Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hurricanes, Earthquakes and Avocado Shrimp Salad

It's been a crazy week here in NY.  Last week started out with an earthquake and ended with a hurricane.  By the grace of God, my immediate neighborhood escaped the hurricane unscathed.  When I ventured out after the storm, I was shocked to see the damage just a few blocks away; fallen trees and branches that crushed roofs of houses and cars, sidewalks damaged by uprooted trees and downed wires leaving homes and businesses without electricity.  Closer to the water, people were pumping out their basements, and in some cases,  main floors of their homes.  But in the grand scheme of things, it could have been a lot worse, a whole lot worse, and I am thankful for having escaped the wrath of Mother Nature.

The earthquake was a real shocker.  It had been many years since I'd felt the earth move like that.  When I lived in Santa Cruz I experienced my share of quakes, so I immediately recognized that familiar "wave-like" motion of my office chair.  I felt that quick rush of adrenaline that only an earthquake brings.  The earthquake was the topic of conversation for the next few days (until we learned that a hurricane was headed our way) and made me think a lot about Santa Cruz.  I was long gone from Santa Cruz when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit in 1989.  That earthquake destroyed several buildings downtown in the Pacific Garden Mall, one of which was The Cooper House.  It broke my heart to learn that the beautiful old building that was once a courthouse and withstood the 1901 earthquake was damaged beyond repair.  The Cooper House was the heart of downtown.  In the 1960's it was converted to house shops and eateries, my favorite was the Cooper House Cafe.  I spent many days basking in the sun at this outdoor cafe, sipping wine, listening the sounds of  Warmth, the jazz band that played there for years, and watching the pajama people.  Pajama people is the name we affectionately gave to the regulars who danced on the sidewalk, swaying to the jazzy sounds of Warmth, oblivious to the world around them.  They were one with the music.  They would occasionally ensnare an unsuspecting tourist into their web of dance.  Some people got into it, others would squirm away in disgust.  It was my favorite place to people watch.  And yes, they looked like they were wearing their pajamas.  They dressed like colorfully mismatched Hare Krishnas.

So you are probably wondering what this has to do with avocado shrimp salad.  When I had some extra money, (I was young and poor back then, except on payday) and I wanted to be extra nice to myself,  I would splurge and get an avocado stuffed with shrimp to go along with my wine.  I think that was the only thing I ever ordered at Cooper House, but it was all I needed.  Shrimp and avocado are such a natural combination.  Now my favorite way to make shrimp salad is with diced avocado.  I add citrus and a relatively small amount of mayo.   A ripe Haas avocado seems to melt when combined with the citrus and makes a creamy dressing that is so much better than the run of the mill mayo shrimp salad.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Summer... Baked in a Tart

     My dad loved bakeries.  Actually, what he really loved were baked goods.  If my mom did not keep him supplied in his favorite desserts, he would eventually find his way to a local bakery.  Not all bakeries were created equal in his mind, so different bakeries filled different needs.  Everbest Bakery was the place to go for Sunday morning rolls, coconut buns and danish.  George's was the place to get a California crumb cake to bring to Aunt Ann and Uncle Joe's down in Rockaway on Saturday night.  Riesterers had the best Christmas specialties, like Linzer torte and gingerbread.  Malverne bakery was his go to place for open fruit cakes, tarts and pies.  I loved to go to the Malverne Bakery with him.  On a RARE occasion, he would bring home a 7 layer cake.  I always hoped that he would spring for a chocolate cake, but oddly enough, the man who loved his desserts, hated chocolate cake.  The Malverne bakery had the BEST chocolate cake!  I had experience their chocolaty perfection many times at my friends' birthday parties.  I don't know why I went with him.  It was such a disappointment when he picked the fruit tart or french apple cake.  When I was 8 years old, I firmly believed that fruit had no place on a cake, and peach skin, BLAH!  Now that 8 years old is just a distant memory, I've learned that there is life beyond chocolate and fruit has its place in the world of desserts.
      I love the look of a fresh fruit tart.  I love the delicate golden crust.  I love the perfection of the fruit.  I love the glisten of the glaze.  The perfect fruit tart is a feast for the eyes and as well as the soul.  A fresh fruit tart is a fitting dessert for weekend BBQ or a New England Clam Bake.  It is a celebration of the season baked in a crust.  I usually bake simple tarts.  I choose a fruit in the season, bake it in a sweet buttery crust and lightly brush the whole thing with an orange or apricot glaze.   But every once in a while, I pull out all the stops and go for the bells and whistles.  I'm talking custard, berries, peaches, kiwi and yes, just a touch of bourbon.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Grilled Tequila Lime Chicken

I bought a sack of limes at the market the other day.  After I brought them home, I realized that I now had an obligation.  I hate having a food commitment.  I'm more of a shop-as-you-go kind of person.  What was I thinking?  One cannot live on Margaritas and Mojitos alone, so I decided to grill up some Tequila Lime Chicken, the quick version.  I've made Ina Garten's version many times.  I've also modified it many times.  Ina uses a LOT of citrus in her marinade and she lets it sit in the marinade at least 8 hours.  I've had two major issues with this.  For one thing, all that lime juice reacts with the chicken and starts to "cook " the chicken.  Not cook, in the sense that you will be able to eat it, but the thinner parts of the chicken start to look opaque.   Sure a long marinating time helps to impart flavor into the chicken, but  I'm kind of turned off by that "white edged" chicken.  My other issue with the original recipe was the length of time it needed to marinate.  Long marinating times = planning.  Planning is not always practical, and hey, why shouldn't you enjoy a flavorful grilled chicken that you didn't have to think about the day before?   I figured out that if I give the chicken a little extra kick of spice,  I can marinate it for an hour and get a version of tequila lime chicken that I liked even better.
Meet the main players:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Peachy Boozy Turnovers

I'm making my adjustment back to the civilized (or so they say it is) world slowly.  After spending some time enjoying the peace and quiet of the Adirondacks, it's hard to dive back into the rat race.   I ran out to the farmer's market early this morning to pick up some lettuce (mine bolted) and corn, then ran home in record time.  I'm not ready to deal with traffic and people just yet.  My mind is stuck somewhere between a mountain lake and a field of wildflowers.
I've spent the day sorting through photos, catching up on my reading and generally wasting time.  I had a brief spurt of ambition and decided to check out the fridge.  Melissa stayed at our house and dog sat while we were away, so I hadn't emptied the fridge before our trip.  I had hoped that she used the produce I left behind.  I bought some very firm peaches the day before we left and I guess Melissa was not into peaches.  A peach dessert,  I thought to myself...but it has to be quick and easy with minimal oven time since the AC is running full blast.  Still in vacation mode, I decided to pair up the peaches with something boozy like bourbon.  Sure I thought, bourbon will do just fine...and so my easy, peachy, boozy turnovers were born.  Hmmm, right before we went away I made Apricot Riesling Jam,  I have chicken marinating in tequila and lime.  Do I see a trend here?