Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How to Make the Most of an Unpleasant Task: Blistered Shishito Peppers With Spicy Garlic Soy Dipping Sauce

You might not know this by looking at me but I have a "permanent record" at a couple of retailers. Many years ago I got one with a store whose name I'd rather not divulge, so I'll just say it rhymes with Chuckle. I got this record by asking them to exchange a pair of $80.00 jeans that my daughter had worn just once or twice before one of the pre-distressed places in the knee gave way and ripped all the way through. Since this was not quite the look she was going for, we packed them up and took them back without our receipt.

After much discussion with their teenage management team, I was told that out of the kindness of their hearts they were going to reluctantly give us a new pair but they would mark this on my customer history and would never, ever, EVER return anything without a receipt again. This was no problem because I have never even so much as walked into their store since. Great customer service policies like that should be rewarded accordingly.

A few years later I had a misunderstanding with our mobile phone carrier that I will refer to here as "Herizon". This misunderstanding was over $160 dollars that they "mistakenly" charged to our account. Since we had paid it several months earlier, they thought they could keep it, and I thought they couldn't. The Attorney General of the great state of New Jersey broke the tie and agreed with me (tee hee hee) and they were forced to give it back. Since I won, and they provide the best reception in our mountainous region, we have very reluctantly stayed with them, but check over their confusing bills with a fine tooth comb every month.

About a year ago, I got my first IPhone from them. Along with my new phone I purchased a glass screen protector that they put on for me. Everything went well until a couple of months later when this screen protector began to loosen around the edges. I took it back to the Herizon store where I asked if I could get a new one since it wasn't performing as promised.

After being accused of "fooling with it" and "picking at it" (which, by the way I did not do) by their less than charismatic store manager, I was told that they would do it this time, but a note would be placed on my permanent record and it would never be done again. It is obvious to me that Herizon and Chuckle must have the same philosophy when it comes to customer service. Six months later, the new screen protector is barely hanging on to my phone, but I won't dare ask them for a replacement. We've only been customers of theirs for 12 years and this is obviously too much to ask.

So, this past Sunday afternoon, my daughter asked if I'd go to the Herizon store with her, I reluctantly agreed even though I would have rather taken a stick in the eye than spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon in their den of misery, but I agreed because I just love being with her.

On the way we drove by a new sushi restaurant that my daughter was familiar with, so we decided to stop and have a cocktail and a little food anticipating a long list of grumpy phone customers that were surely waiting ahead of us. Luckily, the restaurant has happy hour all day on Sundays so we ordered a couple of the best $3.00 margaritas I've ever had and a small assortment of appetizers.

Our first plate was the always safe crab rangoon which was pretty good along side its barely there spicy mango sauce, but it was our second plate of shishito peppers that was the stunner. For those who haven't had these wonderful little peppers, they kind of look like pepperoncinis. They are mostly mild, with about one in 10 packing a spicy punch. They were served blistered with a spicy garlic soy dipping sauce on the side that was light and packed with flavor.  I don't know if it was the peppers or the two margaritas that I had, but one of the two put me in such a good mood that I didn't even mind going to visit the enemy camp. I tell you, these peppers just might very well have magical powers.

Blistered Shishito Peppers with Spicy Garlic Soy Sauce

Even though my directions call for you to cook these on top of the stove, I have an extra bag that I'll be skewering and cooking on my barbecue grill tonight. What a easy and healthy little appetizer.

1/3 cup soy sauce (I used low sodium)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sriracha
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated ginger root
Non-stick cooking spray
6 ounces shishito peppers (I found mine at Trader Joe's, but have been told that Whole Foods carries them on occasion as well)
Kosher or finishing salt (if desired)
1 teaspoon thinly sliced green onion tops or chopped cilantro

Stir together the soy, vinegar, sriracha, garlic and ginger root together in a medium size bowl; set aside until ready to serve.

Preheat a non-stick or cast iron skillet to medium.

While the pan is heating, lightly spray the peppers with the cooking spray; toss to coat. Place into the preheated pan. Cook, stirring frequently until peppers have dark brown blisters on all sides, approximately 10 minutes. Transfer peppers to serving plate. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt if desired.

Sprinkle the sauce with the green onion slices and serve with warm peppers.

Serves 2 - 3

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Remembering My Mom and Dad: Strawberry Shortcake

You know, forever is a very long time. I think about this as Mother's Day and Father's Day come and go every year. My mother died when I was just 21 and I lost my dad 15 years ago so I have been missing them for what seems like forever. I wish there was a way to get them back because even after all these years the grief is exhausting. Since I know that I am asking for the impossible, I try to keep them present by remembering funny stories, and the tastes and smells that I associate with them.

When it comes to my mom, I think about her every time I smell Estee Lauder's Youth Dew. I hated it when I was a teen, but now, even though it still isn't my favorite, it brings a smile to my face. I also think of her when I hear Karen Carpenter's voice, see the color purple, watch The Sound of Music, and taste a good cabbage roll (one of her specialties). I only wish that I would have known her as an adult. We could have had a really great time.

Thankfully, I did get to know my dad as an adult. We used to talk on the phone almost every morning. We'd solve the problems of the world, have many great laughs and always end with a sincere "I love you" before signing off. Thanks to our conversations through the years, we were able to bring resolution to my youthful rebellions, hurtful arguments and clear up any misunderstandings that haunted us. When I lost my dad, as painful as it was, there were no unresolved issues, just peace and love. Thanks for that Dad.

As I write this post it occurred to me that I should start a new tradition and have my mom's cabbage rolls for Mother's Day and maybe strawberry shortcake in honor of my dad for Father's Day. Since he was a real foodie, it is hard to pick just one dish, but I think this is a pretty good one. I remember as a kid getting really excited when he would set a little square box of frozen strawberries on the counter top to thaw and pull some little round sponge type shortcakes out of their cellophane package. We'd assemble it all and top it off with a big swirl of Reddi Whip and tuck in.

Even though this is a fond childhood memory, to be honest I was never really crazy about those premade shortcakes. Even though they were adequate as a platform for frozen strawberries and a HUGE tower of canned whipped cream, I always knew that there had to be something better out there.

A few more years than I care to admit to, and about 10,000 shortcakes later, I just so happened to find what is in my opinion the best shortcake known to woman. . . or man. By the way, these are wonderful as scones for your next tea party too.

Even though I can take credit for the strawberry "sauce", oh how I wish I could also take credit for writing the recipe for these beautiful shortcakes, but I can't. This recipe actually belongs to Sur la Table. I was fortunate enough to have tasted these at their Memorial Day Cooking class and knew that I'd have to pass them on to you.

I was actually hoping to be politically correct and just provide the ingredients and a link to their site for the method. Although they do have a very similar and delicious strawberry shortcake recipe on their site, it is a bit different than the one I am giving you here today, so instead you will get my adapted version of this scrumptious little sweet biscuit.

If  you'd like to say thanks to Sur la Table for this awesome recipe by visiting their site, or to see more of their recipes (and maybe do a little shopping), please click here.

Strawberry "Sauce" For Shortcakes

2 pounds ripe strawberries, hulled and sliced into bite size pieces, divided
3 - 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon water

Place 1 cup of the prepared strawberries into a small sauce pan set over medium high heat. Stir in the sugar and water. Bring to a simmer, smashing the berries with a potato masher or the back of a fork. Cook until all the sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from the heat, cover and cool.

Once cooled, place remaining strawberries in a medium size bowl. Pour the cooked and cooled strawberries over the berries in the bowl. Toss well; cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

To assemble, pour equal amounts of the strawberry sauce over fresh shortcakes (recipe follows), top with sweetened whipped cream and serve.

Serves 6 - 8

Shortcakes (adapted from Sur la Table's Memorial Day Cooking)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 - 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 ounces) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 cup (8 ounces) chilled heavy whipping cream
1 beaten egg for brushing tops
1 tablespoon sanding or granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt and process until combined. Add the butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the cream and pulse 4 to 5 times, until mixture is moistened and starts to come together in large clumps.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. With floured hands, gently squeeze the pieces of dough together until they form a nice dough. Gently pat into a 4" x 8" rectangle. Cut the dough into 8 squares and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush the tops with the beaten egg and sprinkle evenly with the sanding or granulated sugar. Place shortcakes on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Bake until golden brown, about 14 to 16 minutes. Cool.

Makes 8

Friday, June 5, 2015

A Small Birthday Celebration: Israeli Couscous with Toasted Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins

For those of you with children out there, this one is for you.  You will know exactly what I mean when I say that my kids are big now but they will always be my babies. I now find myself in a role very new to me, being a yes girl. Yes, it has taken me a couple of years to realize that they no longer need my opinion, they just want my support and acceptance.

Before we arrived at this crossroad I gave them LOTS of advice. Most importantly in my opinion, to find someone who loves and has a good relationship with their parent of the opposite sex. For these are the people who will teach them how to love and respect themselves and those they choose to share their life with. There was also that bit about being smart with your money because money is freedom, and some other stuff about not desecrating your body with tattoos, but we'll save that for another day. Anyway, they listened to a couple of things I had to say, and hopefully filed the rest away for later.

One of the things my daughter has done right by my teaching was picking a sweet guy to spend her time with. He has a college degree, a good job, makes her laugh and, wait for it . . . loves and respects his mom and grandmother so much that it is more than even I could ask for.

I like him so much that I swallowed my pride and opened the doors of our new, old house to his family to host a birthday party for him. In addition to trying to put a spit shine on the unfinished rooms of my house, I drove myself crazy trying to come up with a fantastic dinner menu special enough for the birthday boy and his wonderful family that I adore too.

I considered too many menus to even count. I went from chicken tikka to meatballs in goulash sauce to plain old hamburgers. You know how it is, I wanted the menu to be easy to prepare, a bit homey (to give the appearance of it being effortless), delicious (of course) and something trendy (but not too trendy) with maybe just a touch of old school to look clever. because this is what I think people expect from a food blogger.

So in the end I landed up deciding on an old school shish kabob with a Greek salad, au gratin potatoes (for the less adventurous in the group) and my take on a dish that I recently discovered at a cooking class (this is where the clever bit comes in), Israeli couscous with toasted pine nuts and golden raisins. This dish even won over this raisin hater with it's plump little bursts of sweet amidst the salty pearls of tiny pasta and the nutty crunch of toasted pine nuts. Top this all off with a white teddy bear birthday cake made from an old Wilton pan that I used on my children's first birthdays (my daughter's request) and you have a successful birthday dinner.

This dish is really super easy to make and it is a true crowd pleaser. It is at its best when served warm but it is pretty good at room temperature or chilled. Since it doesn't have ingredients like eggs or mayo, it can also sit on the buffet table a little bit longer than lots of dishes making it a great for a potluck.

Israeli Couscous with Toasted Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins

Feel free to make this your own. It is great with dried cranberries, chopped dried apricots, toasted slivered almonds or any other ingredients you prefer.

2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons light olive oil
2 cups Israeli or pearled couscous (the big stuff)
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

Bring chicken broth and oil to a boil in a large saucepan set over medium high heat. Stir in couscous and bring it back to a boil. Give everything a good stir before removing it from the heat and covering with a tight fitting lid; set aside for about 10 minutes.

Remove the lid and add the pine nuts, raisins and chopped parsley; stir well. Replace the lid and it let sit another couple of minutes before serving.

Serves 6 - 8.

To toast pine nuts, place them in a small frying pan that has been preheated over medium heat. Stir often until they start to turn golden brown. This same method is good for any type of nut. It is just that easy.