Campechana

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I had a favorite menu item at our local country club’s restaurant that sadly disappeared when the chef moved on. It was campechana – a combination of shrimp and avocados in a zesty tomato sauce, served chilled with tortilla chips.

Never did I realize it was an actual “thing” until I googled it. Turns out, recipes for campechana are commonplace! By definition, it’s a seafood cocktail from Campeche, a coastal state in Mexico.

I immediately grabbed one of my Rick Bayless cookbooks, Mexico: One Plate at a Time, published in 2000, and if you look closely at the cover photo, there is the shrimp cocktail!!!

I have a soft spot for Rick Bayless for many reasons. He’s a passionate chef and student of Mexican cookery, who been married to his wife forever, with whom he’s collaborated on books. (As well as with their daughter!) So I respect that. He also does a lot of charitable work in Chicago and in Mexico and is a total nerd.

But mostly for this.

Fifteen years ago I took my daughter to Chicago for her 18th birthday. It was all about shopping, visiting the sites, and enjoying great meals. I had made reservations at Frontera, and Charlie Trotter’s for our two big nights out.

At Frontera, which was outstanding in every way, I saw that Rick Bayless himself was in the kitchen, and asked if we could say hello. And he was kind and took this memorable photo with Emma.

I decided to make the shrimp cocktail recipe that’s pictured on the book cover. It’s not called campechana but a ceviche, which seems odd because it doesn’t fit my definition of ceviche. But Mr. B. Knows his stuff, so I will not quibble.

Ceviche de Camaron
4 hefty servings

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 generous pound smallish shrimp, peeled, de-veined
1/2 medium white onion, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus several sprigs for garnish
1/2 cup ketchup
1 to 2 tablespoons vinegary Mexican bottled hot sauce
About 2 tablespoons olive oil, preferably extra-virgin (optional, but recommended to smooth out sharpness)
1 cup diced peeled cucumber or jicama (or 1/2 cup of each)
1 small ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed

Bring 1 quart salted water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of the lime juice. Scoop in the shrimp, cover and let the water return to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat, set the lid askew and pour off all the liquid. Replace the cover and let the shrimp steam off the heat for 10 minutes.

Spread out the shrimp in a large glass or stainless steel bowl to cool completely. Toss the shrimp with the remaining 1/2 lime juice, cover and refrigerate for about an hour.


In a small strainer, rinse the onion under cold water, then shake off the excess liquid.

Add to the shrimp bowl along with the cilantro, ketchup, hot sauce, optional olive oil, cucumber and/or jícama and avocado.

Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately. Spoon the ceviche into sundae glasses, martini glasses, or small bowls: garnish with sprigs of cilantro and slices of lime.

Serve with tostadas, tortilla chips or saltines to enjoy alongside.

The ceviche is best made the day it is served.

If you want a more Southwestern-inspired Campechana, I found one on Epicurious that I’m trying next. It has roasted green chiles and includes crab meat!

So what I’ve gathered, whether it’s called Campechana, or a seafood cocktail, or a ceviche-style shrimp cocktail, the basic ingredients are similar, being shrimp and avocado in (typically) a red sauce. And from there you can get as spicy and zingy and creative as you wish!

The campechana I remember had no cucumber or jicama, but they added a great texture.

The only other difference I can detect from my campechana that I loved and this and other similar shrimp cocktail recipe is the amount of red sauce and the viscosity of the red sauce. I have to say I prefer a bit more sauciness than what’s in this recipe.

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….

Marinades

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Marinades are a wonderful way to flavor meat. They can be simple or involved, depending on your desires, but they’re also a great way to use up ingredients. Have some leftover parsley? Make a marinade. Tomatoes? Make a marinade. An orange? You get the idea.

Generally, a marinade is composed of three parts: the oil, the acid, and the flavoring. The oil is simply the carrier. It can be a neutral oil like grape seed, an extra-virgin olive oil, or an infused oil.

The acidic option depends on what food you’re preparing. If I’m marinating beef for fajitas, I’d choose lime juice as my acid. If I’m marinating chicken for a stir fry, I’d choose sake or mirin. But there are other options as well. Orange juice? Pineapple juice? A ripe tomato? Sure! They all work.

The third part of creating a marinade is the most fun, because you can get really creative. Garlic is always important to me. There’s not one cuisine I can think of that doesn’t utilize this wonderfully pungent allium, be it Indian, Asian, Mexican, and so forth. Ginger is also perfect in Asian- and Indian -inspired marinades.

The next option for me would be fresh herbs, like cilantro, basil, or parsley. They provide beautiful color and freshness to a marinade.

Chile peppers puréed in a marinade provide wonderful heat as well as flavor. Just remove the stem of fresh jalapeños, for example, and pop them into the blender with the other ingredients. Alternatively, use roasted peppers or chile pepper purée, of which there are many varieties.

Here are some spice options for marinades: Cumin, chili powder, smoky or sweet paprika, coriander, Chinese 5-spice powder, curry powder, cayenne, chipotle, ancho chile pepper.

Other ingredients to flavor marinades include pesto, miso, ketchup, soy sauce, fish sauce, hoisin sauce, berbere, harissa, romesco, mustard, honey, maple syrup, roasted red bell peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce… the list is literally endless.

The following marinade is basically a red wine-based vinaigrette, seasoned with garlic, dried herbs, and cayenne pepper flakes.

Here is a marinade made with olive oil, lime juice, garlic and parsley puréed together for chicken breasts. The combination makes a wonderful green marinade, which colors the chicken beautifully after grilling.

For a beef tri-tip, I created an Asian-inspired marinade. I used soy sauce, sake, sesame seed oil, chile paste (Sambal oelek), ginger and garlic. After 24 hours I seared the thin slices of beef in peanut oil for a quick dinner. It’s that simple.

Yogurt can also be used as the “carrier oil,” which you learn about quickly when you indulge yourself in Indian cuisines. So for my final example of a marinated meat, I’m using a mixture of yogurt and harissa.

For a more involved Indian-inspired marinade, I would include garlic, ginger, and curry powder, but I wanted to show how easy it is to create a flavorful and unique marinade. It took10 seconds to prepare and you don’t even need to use a blender.

I’m simply smothering a pork tenderloin with the marinade, waiting a few hours, and then roasting it in the oven.

Marinating requires very little work. It’s just about planning. Try different variations and see what magic you can come up with!

Pink Prosecco Margarita

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My friend Dan loves a good cocktail. So when he made a point to text me this recipe, I knew it would be good.

He found it online originally, and made a few adaptations, but because I don’t know the origin, I’ll just call it Dan’s recipe.

It’s basically the ingredients for a real margarita, plus pink lemonade and Prosecco.

However, I couldn’t find pink lemonade where I live. Maybe it was sold out? But I did find strawberry lemonade, which I never knew existed, so I thought I’d try that, mostly because I’m impulsive. Same cocktail, but subtly strawberry flavored. Still pink, in fact hot pink!

I imagine if you’re not having a girls’ party like a bridal shower or somesuch, you can use regular lemonade for this cocktail, but the thought of making and serving a pink drink was so compelling to me!

My girlfriend helped out with a perfect happy hour setting at her house to test out the cocktail. I mean, to help with the photography.

Dan’s Pink Prosecco Margarita

1 cup pink lemonade*
3/4 cup Patron tequila
½ cup Patron orange liqueur
2 ounces lime juice, about 3 small limes
1/2 – 1 cup Prosecco, well chilled
Lime and salt for rimming

Pour the lemonade in a serving pitcher, and add the tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice. Chill in the refrigerator.


Right before serving, add the Prosecco.

Rim the glasses with lime juice and dip the rim with salt.


I also tried the margarita over ice, mostly because it was hot out and my girlfriend and I had been working so hard on this photo shoot (thanks Jil!) and that was also good. (not pictured.)

Overall, this is a lovely summer cocktail, but in fact, could be served at parties at various times of the year. I can see cranberries thrown in at a holiday party for example!

* Use one 12 ounce can thawed, frozen pink lemonade concentrate, or strawberry lemonade concentrate, and mix with two containers (24 ounces total) of water.

One More Margarita

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I happen to like the taste of tequila, which is odd because I dislike strong cocktails. But margaritas, made with tequila, for anyone who may not know, can be really tasty. The ones I like are also refreshing.

On this blog I’ve posted on my friends’ real margarita, and also my own watermelon margarita. None of that disgusting sweet and sour mix in these recipes, just real ingredients.

Recently I visited an old friend out of town, and on our first night she made margaritas to celebrate. And I was blown away by them.

Gabriella went to visit Stéphane with me in France a few years back. Here we are trying not to giggle about something.

Gabriella has given me permission to share her recipe, which includes expected ingredients, plus a few unexpected ones.

So, one more margarita recipe!

Gabriella’s Margarita
makes one drink

Lime and salt if desired
2 ounces tequila
3 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
2 ounces Grand Marnier or Cointreau
1 tablespoon agave nectar
2-3 ounces club soda
Twist of freshly ground pepper

Lime and salt a tall glass, and fill with ice cubes.

Mix the tequila, lime juice, and Grand Marnier together in a pourable pitcher. In this photo I hadn’t added the lime juice yet.

Add the agave nectar and stir well.

Pour the margarita over the ice cubes, not filling the glass by more than 2/3 full.

Add club soda and stir to combine.

Then top the margarita with a twist of black pepper.

And that’s it!

It’s more refreshing than a 3-ingredient margarita, what I call a real margarita, because it’s smoother and doesn’t have that bite. But I love both.


The other evening I made myself a real margarita, mostly because it’s the easiest to remember – 1 part tequila, 1 part Cointreau, and 1 part fresh lime juice.

And out of curiosity and for the sake of culinary research, I added Fresca to my margarita. People, I swear Fresca is magical. It lightened and fizzed up the margarita, but also blended all of the flavors.

So however you make your favorite margaritas, try topping them off with chilled club soda or Fresca, and see what you think!

Bacon Fried Rice

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My husband doesn’t like anything “fishy,” which includes, sadly, fried rice. He’d love it without the little shrimp, which to me, is what makes it so delicious and unique.

I was recently reading through a People Magazine, for a friend, and in the back was a recipe for bacon fried rice by none other than David Chang.

It initially got my attention, when most recipes in People don’t, because I don’t read People, because I thought bacon fried rice would be perfect for my husband! And it was!

David Chang is the chef and host of Netflix’s new food series Ugly Delicious, which I haven’t seen. Most of us are familiar with him as the owner of the Momofuku restaurant group. Perhaps you’ve heard of Momofuku Noodle Bar or the Milk Bar? Now he has his own media empire as well.

In any case, David Chang claims that any fried rice recipe is best made with pre-cooked and cooled rice. “The starches relax so the grains won’t clump up and get mushy.” My Chinese friend confirmed that in her family, extra rice was continually stockpiled just for making fried rice.

The first time I made this rice, I had none leftover, so I simply used sushi rice and followed the recipe. I have to say, it was superb, and the texture was just fine.

This time, I’m using leftover cooked rice.

Bacon and fish sauce? Yes and yes. Try this recipe. It’s superb!

Bacon Fried Rice
By David Chang

4 cups cooked white rice
2 teaspoons grapeseed oil
8 bacon slices, diced
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cup frozen petite peas, thawed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 lime, juiced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
6 green onions, sliced

Bring the cooked rice to room temperature; set aside.

Meanwhile, in a shallow pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the bacon, and cook for about 4-5 minutes. Add the onions, and sauté together for 3-4 minutes more, turning down the heat slightly if too much browning occurs.


Add the peas, and stir to combine. Then gently stir in the rice.

Let the rice mixture heat thoroughly over medium heat. Make a well in the middle, and add the eggs. Stir occasionally to make sure they’re cooking, then stir them into the rice. There should be little bits of cooked egg throughout the rice.


Stir in the fish sauce, lime juice, and soy sauce.

Just before serving, stir in the green onions; I used chives.

I also added some black sesame seeds.

And then, yes I did, I added an egg!

Of course it was fabulous. Will I continue making this fried yes? You bet.

Regarding the pre-cooked and cooled rice, it was definitely lighter, and the grains separated easily.

And FYI, this is my favorite fish sauce.

 

 

A Real Margarita

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Rarely do I order a margarita at a restaurant. Unless it’s a Mexican restaurant with top-shelf margaritas shaken to order by a bartender, they tend to be heavy on the sweet-and-sour-mix.

What that means is the following:
1. You don’t taste the tequila.
2. Your mouth puckers from the sweet-sour.
3. You invariably get a headache.

So typically I make margaritas at home, although I limit myself to two drinks. I don’t have any bad college memories of tequila overindulgence, because I didn’t drink back then. But I’ve probably heard too many scary stories from other folks, that help me maintain a healthy respect for tequila’s powers.

Although I don’t really enjoy the taste of booze, even vodka, I do like tequila. I’d never drink it straight, but I also don’t want to ruin it with disgusting margarita mix. I’ve searched long and hard for a good, reliable margarita recipe.

Lo and behold, enter my friends, man and wife, both great bartenders and hosts.

This post is thanks to them, and their margarita recipe that they’re allowing me to share with the world!!! I have no idea if it’s a common recipe or not, but most all margarita recipes include sweet and sour mix, simple syrup, or sugar. So trust me, if you like a good, strong, but also refreshing margarita, this recipe is perfect!

Just remember: tequila can creep up on you!

The recipe is this simple. Equal parts tequila, orange liqueur, and fresh lime juice. That’s it. The lime juice provides the tartness and freshness, the liqueur adds just enough sweetness, and the tequila, well that’s the booze.

Of course, a margarita isn’t a margarita without the lime and salt rim.

Start by squeezing limes. You may think you have a lot, but you may barely have enough. Trust me on this. (My husband squeezed 32 limes on Cinco de Mayo for our pitcher of margaritas for four people!)

I ended up with 4 ounces of lime juice, so to it I added 4 ounces each of tequila and orange liqueur. I recommend either Cointreau or Grand Marnier. For tequila I stick with Patron.

Have your glasses ready with salted rims, then fill with ice cubes.

Pour in the margarita.

Enjoy.

Of course these margaritas could also be blended with ice, but I prefer mine on the rocks.

On a hot day, there’s no better drink than a margarita, but not if they’re cloyingly sweet.

If you want a special treat, top the margarita off with a Chambord floater! And thank my same friends for this unique twist on a margarita.


Nigella Kitchen

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I happen to be a fan of Nigella Lawson. She’s so prolific in the cookbook department, but each of her books manages to be different.

My favorite is Nigella Christmas, but probably because I’m a Christmas freak. Feast is also fabulous. But maybe in my top five is Nigella Kitchen, published in 2010.

Nigella describes this book as a comfort chronicle – “the story of my love affair with the kitchen,” which she refers to as the “heart of the home.”

That’s probably one major thing that all food bloggers have in common, that we’re at home in our kitchens. It’s where we’re the most comfortable, where we dish up love in the form of food.

In her introduction, she stresses the fact that she is not a chef. Nigella writes, “I understand why cooking can hold so much terror and the kitchen seem a place of stress, not solace. I’m sure this is partly to do with the contemporary cult of the chef…”.

Well I’ve been saying this for years. If anyone was ever hesitant about getting into the kitchen, I think the intimidating chefs on tv put an end to any attempts at cooking. This is especially sad when home cooking has nothing to do with what chefs do in their restaurant kitchens.

Furthermore, she adds, “I say and can never seem to say enough: if we needed qualifications and expertise before we stepped into the kitchen, human beings would have fallen out of the evolutionary loop a long time ago.”

I love her approach, probably because it was always my goal, especially when I taught cooking classes, and now with this blog, to show how simple home cooking is, and how easy it is to be creative and not stick to an exact recipe.

In another part of the book she writes about having a girlfriend over for supper:

“We were chatting, moaning, jabbering away and generally passing the time, as one does. I was at the stove, pontificating and pottering occasionally pushing and prodding what was in front of me with a pair of tongs; she was facing me, at the kitchen table. After about ten minutes, if that I presented her with her plate and she looked surprised, as she was sure she hadn’t seen me actually cooking. In a way, I can see her point: this wasn’t Cooking-with-a-capital-C, but the lower-case way which is always my starting point, and on busy days, I wouldn’t think of going beyond. You put something on the heat, you take it off the heat.”

Nigella’s writing is so impressive to me (her first career was journalism), and she’s also damn funny. And even though she’s gorgeous model-pretty, she seems so down to earth and shall I say normal?

I also love the passion she has not just for cooking but also eating; the way she embraces her love of indulging is respectable to me. I’d rather live like Nigella and eat chocolate cake in the middle of the night, than doom myself to eat egg white omelets the rest of my life like rail-thin Gwyneth Paltrow.

So what recipe from Nigella Kitchen to pick for this post? I have many recipes bookmarked, some of which are quite simple, but manage also to be unique. One really spoke to me – it was a salmon over sushi rice topped with a spicy Asian sauce. Simple? Definitely. Yet fabulous.

I’ve always mentioned that I use brown rice, or actually when I use any grain I purchase the unprocessed variety for more nutrition, but Nigella’s use of sushi rice in this recipe – with its beautiful white elegance – made me actually go out and buy some.

Plus I finally get to use some sake that I’ve had on hand forever!

Salmon and Sushi Rice
with hot, sweet, and sour Asian Sauce

2 1/2 cups sushi rice
1 – 1 pound slab salmon
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 red or green chile peppers, finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced gingerroot
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons sake
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons water (used used only 1)

Cook the rice following the package instructions.

Sear the salmon on a flat griddle for 4-5 minutes. Turn it over and cook for 1-2 minutes on the other side. The salmon should be just opaque and cooked in the center. Set aside.

Mix the remaining ingredients together, and put in a bowl to serve alongside the salmon and the cooked rice.


Flake the salmon and serve it over the rice, and generously add the sauce.

This would be a fantastic sauce for any leftover salmon you might have. This recipe, as it turns out, is only about the cooked rice, the cooked salmon, and the sauce!

I originally assumed that the salmon was marinated, but no, it’s just a matter of making this fabulous sauce!

Besides reducing the water in the recipe(I didn’t want a watery sauce), I also added chile paste (sambal oelek) to the sauce.

Part of the reason is that I used jalapeños, but I could only find sweet red chile peppers.

I wanted the sauce more spicy!!!

Make sure and serve the sauce with the salmon. You’ll want more of it!

note: You can probably tell that I cooked 2 small salmon fillets, plus I only cooked 1 cup of sushi rice; my husband doesn’t eat salmon. But I made the full recipe of the sauce and will use it up on something else soon. Grilled chicken? Eggs? The next morning after I’d made this dish, I ate the second salmon and rice serving of it cold, for breakfast. It was fantastic.

Grapefruited Pisco

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I’ve always been intrigued by the well-known South American drink known as the Pisco Sour. In fact, I’m wondering what took me so long to finally try it.

With spring well on the way, I decided it was time. So I went to my favorite booze monger and asked for a bottle. What he sold me is called Capel, which is from Chile. Chilean piscos are supposedly sweeter than Peruvian piscos. So adjustments must be made in the recipes.

pisco22

If I’d actually read about what Pisco is, I probably wouldn’t have bothered trying it. Or, at least, I would have asked my blogger friend Sally from Bewitching Kitchen about Pisco, since she’s from South America. But I wasn’t smart enough to do that. I’m very impulsive, really.

If I’d googled Pisco, I would have learned that it’s distilled from wine made from specific grapes, originally those inferior in quality. It then becomes a very strong brandy. Grappa is a common substitute for Pisco. Have you ever tried grappa? I felt obliged once to try it after it was given to us at an Italian restaurant, and I thought my head would explode. And that was from one sip.

So being obliged to also try Pisco by itself, just to check out the flavor so I can share the information, I tried one sip. It was probably half a teaspoon. I could have lit my whole head on fire. Well, next time I’ll do a little research first. But I was still determined to try a pisco sour, my version with the addition of fresh grapefruit juice. It sounded good in theory.

If you check on Bar None Drinks, you can find two different versions of a pisco sour. One is pisco along with lime juice and sugar, which is very similar to a margarita. The other is the same thing but with egg white included, and sometimes with a dash of bitters. I liked the egg white idea, so I came up with the following recipe.

Keep in mind that I’ve admitted before that as much as I like cocktails, I don’t like them strong, and I’m a terrible bartender. My husband enjoys my mixology experiments, because he gets to drink all of my mistakes.

Also keep in mind that some of the photos show a very pink drink, and others a more yellow version. That’s because my first round was terribly bitter to me (not my husband) and so I added Grenadine to the second batch. I preferred the sweeter, pinker version. Here it is.

Grapefruited Pisco Sour
Makes 2 drinks

2 small grapefruits
4 ounces Capel Pisco, chilled
2 ounces sweetened lime juice*
1 ounce Grenadine, Amarena cherry juice, or juice from the pictured Maraschino cherry jar
1 egg white

Juice the two grapefruits.
pisco6

Measure 6 ounces and place the juice in a blender jar. Add the the remaining ingredients.
pisco8

pisco7

pisco9

Blend until smooth and foamy.
pisco11

Pour into two glasses and serve.

pisco5

The above photo shows how pink the drink is with the added grenadine.

pisco3

The above drinks are without the grenadine.

pisco2

I served the drinks with skewered Luxardo cherries, Italian maraschino cherries that are like candy they’re so good.
pisco1

I was surprised at how fast the liquid and foam separated. The drink is definitely prettier blended.
pisco4

* I used sweetened lime juice in place of lime juice and simple syrup

verdict: I have mixed feelings about this drink. Although it was legally spring on the day I made these, it was cold. Perhaps if the weather had been warmer they would have been more refreshing and appreciated by myself. I actually just finished skyping with my London daughter minutes ago, and she’s had pisco sours (of course) and she never thought they were strong at all. And she’s more of a wine drinker like myself. So I might keep experimenting. If you like drinking rubbing alcohol, this stuff is for you!