hour before serving, so the olive oil doesn’t remain coagulated.
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If you like the addition of lemon juice in this cilantro and garlic mixture, do not let the shrimp sit for long. In fact, serve as soon as possible. The lemon juice will cook and mush up the shrimp.

note: You could marinate cleaned, raw shrimp in this cilantro-garlic mixture, and then grill them, but it’s never quite the same. Some liquid always leaks out of the shrimp and they can’t be grilled properly. So that’s why I use pre-cooked shrimp. That way you’ve got perfectly cooked shrimp, coated with the lovely “marinade.”

Curried Lentil Salad

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You all know that I love lentils. They’re delicious and healthy, but they’re also versatile. Once they’re cooked, you can serve them as a side dish, as an entrée, a soup, a dip, or a salad!

Well this salad I’m posting on today is delicious year ’round. It’s equally good in the winter as the summer months, and every month in between. It’s a lentil salad tossed with a curried garlic-citrus dressing. The dressing I made is as important as the salad itself.

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I feel it’s very important to match dressings or vinaigrettes to salad ingredients, which is why I prefer to make my own dressings from scratch. And when it comes to salads made predominantly, if not exclusively with legumes, I find that lemon- or lime-based dressings are preferable over vinegar. And I love vinegar, don’t get me wrong. There’s just something about that acidity that pairs well with the legumes. I find it true with grain salads as well.

So today’s salad is a combination of cooked lentils, with some celery, carrots, and dried pomegranate seeds. Good, but not great. In addition, I’ve made a fabulous lemon juice-based dressing with a little twist. I hope you enjoy it.

I am not posting an exact recipe, because none is needed. Just go with what you like in the salad as well as with the dressing. Remember – no rules. It’s your food, you make it how you like it!

Lentil Salad

For the salad, I simply borrowed some lentils that I’d cooked the day before. Make sure the lentils are well-drained for the salad, if there’s an abundance of cooking liquid with the lentils. Alternatively, or use a slotted spoon to collect them. Then place the lentils in a medium-sized serving bowl, depending how big your salad is going to be.

To the lentils add thinly sliced celery and carrots. You could also add shallots or purple onions as well.

At this point, taste the lentil salad and make sure it is well seasoned. There’s no need going forward if the lentils aren’t seasoned to your liking. Salt and pepper should do the trick.

I cook my lentils, typically, in water with a chicken broth powder added. It’s a wonderful product I’ve talked about before, that I buy in 1 lb. packages online. The chicken flavor of the broth adds enough seasoning to the lentils so that for me, no more is required. It “rounds” out the lentil flavor nicely.

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Toss the salad gently, and then make the dressing.

Curried Garlic Citrus Dressing

Juice of 3 lemons, strained, about 1/3 cup
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons orange-infused oil
2 small cloves garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon curry powder*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric

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In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, and oils. Then add the garlic and seasoning.
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Give everything a good stir, and you’re ready to go.
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Place the lentil salad in bowls for serving, and top with the dried pomegranate seeds. Raisins or currants would work just as well.
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Add as much of the dressing you want to each salad; I like a generous amount.
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Toss gently to get the lentils coated with the dressing, and enjoy.

This salad is best at room temperature.

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* I use a Penzey’s curry powder called sweet curry powder that I like. I wrote about this product in a post before, albeit a very short post, because I find this curry powder a decent blend if you don’t make your own from scratch. If you’re not too fond of curry, which is actually many, many different spices all mixed together, I would start out with a very small amount and work your way up. But I would try it. The lemon juice, the orange oil, the curry, plus the lentils and dried pomegranate seeds go so well together, it would be a shame to not experience these flavors!

note: If you don’t like the sharp bite of fresh garlic, place all of your ingredients in a mini blender and purée the dressing before using. Also, if you don’t have an orange-infused oil, a good olive oil will work well.