Appetizer

Strawberries and Basil, Bringing Out the Best of Summer

I really ❤ this combination!

I really ❤ this combination!

I tried strawberries mixed with sweet basil for the very first time, just a couple of weeks ago. Now, I’m wondering where I’ve been all my life, that I managed to miss out on this wonderful combination of flavors. We were having breakfast at our usual Saturday morning buffet, and there they were, begging for me to try them. I did, and I’ve thought of little else since.

 

Strawberries and basil, some of the best of summer

Strawberries and basil, some of the best of season

I researched a little bit on this, and I found that berries prepared in such a way are usually macerated, i.e., soaked for a bit in vinegar to make them softer. Knowing that this is the best time of year to buy and eat strawberries, timing couldn’t be better. This week, I found the strawberries on sale, so I made a point of getting to one of the smaller, weekday farmer’s markets to get the basil. I knew there would be nothing better than some that’s fresh and locally grown.

 

An unexpectedly good combination

An unexpectedly good combination

Once again, this is another “What could be simpler?” recipe, one that I barely even need to write down.

All you need is…

1-2 pounds fresh strawberries
A bunch of sweet basil, though you’ll just need about 8 leaves
A sprinkling of sugar, maybe a tablespoon?
A large dash or three of balsamic vinegar

 

Simply slice

Simply slice

Wash, hull, and slice strawberries, placing them into a non-metallic bowl. Sprinkle just a bit of sugar over the berries, then add some balsamic vinegar~ you’ll need to taste it to find the right balance, but it isn’t too hard, since the flavors blend so well. With kitchen shears, thinly snip several leaves of basil over the berries. Gently mix with a spoon and serve.

 

Good for breakfast, a snack or dessert

Good for breakfast, a snack or dessert

That’s it! The result is a beautiful, elegant, fragrant dish, that will make you want to experiment.

 

You can serve this for breakfast with a dollop of vanilla yogurt

You can serve this for breakfast with a dollop of vanilla yogurt

We had these for breakfast, this morning… they were wonderful!

 

Try it on toasted bread with cheese

Try it on toasted bread with cheese

You can also use them to top toasted bread spread with cheese~ you could choose from any number of cheeses that would work well, such a cream cheese, goat cheese, or even brie. Serve as an appetizer or an afternoon pick-me-up snack.

 

Spoon it over ice cream

Spoon it over ice cream

Lastly, you could spoon it over ice cream, or even a simple cake. Vanilla would be good, but since it’s National Chocolate Ice Cream Day, that’s what we’re having. Try this easy recipe and enjoy!

 

Satisfying a Craving for Seafood Cakes

I’m craving seafood cakes! What I mean is not necessarily crab cakes, (they are still too expensive, though they are in season now) but maybe some scallop & shrimp cakes. We managed to find some bay scallops on sale this past weekend, and I’ve decided that I’m ready to try something new. I figure I’ve made crab cakes before with great success, so I will have a good time playing with these. One day, I’ll have my crab again, but these should do fine.

Shrimp & bay scallops

Shrimp & bay scallops

I’m thinking that since I have about a half pound of scallops, I’ll need about a half pound of raw shrimp. Bread crumbs will be in order, as well as an egg to bind everything together. The innovative part comes with the seasoning… You can always add what you like, of course, and maybe that’s one of the best things about making something like this.

Here’s what I used:

1½ cups bread crumbs, divided
1 egg
2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 teaspoon whole grain or Dijon mustard
Sriracha or other hot sauce, at least 1 teaspoon (or more!)
½ pound shrimp, peeled & deveined
½ pound bay scallops, rinsed well
1 rib celery, finely chopped
4 green onions, finely sliced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
Lemon, for squeezing and garnish

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First, prep your seafood by chopping them together.

Chop them together

Chop them together

 

Prep the veggies

Prep the veggies

Prep the celery, scallions and parsley to have them ready to go by chopping them.

 

Whisk the eggs with seasonings

Whisk the eggs with seasonings

In a large bowl, whisk the egg, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, Old Bay seasoning, and mustard until well blended. Add in the shrimp, scallops, celery, green onions, parsley, and ½ cup of the bread crumbs. Mix together.

 

Form patties and coat with bread crumbs

Form patties and coat with bread crumbs

With your hands, shape seafood mixture into 8 patties, about ½-inch thick. Spread the remaining cup of bread crumbs onto a plate and dip the cakes into the crumbs, pressing gently to adhere.

 

Ready to chill

Ready to chill

Now, here’s my chance to test a tip I heard about recently. These kind of seafood cakes tend to fall apart in the pan, when you start to cook them, and there is supposedly a way to prevent that. This method means letting the patties sit in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes or so. So, call these cakes ready to chill!

When you’re ready to make them, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Place cakes in skillet and cook over medium heat for about 7 minutes, or until lightly browned on the bottom. Carefully turn the cakes over with a spatula and cook for another 7 minutes or so, until they are lightly browned on that side.

Golden brown and intact!

Golden brown and intact!

I’m glad to say that the little chill trick worked, by the way. These cakes came out perfect.

 

Don't forget the dry, white wine…

Don’t forget the dry, white wine…

This is a perfect main course that you can serve with a little bread and a salad. Don’t forget a nice Chardonnay or Fumé Blanc… Ferrari-Carano makes a really nice one.

 

Good for dinner...

Good for dinner…

Would make a nice appetizer, too

Would make a nice appetizer, too

 

You can also make a little vinaigrette, if you like, with some olive oil, garlic, rice wine vinegar, mustard, honey, salt, pepper, a little mayo and some fresh dill. The ratio for vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. I didn’t measure, so you’ll you’ll have to do it by taste.

Try it dressed with vinaigrette

Try it dressed with vinaigrette

 

Makes 7-8 cakes, though you could make them half-sized for appetizers. Got leftovers? Got lunch tomorrow!

Figs & Cheese For an Easy Appetizer

I love figs

I love figs!

Since the holidays are coming, and there is more of a need for a good appetizer, here is one that is good and healthy. This idea came recently, when I ran across a basket of small figs. Since I love them so much, I bought them.

This idea is also so easy to put together, you’ll love it, because of the time you’ll save.

Simply chop

Simply chop

Simply chop up the figs and put them into a bowl. They really don’t need anything else.

 

Goat cheese

Serve with creamy goat cheese

Serve with some nice, creamy goat cheese, good bread or crackers, and a sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves.

 

figs & cheese

Figs & cheese~ an easy appetizer

You will love how easy and delicious this is!

A delicious, healthy bite

A delicious, healthy bite

 

Can’t find figs?

No figs? Try raspberries

No figs? Try raspberries.

Try it with fresh raspberries, for a slightly different treat.

An Easy, Smoked Salmon “Canapé”

As many people already know, Sunday is our main day for relaxing… that’s why we call it “Martini Sunday,” though we certainly don’t tipple all day long! Just two in the late afternoon is fine, and of course, accompanied by an appetizer or “pupu,” as they are called in Hawai‘i.

We got some smoked salmon at Costco last week, and I’ve been feeling anticipation at sharing this appetizer idea for you, since it’s been a favorite of ours for quite a few years. It is a sort of canapé, as people once called them, which translates into “finger food.” So get the napkins ready, and remember… umbrellas are mandatory! This is a recipe that I found from Sunset Magazine many years ago, and it’s so easy and delicious, that I’ve got it memorized. What I love about this recipe are its health benefits~ lots of omega 3 oils from olive oil, macadamia nuts (if you follow my pesto recipe) salmon and avocado, antioxidants from the basil and sprouts, and potentially good fiber, depending upon the bread you use.

What's needed

What’s needed

All you need is…

Bread, 2 slices of whole grain, seeded  bread (I use super high fiber) works very well here

pesto, about 3-4 tablespoons

½ avocado, thinly sliced

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 oz. smoked salmon

sprouts, any kind you like

—————————————————————————————————————————————————-

This is so simple. First, toast the bread.

 

Spread the pesto on toast

Spread the pesto on toast

Next, spread about 1½-2 tablespoons of pesto over each slice of bread.

Slice the avocado and lay it on

Slice the avocado and lay it on

Grind pepper to taste

Grind pepper to taste

 

Then, place avocado slices on top of the pesto, and sprinkle with black pepper. You really won’t need salt, since the salmon is naturally salty.

Layer on the salmon

Layer on the salmon

 

The salmon comes next~ layer slices on top the of the avocado.

Cut them into pieces and add a "pinch" of sprouts

Cut them into pieces and add a “pinch” of sprouts

 

Cut each bread slice into halves lengthwise, and then place a pinch of the sprouts on top of each canapé.

Oh, yeah….

Oh, yeah….

You will be amazed at how elegant something so simple can be!

Serve with style~ food is beautiful!

Serve with style~ food is beautiful!

Now, serve in absolute style~ life is short, so enjoy the beauty! It’s not that hard really, with a little bit of imagination.

Elegant~ serve with style!

Elegant~ serve with style!

Welcome to our Sunday!

Welcome to our Sunday!

 

Thanks for joining us on our “Martini Sunday!” I hope you try this and enjoy!

 

 

Little Fishies, Just Like French Fries!

This may seem strange to some people, but when you live in a place where you are surrounded by water, you tend to eat a lot of fish. Even living in San Francisco for a good chunk of my life, it is another city mostly surrounded by water, and I ate a lot of fish there, too. That in itself is not so strange, but eating fish heads may not seem right to some. It’s like eating sushi, which I know some people wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, and I wasn’t sure I like sushi the first time I had it, but I was hooked by the third time. You could say that I have a pretty open palate.

I guess l learned at a relatively early age that a fish head has a lot of flavor. I’ve also learned that when you cook the fish whole, the flavor travels down the head and into the body. And since I’ve lived in Hawai‘i, I’ve learned that the area above the eye is the tastiest, and that a fabulous broth can be made from fish heads!

Little, bitty smelts

Smelts

Anyway, we were at Whole Foods the other day, and smelt were on sale. The young lady behind the counter was very enthusiastic about them, talking about how her father was a fisherman in San Francisco and also here, on the North Shore. She seemed to have a lot of knowledge about fish, and it seemed that she really wanted me to buy some. They were very inexpensive, so it wasn’t like she was going to get some big commission out of it or anything. I asked her how to cook them, and she told me how simple it is. Simply dip them in egg wash, coat them with flour and then fry in some oil until they turn golden brown, like French fries! I was intrigued. I did ask her about taking the heads off, and she said not to bother. Okay.

I met up with Monty at the meat counter, (he has steak on Saturdays~ I have fish) and I told him what happened at the fish counter. He proceeded to tell me about his his childhood memories of fishing off of Fisherman’s Wharf, and the old Italian men teaching him that he could eat smelt in the exact manner that the young lady had advised me. It really is a poor man’s delight, since they are quite under-fished, and that makes them quite sustainable, too.  So, Monty would catch them, take them home, and have his mom cook them up, just like that… in fact, he said the same thing~ “just like French fries!”  Except, for the heads. He just couldn’t get into eating those.

I had to research this, just to make sure, and what I found out is, yes, they are eaten whole, as long as they are small~ meaning under 6 inches. Mine were all about 4 inches, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

Egg wash first~ 1 egg, beaten with about a tablespoon of water.

Dip in egg wash

Dip in egg wash

Dip into the egg wash, and then…

Coat in flour

Coat in flour, seasoned or not

…dip into the flour. I also figured there could be a bazillion ways to season the flour, but I went really simple, this being the first time. So I just used a simple white whole wheat flour. I know what I’m going to do next time, though. I think this would be great with a little bit of chile powder and garlic powder mixed in.

Fry a few at a time

Fry a few at a time

Make sure the oil is hot enough by putting a pinch of flour in it. If it sizzles, it’s ready. Fry fish a few at time, to keep them nice and crispy. Fry until golden brown on one side, then flip and do the same on the other. Drain on paper towels, and sprinkle with salt. A squeeze of lemon is nice, too.

Fried smelts, just like French fries!

Fried smelts, just like French fries!

It really is as simple at. If you like fish, this is well worth a try, whether you like the heads or not. They are also guaranteed healthier than French fries, too!

Seafood Ceviche~ A Mexican Treat for Martini Sunday

A thought came up this morning on the fact that Cinco de Mayo is on a Monday this year, and it’s a pretty good bet that it will be celebrated with much more vigor today, rather than tomorrow. So, it makes sense to me to make something to go with our Martini Sunday cocktails, this afternoon. So I’m going to make an old favorite~ Seafood Ceviche.

You'll want fresh fish and shrimp

You’ll want fresh fish and shrimp

 

Squeeze juice from several limes

You’ll need several limes

I first remember having this back when I was in San Francisco. A few of us would get off work and sometimes go have a cocktail at some dive bar on Folsom Street, in the Financial District area. Ceviche would sometimes be available as an appetizer, served with a side of tortilla chips. I can’t remember the name of that bar to save my life, but I’ll never forget the wonderful flavors of ceviche, as a dip on those homemade chips. They remain to this day.

This is pretty easy to make, though it entails a bit of chopping. What’s nice is that the fish needs to sit in the lime juice for a while to “cook,” so you can step away from the kitchen for a while to do something else.

To serve four you’ll need:

about 1/3 to 1/2 pound of fish~ almost any kind will do, though firm is better (I used ono, here)

about ½ pound of shrimp~ peeled, de-veined, cooked, drained and cooled

Limes~ you’ll need about 3 to 5 of them, or enough to yield about ½ to ¾ of a cup…. This also depends on size of the limes, how juicy they are and how much ceviche you’re making. *sigh* So many factors, so little time.  It really gets down to you need enough to cover the fish.

salt, to sprinkle on the fish, before pouring on the lime juice

½ red onion, diced fine

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced fine

1 small bunch cilantro, leaves pulled off of stems and minced

1 small clove garlic, minced fine

1 pinch oregano~ Mexican oregano is good,  if available

½ cucumber~ peeled, seeded and diced

3 green onions, sliced thin crosswise

1-2 small tomatoes, diced and seeded as much as possible (or you can use several halved cherry tomatoes)

1 avocado, peeled and diced

more salt, to taste

Tortilla chips to serve with it

ceviche2

Dice up the fish and put it into a bowl. Sprinkle a bit of salt over it and mix it up so it gets integrated into the fish.

Lime juice should cover the fish

Lime juice should cover the fish

Pour the lime juice over it and mix it to make sure that all of the fish gets coated with it. Add the shrimp in and stir to coat that, as well.
Cover it with plastic wrap and put it into the refrigerator for at least four hours.

Give it a stir, once in a while

Give it a stir, once in a while

You should stir this periodically while it’s “cooking,” and you will gradually see the fish get whiter and more opaque over time.

Chop jalapeño and onion

Chop jalapeño and onion

Meanwhile, chop the onion and jalapeño pepper and put that into another bowl. I like to try to have things done ahead, so everything doesn’t seem so “last minute crazy,” so while the fish is in the fridge, I figure I might as well get the work out of the way.

Mince cilantro and garlic together to save time

Mince cilantro and garlic together to save time

Next, mince the cilantro leaves and garlic and add to the bowl with the onion and pepper.

Slice & dice cucumber and green onion

Slice & dice cucumber and green onion

The cucumber can also be prepared and added, as well. The tomatoes and avocado will be added last, to preserve flavor and color.

When you are ready to serve, drain the lime juice out of the bowl with the fish.

Mix together, but save the tomatoes for last

Gently mix together, but save the tomatoes for last

There should still be enough acidic coating on it to help preserve the color of the avocado… it’s so much more appetizing when it’s green! Add in the contents of the small bowl with the prepared veggies and add the pinch of oregano. Gently combine into the fish.

 

Ready to serve

Ready to serve

The tomatoes get added in last, mainly because if they are refrigerated, they really tend to lose their flavor. Once they are gently blended in, taste to adjust seasonings. The ceviche is ready to serve.

Spray, salt and bake

Spray, salt and bake

You can also make your own tortilla chips for garnish, if you want. It’s really easy. Simply cut tortillas into strips or wedges, (the strips are a nice garnish on salads) and spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Lay the tortilla pieces on the sheet and give the tops a good spray with the cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt and bake in an oven that’s been preheated to 400º. Toss them around a bit while they’re cooking and pull them out when they get crisp and start to turn golden. Allow them to cool, and they will get crispier.

Homemade tortilla chips

Homemade tortilla chips

They are delicious!

Raise the Mexican banners high!

Raise the Mexican banners high!

As the cucumber winks at the shrimp...

As the cucumber winks at the shrimp…

Seafood Ceviche

Seafood Ceviche

Have a Happy Early Cinco de Mayo, and I’ll be posting a favorite recipe tomorrow, that also works for Meatless Monday. Until then, be careful with those margaritas!

 

Using up the Pesto with Naan Pizza

naan_1

I still have some pesto leftover from Sunday, so here’s an easy way to use it. Monty’s been craving pizza, so I’m going to whip up an easy favorite for dinner: naan pizza. In case you didn’t know, naan is a flatbread that is originally from the Middle East. It is quite delicious, and it just happens to make a nice pizza crust. I’ve never attempted to make the naan bread itself, but I can find it in a couple of our favorite stores. Who knows? Maybe one day I will try to make it. Anyway, for naan pizza you can put any kind of toppings that you like on yours, but here, I’m going to show you mine.

Naan bread looks like this:

naan_2

Pre-heat your oven to 400ºF (204ºC). So first, I put a couple of tablespoons of pesto on the naan, and then I spread it over the top of the bread.

naan_3

Next, I add thinly sliced tomatoes. These are nice, big juicy ones, so I let them sit for a minute to let some of the juice drain off, but you could also pat them with paper towels. This will help keep the naan from getting too soggy.

naan_4

I added some thinly sliced red onion. I love the way this smells!

naan_5

We like anchovies, (I know not everyone does, but you could substitute something else or leave them off, if you like) so those are next.

naan_6

Here’s where I pile on the cheese, (I used mozzarella) and it’s good to add twist or two of fresh, ground pepper from the pepper mill.

naan_7

Place them onto a pizza pan or cookie sheet and into the oven they go.

naan_8

They should bake for about 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese melts and starts to brown just a little… or to your taste. Meanwhile, wash about 4-5 fresh basil leaves, pat dry and snip with kitchen shears into thin strips. You’ll want to sprinkle these on top, once the pizza comes out of the oven.

naan_9

You can also grill the pizza, though you’ll need to watch that the bottom doesn’t burn. The grill does give it a little bit of smoky flavor. If you want the top browner, you can also put it under a preheated broiler to finish it.

Serve with a salad, and dinner is done!

Keeping “Warm” Thoughts on a Gloomy Day… A Simple Quesadilla with “Rainbow” Pico de Gallo

I have a thing for “rainbow vegetables.” Actually, I’m quite fond of any kind of rainbow, since I adore colors. For the past couple of months, I’ve been buying these rainbow tomatoes, especially when I can’t find my true favorites, which are organically grown on the Big Island. That’s another story that I’ll tell, one other day.

Beautiful, rainbow tomatoes

Beautiful, rainbow tomatoes

We do this little thing every Sunday… it’s a little tradition. We call it “Martini Sunday,” because I have two of “those,” and Monty usually just has a beer… or two. Only two ever for me, because I can get stupid after that. So, I indulge in a little bit of gin every week, but mostly only on Sunday… and occasionally on holidays.

It’s been raining here all day, and I was wondering what I would make for pupus, and then, I realized that I had these beautiful little rainbow tomatoes that I purchased at the farmers’ market yesterday. We had one tortilla left over from a dinner about a week ago, so the thought came to make a simple quesadilla.

For the uninitiated, a quesadilla is a bit like a grilled cheese sandwich (it’s just not made on bread) with the tomatoes and stuff thrown on top. It’s a Mexican thing, and when you grow up in California, Mexican stuff never leaves your heart, (and soul!) so you crave it unto eternity.

Thankfully, it’s pretty easy, providing you can get things like tortillas. Tortillas are a simple flatbread, much like naan… (I’m seeing a lot of creativity coming out of this!) I’m not sure you if can get these in the UK, Australia or other places, but I’m gonna give this a go! Just so you know, a tortilla is sometimes made from flour, or at other times, cornmeal. A quesadilla is usually made from a softer, flour flatbread, rather than the harder corn tortilla.

If you want to play, all you’ll need is some tortillas and some good Mexican cheese. My friend Reynaldo, who is Mexican-Korean, insists that none of this is any good if you use yellow, American cheese… it must be white cheese, and it must be Mexican. ¡Olé! The garnishes that you throw over them are tomatoes chopped with onion, garlic, cilantro (or what is known as Chinese parsley, but any kind of parsley will do) jalapeño pepper, salt and pepper.

It’s easy-peasy, or I wouldn’t have done it today. Rainy days make me lazy, and I’ve been busy enough. Still, it will take some chopping, so get out the sharp knife and cutting board. Be careful of your fingers, too.

I make the pico de gallo (it’s like a salsa, but fresher) first. Chop about 1 cup of tomatoes, any kind, really, but get rid of the seeds. The skin still has fiber, so don’t feel guilty about throwing away the seeds. Place them into a bowl, preferably not metal. Halve and seed a jalapeño pepper and chop into a very fine dice… one half is good enough for me, though many will like more. Go for it! Chop about a tablespoon or two of onion, and add to the bowl. White onion is traditional, but purple onion is ‘rainbow!’ You know where I’m going! Press (or chop) a small clove of garlic, and add to the mix. Lastly, mince some cilantro (Chinese parsley, for some) to your personal heart’s content. If that’s not available, any other kind of parsley will give better flavor. Salt and pepper to taste, and blend with a spoon. The juices will come out, and that part is all good.

The quesadilla itself is very simple… simply heat up a frying pan with a spritz of good cooking spray over it, and place the tortilla in it. Grate about 2 oz. of cheese on top of it, then cover with another tortilla. Heat on low heat, and then flip for a couple of minutes, until lightly browned.

quesa1

Meanwhile, get a nice medium-sized avocado, peel and mash. Add some salt, pepper and limejuice to taste, and mash some more. This is the simplest and healthiest kind of guacamole there is, and I really prefer it to anything with much more added to it.

quesa2

This is best on a warm day, but I must remind you that it’s not cold here… just gloomy and rainy. I hope I’m giving you something to look forward to… rainbow veggies can only bring us hope.
Happy Martini Sunday, everyone!