Friday, July 17, 2015

The Sweetest Taste of Summer

From my Petaluma Post column, July 2015:

On a hot summer day there is nothing sweeter or more refreshing than watermelon.  You can’t have a
Compressed Tomato and Basil with Watermelon
with Sherry & Wild Baby Arugula
picnic or a barbecue without thick slices of red watermelon.  To me it just screams summer and hot days.  It is a healthy snack; low calorie, and like tomatoes the red color gives you lycopene, which is good for bone health, and most recently they have found
citrulline is an amino acid that is commonly converted by our kidneys.   But forget that, it tastes good!

Obviously the most traditional way is just to serve it as wedges.  When cutting wedges I like to cut the corners off the peel side, just to make it easier to eat; that way don’t really have to stick your face in it.  But I prefer to cut it into sticks, with the peel just on one end; it’s easy to handle and eat that way. 

But that is not all you can do with it.  A simple “watermelon salad” is easy by cutting it into chunks and finishing with lime juice, and maybe a little salt.   But for a more gourmet alterative try

Watermelon Salad with Feta and Mint
Serves 8 to 10
3 lbs Peeled Seedless Red or Yellow Watermelon
2 stems Mint
8 oz Crumbled Feta
¼ cup Sherry Vinegar

Cut the water melon into 1 inch cubes.  Chiffonade (very thinly slice) the mint and add to the watermelon.  Add the rest of the ingredients and toss gently.  It is best prepared the same day.  Serve well chilled.

There are plenty of watermelon themed hors d’oeuvres, but one of my favorites is Watermelon with Chèvre and Basil.

Watermelon with Chèvre and Basil
Yield approx. 40 pieces
1 Small watermelon, seedless
8 oz Chèvre
1 bunch Basil, cut chiffonade
Balsamic Syrup

Peel the watermelon and cut into 1” cubes, then using a melon baller, remove a small scoop from the top of each cube to hold the Chèvre.  Place approximately half of a teaspoon of Chèvre in each divot, then drizzle with balsamic syrup and finish with the basil. 

As refreshing as watermelon is to eat it is great in beverages.  A perfect addition to a pitcher of water, just add cubed watermelon plus a few basil leaves.  Allow it to rest for 1 to 2 hours, and you have a great infusion.  You might also want to try

Watermelon Lemonade
6 cups cubed seedless watermelon, chilled (2 lbs after peeling)
4 cups cold water
3/4 cup fresh strained lemon juice, chilled
2/3 cup granulated sugar (more or less to taste)

For an added fresh touch try cutting extra watermelon in to cubes and freeze as ice cubes, which would also be a great idea for your watermelon infused water or cocktails.

Watermelon’s delicate flavor can pair well with so many things.  Add a little bit of citrus and cilantro and you have a great salsa, serve with chips or grilled pork or chicken.  Feel free to add you own ideas.

Watermelon Salsa
3 cups finely diced seedless watermelon, (about 2¼ pounds with the rind)
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1/3 cup chopped cilantro, (about 1/2 bunch)
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup minced red onion
1/4 teaspoon salt
Mix gently and allow to rest 30 minutes.
Did you know that the rind of the watermelon is also edible?  Have you had pickled watermelon rind?  Pickling is making a comeback, with the interest in heirloom foods, their processing is returning as well.

Pickled Watermelon Rind
4 lbs watermelon rinds, cut in 1” pieces
¼ cup salt
4 cup water
2 cup white vinegar
2 cup water
4 cup sugar
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp allspice
1 lemon, sliced

Soak the watermelon with salt and water over night, drain and rinse well.  Bring the remaining ingredients to a boil, simmer 5 minutes.  Add rind and simmer 15 to 30 minutes until tender.  At this point you can use as refrigerator pickles and keep in your fridge for 45 to 60 days.  Or place in sterilized jars, top with boiling syrup and process in boiling water.  Use them to round out a summer themed hors d’oeuvres station with other pickled veg and meats.  Or as the beginning of a watermelon relish.

You can also look for yellow watermelon to add some color.  And remember to be creative!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Chili, Chile, or Chilli?

From my Petaluma Post column:

Yes I mean Chili, summer time BBQs are a great time for Chili.  But there is so much controversy
over this simple dish.  Do you make Chili con carne (chili with meat)?  Do you put beans in it (heavens no)?  Is yours red or is yours green?  However you might make it, American’s love chili hot dogs to chili cook-offs.  It’s time to try your hand at a batch and create your own recipe

Chili comes from the root of Chile meaning chile peppers a key ingredient in the dish.  Originally chili con carne was made up of a combination of red meat, salt and chile peppers.   Introduced to the crowds at the 1893 Columbian exposition in Chicago by the San Antonio Chili Stand it spread through the south and west.  Every restaurant and “Chili Bar” has their own recipe and of course a secret ingredient, one of the most interesting is Cincinnati style chili, also known as 5 way chili.  Start with Spaghetti Noodles, then chili, kidney beans or corn, cheddar cheese and grated cheddar cheese.

I find chili to be a crowd pleaser and a great dish to do in large quantities.  I am not a traditionalist and will often be creative with my ingredients.  We recently paired a Lamb Chili with wine from Dutcher Crossing Winery during the annual Passport Weekend.  Dutcher Crossing is well known for big red wines often with a touch of Syrah grapes.  We paired their Cabernet Sauvignon with a Lamb Chili con Carne.
Lamb Chili (yield 1 gallon)
4 lbs Ground Lamb
9 oz Onions, diced
28oz Tomatoes, canned, diced
1 oz Chili Powder
½ oz Garlic Powder
¼ oz Cumin
¼ oz Paprika
3 grams Pepper Flakes
2 cups Roasted Vegetable Stock

Brown the lamb in oil with the onions, then add the spices and stock and cook for about 5 minutes.  Finally add the tomatoes and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.

A few weeks later, to contrast with the lamb chili I went in the opposite direction for Cinnabar Theatre’s annual Chili Cook Off.  Let’s go green with “its good to be green”; we are a green certified company and proud of it, so when we entered the cook off here in Petaluma I decided to do a green vegetarian chili. Yes, I know a purist will say chili can’t even have beans in it, let alone be vegetarian, but chili is what you make it.  What do I mean by green?  First no tomatoes, instead we used tomatillos which add a great tang to the chili.  I used fresh chili both Anaheim chiles and Pasilla chiles to add texture and then also dried green New Mexico chiles.  Using green chiles also keeps the heat down.  Then we went with white beans versus the traditional red beans, and it came out a winner.  Winning both the People’s Choice and Judges Choice for best vegetarian chili.  – Thanks to everyone who voted for us.

Vegetarian Chili (yield 1 gallon)
1 lbs White Beans, dried
1 lbs Tomatillos, crushed, canned
8 oz Pasilla Chiles
8 oz Anaheim Chiles
5 oz Green Chili, diced, canned
12 oz Yellow Onion
1/8 cup Vegetable oil
2 gm Cumin
7 gram Chili Powder
2 cups Roasted Vegetable Stock
2 tsp lime juice
½ cup Green Enchilada Sauce
Salt & Pepper to taste

Start by soaking the beans for 12 to 24 hours, and drain them thoroughly just before use.  Sauté the onions, garlic and diced chiles in vegetable oil, and then add the cumin and chili powder.  Cook it for 5 to 8 minutes, until it becomes fragrant.  Next add the drained beans and cover with the roasted vegetable stock and add the tomatillos (smashed with juice) and lime juice.  Cook over medium heat for 1½ to 2 hours (until beans are tender). Finish with some of the diced chiles and enchilada sauce.  And to really make it pop, serve it with a dollop of Cilantro Cumin Crema and some more diced green chilies for color.

Cilantro Cumin Crema
1 cup Sour Cream
½ bunch Cilantro Tops
1 Tbs Fresh Lime Juice
1 tsp Cumin
½ tsp Vegetable Oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

So red chiles or green chiles, beans or meat, tomatoes or tomatillos, spicy or mild, it’s time to grab a pot and create your recipe.  Enjoy

And in case you’re curious, because I was when my spell checker didn’t like “chiles”;  while chili refers to the above recipes, when it comes to the peppers chile, chili, or chilli, with or without an extra e when making it plural are all acceptable.  And an argument could be made that any of those spellings could be used for the above recipes as well.  Digging deeper, some of it seems regional and it has changed over time.  My advice is to go with what you like.  I like chile pepper because the spelling speaks to the word’s Spanish origin.