March 10, 2015 Imam Bayildi Revisited

DSC_1861aImam Bayildi translates “the priest fainted”. Was it because the dish was so delicious or was it a reaction of this frugal priest  to the copious amount of expensive olive oil his bride used to make this dish? This is my second interpretation of this popular Turkish dish, one of a group of vegetarian recipes referred to as zeytinyagli or olive oil foods, served cold.  This recipe cuts down considerably in the amount of olive oil traditionally used in the original dish but definitely not on the flavor.

This is another recipe from Ana Sortum, chef at Oleana restaurant in Cambridge Massachusetts.  This recipe is similar to the first one I made in some of the steps.The eggplants are sprinkled with salt and brushed with olive oil and baked until the flesh is soft.  In the first recipe the flesh is scooped out and mixed in with the other ingredients, in the second the other ingredients are combined and pressed into the cooked eggplant, I liked that method. Onions, garlic, tomatoes, oregano and parsley are found in both recipes. Finely diced cauliflower, star ingredient of the moment, is a unique component for Imam Bayildi and adds a different texture and flavor to this dish that I liked. The second recipe also uses green bell pepper, an ingredient that I am not a big fan of. Green peppers are less expensive but not quite as nutritious as their red, yellow and orange counterparts. As a gardener, I have just considered them to be peppers that someone wasn’t patient enough to let ripen.  I am now coming around to seeing green bell peppers as a unique ingredient. In this dish they add an interesting  slightly bitter edge to the sweetness of the onion and the creaminess of the eggplant.

This is the first time I have ever grated tomatoes for a recipe. Choose ripe firm tomatoes and grate them over a shallow bowl with the largest holes of your box grater. Keep your hand flat and grate until the tomato flesh is scraped away from the skin. Discard the skin and you are left with tomato pulp that can be used in a variety of dishes. I am sure this is a technique I will use again.

Aleppo pepper is one of my favorite ingredient discoveries of the last several years. It is dark red, flaky and somewhat oily in texture. It takes it name from the ancient city of Aleppo in northern Syria, just east of the Turkish/Syrian border.  The flavor profile is rich, sweet and fruity with hints of cumin. The heat profile is moderate, just a bit hotter than paprika. As a result of the conflict in Syria, what now is sold as Aleppo is actually an identical pepper plant, Maras, that is grown in Turkey.

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Imam Bayildi

Serves 8 as a side dish or 4 as an entrée

Ingredients

  •  4 small eggplants, about 1/2lb each
  • 10Tolive oil divided,  4T for brushing eggplants, 3T for sautéing, 3T for drizzling over finished dish.
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 1/2lb tomatoes, halved
  • 2c diced sweet onion
  • 1c diced green bell pepper
  • 1/2c finely diced cauliflower
  • 1T finely chopped garlic
  • 1/2c chopped Italian parsley, more for garnishing the finished dish.
  • 1t finely chopped fresh oregano or 1/2t dried
  • Aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4c crumbled feta, more for garnish

Directions

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F.
  2. Halve the eggplants lengthwise and place cut side up on a large rimmed baking sheet. Season the cut sides generously with kosher salt and brush with the first 4T of olive oil. Flip the halves over and bake cut side down until soft, about 30-35 minutes. Set aside until cooled.
  3. While the eggplant bakes, grate the cut sides of the tomato on the large holes of a box grater. It is easiest to put the grater in a bowl. Discard the skins. Drain the pulp in a fine meshed sieve until most of the liquid has drained through, about 20 minutes.
  4. Heat 3T of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the pepper, cauliflower and garlic, cook, stirring occasionally, until all the vegetables have softened somewhat, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from the heat and stir in the tomato pulp, parsley and oregano. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the feta.
  5. Use a spatula to flip over the eggplant halves. With a slotted spoon, divide the filling among the eggplant, using the spoon to gently push the filling into the flesh.
  6. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and bake until hot, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with more crumbled feta and parsley and serve.

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March 4, 2015 Turkish Tarator Sauce

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What’s in a name? When it comes to food, it may depend on what country you are in. Tarator is a prime example of this. In the Balkans, it is a cold yogurt based soup made with cucumbers and seasoned with dill and lemon, similar to the ingredients in Greek tzatziki. In many Middle Eastern countries, Tarator is a sauce or a dip based on sesame tahini. The tarator of Turkey is a savory sauce, thickened with nuts and used with a wide variety of foods.

This recipe, a Turkish tarator sauce from Fine Cooking magazine is courtesy of  James Beard award winning chef Ana Sortum. Her travels as a young chef exposed her to the exciting, flavorful home cooking of Turkey. When she returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts, she opened her first restaurant, Oleana combinig the bold flavors of the eastern Mediterranean with farm fresh ingredients.

Tarator is very easy to make. As with many traditional sauces, it was first made with a mortar and pestle, but a blender brings this sauce together in less than five minutes. Nuts are the base of the sauce and provide it’s richness. I have seen everything from walnuts, to hazelnuts to pine nuts used in different versions of this recipe, blanched almonds are the chef’s choice in this recipe. Some recipes also include bread as an additional thickener but I found this unnecessary.  Combine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, water and garlic in the food processor. Blend until smooth and thick, scrape down the sides several times during this process, it takes about 3 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. When serving, garnish with some toasted almonds.

Use good ingredients, not those nuts that have been sitting in your cabinet for months, fresh lemon juice and a quality extra virgin olive oil. I purchase my best oils from The Tubby Olive. Their oils are sourced from small farm producers and I am able to taste what I buy. Unfortunately not every bottle of olive oil labeled extra virgin, actually is.   If you are interested in some good information regarding the misrepresentation of the origins and quality of some brands of olive oil, check here.

Tarator is traditionally served with a wide variety of dishes, ranging from grilled eggplant, beets and fried seafood. I served it with roasted salmon and lightly blanched sugar snap peas.  It would also be a flavorful dip for crudite or a sauce for fried calamari.

Turkish Tarator Sauce

Makes about a cup

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c blanched whole almonds
  • 2T toasted and chopped almonds for garnish
  • 1/4c extra virgin olive oil
  • 2t fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2t chopped garlic
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

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Directions

  1. In a blender, puree the whole almonds, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and 1/2c water until completely smooth and thick, at least 3 minutes.
  2. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sauce keeps covered and refrigerated up to 3 days.

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February 21, 2015 Chinese New Year Retrospective

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I shouldn’t be home, I should be landing in sunny Florida about now but a snowstorm changed our plans. Since Chinese New Year was this past week, I thought I would share some pictures from our celebrations of previous years.

I make spicy gingerbread cookies with the appropriate cutter for each year.  The dragon (2012) is said to be vital, confident and gifted.

I make spicy gingerbread cookies with the appropriate cutter for each year. The dragon (2012) is said to be vital, confident and gifted.

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A Chinese soup dumpling. Making and sharing dumplings is a New Year’s tradition that fosters family togetherness and cooperation of spirit. Since dumplings are shaped like gold ingots, eating these “golden nuggets” confers prosperity for the New Year.

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Potstickers and dipping sauce.

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Yu Sheng, the New Year’s salad that probably originated in Singapore. It is served on the seventh day of the celebration and brings diners prosperity and good fortune.

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Combining the East with the West, adzuki bean ice cream.

 

Noodles symbolize longevity. Spicy Sichuan Noodles feature the unique flavor of Sichuan peppercorns, banned in the United States until a few years ago.

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Ingredients ready for the Chinese Hot Pot, everyone gets in on the cooking with this one.

 

Lion's Head meatballs in a clay pot cooker.

Lion’s Head meatballs in a clay pot cooker.

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Wontons and pork buns.

 

 

Menu for the Year of the Pig (Boar)

Menu for the Year of the Pig (Boar).

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February 17, 2015 Stovetop Smoked Salmon with Kaffir Lime Sauce

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I discovered my love of cooking in the early eighties and a good time for me meant a trip to the cookware store. In those years I was the proverbial gadget queen. Some of them were good purchases, a KitchenAid stand mixer, food processors in different sizes, a serious ice cream maker, all very useful when I was catering. One purchase I made that was a good investment was a stovetop smoker. Made by the Camerons company, the one I purchased thirty years ago looks exactly the same as the one they sell today, at about the same price. The smoker is made from dishwasher safe stainless steel. It is a rectangular box (15″x11″) fitted with a wire rack that sits over a drip tray with a lid that slides on for a snug fit. The handles fold out from the side of the box and stay relatively cool during the cooking time but I would still advise using a potholder. One source said it easily fits over a burner but I have always used it over two burners.

I confess I haven’t used this smoker as much as I probably should. I have smoked cheese, shrimp and, of course, salmon. The Camerons company sells wood chips in oak, alder, hickory and cherry that I have used in the past. This time I chose a different smoking medium, tea. I followed a smoking formula that I have used previously with tea smoked chicken. Brown sugar is used because when sugar caramelizes it forms volatile compounds that enter the air as smoke. This gives the salmon a bittersweet caramel flavor. Rice adds it’s own flavor and absorbs the moisture the sugar creates. This is important because the smoking mixture should be as dry as possible, the goal is to create smoke, not steam. I chose Lapsang souchong, a black tea from the Fujian province of China and Joe’s favorite. The tea is dried over a smoking pine fire that gives it a sweet, clean smoky flavor. I also used some orange peel to add some of it’s aromatics.

The smoking medium is placed on the base, lining the bottom with foil makes for the easiest clean up. Next is the drip tray, then the wire rack. If you spray the wire rack with a little non stick spray it will make the salmon easy to remove. Place the salmon on the middle of the rack so that the smoke can circulate freely around it. Slide on the lid and close it completely. I turn the burners on to medium high until I see the first puffs of smoke wafting out, then I back it down to a low simmer. The guide states that for every 6 ounces of fish, allow ten minutes cooking time, so the one pound piece of salmon cooked in less than a half hour.

The salmon can be served as an appetizer or a main course. Serve with an accompanying sauce.  Horseradish and sour cream or tzatziki would be good choices. I made a sauce that I found on the Martha Stewart website using both lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Since I would venture to guess most people don’t have a stovetop smoker, though it is a good investment, a heavy pot or wok lined with foil with a rack that suspends the food over the smoking mixture and a foil lid would be a reasonable substitute.

The booklet that came with the smoker gives recipes for fish, poultry, meat, sausages, cheese and even eggs! It is also suitable for outdoor use, either over a campfire or on the rack of a barbecue. Quoting directly from the booklet it is, “perfect for slimmers” that’s how dieters are referred to in the U.K..  It describes the smoking technique as one that is “widely used in Europe” and it “puts pleasure back into eating.” I must agree, it is a healthy way of cooking and the salmon turned out moist and quite delicious, just lightly scented with smoke. I won’t wait so long in between next time to use the stovetop smoker.

Stovetop Smoked Salmon

Makes 1 pound

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. salmon fillet, pin bones removed
  • Kosher salt and granulated sugar

Smoking medium

  • 1/3c loose tea (I used Lapsang souchong, other aromatic teas could substitute)
  • 1/3c rice (any type)
  • 1/3c brown sugar
  • Several strips of orange zest.

Directions

  1. Check the salmon for any pin bones and sprinkle the surface generously with sugar and kosher salt. Place in refrigerator uncovered for one hour.
  2. Set up the smoker and line the bottom with foil for the easiest cleanup.
  3. Scatter the smoking ingredients over the bottom of  the pan.
  4. Place the drip tray over the bottom.
  5. Spray the food rack with non stick spray for easy removal of the fish
  6. Center the salmon on the rack so that the smoke will circulate around the fish easily.
  7. Slide the lid on and turn the burners on to medium high. As soon as you see the first puff of smoke, turn the burners down to a simmer. You should still see some smoke escaping, if not, turn the burners up a little.
  8. Smoke the salmon for about 25 minutes or to your desired doneness.
Sprinkle the salmon with kosher salt and a little sugar to bring out the moisture in the fish.

Sprinkle the salmon with kosher salt and a little sugar to bring out the moisture in the fish.

 

I still keep the smoker in the original box.

I still keep the smoker in the original box.

The smoking mixture of brown sugar, rice, Lapshang souchong tea and orange peel.

The smoking mixture of brown sugar, rice, Lapshang souchong tea and orange peel.

Center the salmon on the rack over the smoking medium.

Center the salmon on the rack over the smoking medium.

Lapsang souchong tea has a smoky aroma.

Lapsang souchong tea has a smoky aroma.

Now we're smoking!

Now we’re smoking!

One pound of salmon will takes less than a half hour.

One pound of salmon will takes less than a half hour.

 

Kaffir Lime Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1T olive oil
  • 3 medium shallots, finely chopped
  • 3-4 stalks lemongrass, cut crosswise into 2-inch lengths
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or dried, cut into thirds
  • 1T chili paste (I used sambal oelek)
  • 1/4c red wine
  • 1c canned crushed tomatoes
  • 2T heavy cream
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

 

Ingredients for the sauce.

Ingredients for the sauce.

Lemongrass

Lemongrass

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in medium skillet over low heat. Add shallots and cook until soft and translucent, about 1 minute. Crush the lemongrass pieces and add to the skillet; cook for 30 seconds. Rub the lime leaves between your hands to bring out their aroma, add them to the skillet and cook 30 seconds more.
  2. Add chili paste and cook, stirring, until browned, about 15 seconds. Add wine and cook until reduced by half, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add tomatoes and bring mixture to a boil. Immediately reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Strain mixture into a small saucepan through a fine mesh sieve; discard solids, I used a food mill for this step. Add cream to saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook sauce until liquid is reduced slightly, about 5 minutes. Serve warm.

February 11, 2015 Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts

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Magazine features come and go over the years and often reveal the trends of the time. In the first issue of Bon Appetit I purchased back in 1982 (!) readers could find a column featuring recipes created using a relatively new appliance, the food processor, “Bon Vivant”, a “who’s who and what’s new in the world of food, wine and spirits”, columns featuring cooking for two, wine and spirits, travel and “Too Busy to Cook”, time saving reader recipes.

One column that has lasted all these years is “R.S.V.P.”, reader’s requests of restaurant recipes. Back in 1982 you could find a baker’s dozen of recipes, everything from zucchini nut muffins to sole wellington with a recipe for homemade sausage thrown in for good measure.

In 2015, “R.S.V.P.” still graces the opening pages of the magazine in a paired down format. The February issue has just three recipes, one per page with an accompanying illustration. One recipe in particular caught my eye this month, Kung Pao Brussels sprouts. This recipe comes from Kevin Gillespie, Top Chef “cheftestant” season six and fan favorite. Kevin is presently the chef owner of Gunshow in Atlanta and the author of a best selling cookbook, Fire in My Belly.

I liked the idea of using the kung pao technique with a vegetable.  In the elevated role of the vegetable in today’s cuisine, the first real star was kale and recently that title has been handed over to cauliflower, I feel it’s only a matter of time that Brussels sprouts will take over the spotlight. Like it’s counterparts, kale and cauliflower, Brussels sprouts are a member of the brassica family with the same health benefits. They are packed with antioxidants, vitamin C, folic acid and minerals such as potassium, iron and selenium. Their season is from about mid September to March, and as we have learned from other brassicas, those harvested after the first hard frost are the sweetest.

Kung Pao originates from the Szechuan province of China. The classic preparation involves two main ingredients, spicy chiles that contrast with the crunchy, fatty peanuts.  Several sources recount the origins of this dish in similar ways with slight variations. It was either created by or it was the favorite dish of the Gong Bao, a high government official in the nineteenth century. I will leave out the part about the chicken needing to be cut into small pieces because of his dental problems or that the name Kung Pao fell out of favor during the Cultural Revolution. Or maybe you like the alternate explanation, the name Kung Pao loosely translates as “hot firecrackers”. The recipe calls for chile de Arbol  but I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to use dried Kung Pao peppers with similar heat that were harvested from our garden.

Rinse the sprouts well and trim the bottoms. Slice in half lengthwise and remove any yellowed or damaged leaves. Toss the sprouts with oil, kosher salt and a generous grind of pepper. At the halfway point I take them out, toss them around a bit and flip the baking sheet in the opposite direction. I took my sprouts out about five minutes sooner than the original recipe called for because I was baking in convection mode.  Adjust the heat of the dish to your own comfort level. The dish is supposed to be hot but remember you can always add a little more sambal oelek or another chili pepper, but you can’t take them away.

Assemble the sauce ingredients while the sprouts are baking. Cook the garlic and ginger until deliciously fragrant. Add sambal oelek, chilis and remaining ingredients, thicken with cornstarch and simmer.  I found that using half the amount of sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons, gave the right amount of hot to sweet balance in the dish.

Would I make this again? Definitely and Joe agrees, this sauce could be used with other vegetables, eggplant, green beans or in a stir fry using several vegetables. And that September 1982 issue of Bon Appetit? There’s a recipe for Red Snapper Szechuan, with surprisingly similar ingredients to the Brussels sprouts  that looks pretty good to me.

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Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients

Serves 6

  • 2 pounds Brussels sprouts, halved
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  •  Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  •  1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  •  2 tablespoons finely chopped peeled ginger
  •  2 tablespoons hot chili paste (sambal oelek)
  •  6 dried chiles de árbol, lightly crushed (I used Kung Pao chilies)
  •  ½ cup soy sauce
  •  3 tablespoons sugar
  •  2 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar
  •  ⅓ cup unsalted, roasted peanuts

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss brussels sprouts and 4 Tbsp. oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast, tossing once, until softened (but not soft) and browned, 20–25 minutes. Set aside.
  2.  Meanwhile, mix cornstarch and 1 Tbsp. water in a small bowl until smooth.
  3. Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring often, until garlic is golden brown, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add chili paste and cook, stirring, until darkened, about 2 minutes. Add chiles, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and ½ cup water and bring to a boil; stir in cornstarch slurry. Simmer, stirring, until sauce coats spoon, about 2 minutes. Let cool slightly.
  5. Toss brussels sprouts with sauce and serve topped with peanuts.
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Dried Kung Pao peppers from our garden.

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February 10, 2015 Thai Lettuce Wraps

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If I told you, “we’re having meatballs” you might conjure up a vision of succulent, tender meatballs in a garlicky fragrant tomato sauce, or maybe you are imagining nutmeg scented  Swedish meatballs in a creamy gravy. But the meatball is not confined to the West, the Chinese have the Lion’s Head, oversized pork meatballs traditionally cooked in a clay pot and southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Laos and Cambodia enjoy the street food of seasoned ground meat wrapped in crispy lettuce leaves.

Our love of Thai food has led Joe to grow some of the ingredients that haven’t always been that common in the local supermarket. We have a lemongrass plant that gets large and bushy in the garden every summer. We harvest a large portion of the stalks and freeze them for recipes like this. The significantly cut back plant is brought indoors to winter over. The greatest danger the lemongrass plant meets inside is our Golden Retriever, Cody, who when given the chance, loves to nibble on the leaves. We have three kaffir lime trees that have never produced a lime. That’s okay though, they are grown for their leaves that when crushed produce an intense citrus aroma. We also grow Thai chiles and basil, Vietnamese mint and the herb that no one is on the fence about, coriander.

The dish this is loosely based on larb, a southeast Asian favorite.  This recipe makes a do it yourself appetizer or a light lunch . Set out all of your ingredients and let everyone assemble their own wrap. To eat, take a lettuce leaf, top with several meatballs, add some julienned vegetables, an herb leaf or two, a spoonful of sauce and a sprinkling of chopped peanuts. Roll it up and dig in!

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Lemongrass plant in early summer. It will become many times this size by the Fall.

 

Thai Lettuce Wraps with Meatballs

Make about 2 dozen meatballs

Dipping sauce

Ingredients

  • 1/4c fish sauce, I am partial to the Three Crabs brand
  • 1/4c fresh lime juice
  • 1T Asian sesame oil
  • 2t minced Thai chilis, substitute red pepper flakes if necessary
  • 1t brown sugar
  • 1T minced cilantro

Directions

  1. Combine fish sauce, lime juice, sesame oil, chili, brown sugar and cilantro in a small bowl. Let the flavors blend while you make the meatballs.

Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 1lb ground pork or turkey
  • 1t finely minced garlic
  • 1T finely minced lemongrass, bulb end only
  • 1T finely minced ginger
  • 2T finely minced shallots
  • 1t rice vinegar (the type with no sugar added)
  • 1T Asian sesame oil
  • 1-2t low sodium soy sauce
  • Peanut or grape seed oil to fry the meatballs

Directions

  1. Combine the garlic, lemongrass, ginger, shallots, vinegar, sesame oil and soy sauce in a medium bowl. Add pork and use your hands to combine ingredients thoroughly. If you have time, chill the mixture for about a half hour, this will  make it easier to roll the meatballs.
  2. Use a tablespoon sized scoop to make the balls, you should have about two dozen. Place on a rimmed baking sheet. Cover and chill for at least an hour.
  3. Heat several tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Cook in two batches so you don’t crowd the skillet. Cook, turning occasionally to brown all sides, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a platter and keep warm.

For final assembly

Ingredients

  • Lettuce leaves, Romaine or Bibb work best here
  • Finely julienned cucumber, carrot and daikon radish
  • Coriander and mint leaves
  • Finely chopped unsalted peanuts.

Directions

  1. Separate lettuce leaves as carefully as possible not to tear them. The inside leaves work the best as wrappers.  Wash and spin dry in a salad spinner.
  2. Julienne the cucumber, radish and carrot by hand or with a julienne tool.
  3. Wash herb leaves and separate into individual leaves.
  4. Chop peanuts.
  5. Place all the above items on a large serving dish.
  6. Serve with meatballs and sauce.
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Lemongrass stalks. The bulb end is used in cooking.

 

Though not used in this recipe,  this is what the Kaffir Lime looks like. The distinct double leaf has a pointed point and a rounded bottom section.

Though not used in this recipe, this is what the Kaffir Lime looks like. The distinct double leaf has a pointed point and a rounded bottom section.

February 6, 2015 Mediterranean Style Pan Seared Chicken Breasts

DSC_1136aMy yearly “pantry purge” brought to my attention some items that would expire in the next few months and needed to be used sooner rather than later.  The jar of marinated artichoke hearts I bought at Trader Joe’s last year would reach it’s expiration date in a month.  Not wanting to waste them, I started with the artichoke hearts as a foundation. I looked for other items on the shelf that would add some complimentary Mediterranean flavors.  Also in the pantry I found jarred sun dried tomatoes and roasted peppers. In the refrigerator I found a container of olives, a previously opened  jar of capers and some fresh parsley. I was set to put together an improvised combination that would work well as a topping for the chicken breasts I planned on cooking that evening. I was calling it a “salsa” though Joe pointed out there was nothing sauce-like about it.

To make this dish I started with the marinated artichoke quarters, draining and reserving the marinade in case I needed to add some to the finished dish. The sun dried tomatoes were next, and even though I drained some of the oil off,  they retained enough to give the right balance.  Capers add a salty element to the dish so I made sure to rinse them well before adding them to the dish. I used Kalamata olives and Castelvetrano, an olive with a mild buttery flavor and one of my favorites. The red and yellow roasted peppers,  just needed to be drained and chopped. Combining all of the ingredients in a medium bowl I tasted for seasoning and in this case, a little bit of lemon juice and  a splash of balsamic vinegar was the right addition.

So what should I call this? It’s not quite a sauce, but is a versatile topping for fish, chicken, pasta, it could also be used as an omelet filling or even as a topping for a flatbread pizza.  The ingredients are interchangable as well. Petite diced canned tomatoes could be substituted for the sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms for the artichoke hearts, a little pesto would be a good addition, you can see what I mean. It’s just important to taste as you go to achieve the right balance of flavors.

This would have been great over the poached chicken breasts I made from the last post but I decided to learn another method.  In this recipe, also from Cooks Illustrated, boneless chicken breasts are lightly salted, then parcooked in a covered casserole in the oven. The chicken is then pan seared in a moderately hot skillet and kept moist with a slurry of flour, butter and cornstarch that is brushed on at the end. It gives a nice coating to the chicken and helps it stay moist. As with all meat, poultry and fish recipes, an instant read thermometer takes away the guesswork  and is essential for the best results.

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The ingredients for the topping.

Mediterranean Topping

Makes about 4 cups

Ingredients

  • 2c marinated, quartered artichoke hearts from a 12oz jar, drained (save liquid)
  • 2T capers, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2c sun dried tomatoes, drained, chopped and lightly patted dry
  • 1/2c olives, combination of green and black, pitted and chopped
  • 1/3c chopped roasted peppers
  • 1/4c chopped fresh parsley
  • Balsamic vinegar and lemon juice to taste
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl combine the artichoke hearts, capers, sun dried tomatoes, olives, roasted peppers and parsley.
  2. Add balsamic vinegar, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

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Pan Seared Chicken Breasts

From Cooks Illustrated March 2010

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, 6-8 ounces each, trimmed of excess fat
  • 2t kosher salt (1t regular salt)
  • 1T canola oil
  • 2T unsalted butter melted
  • 1T all purpose flour
  • 1t cornstarch
  • 1/2t freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Place oven rack in the lowest position and heat to 275°F. Poke the thicker end of the chicken breast with a fork five to six times and sprinkle evenly with the salt. Place the chicken, smooth side down in a 9×13″ baking dish. Cover the dish tightly with foil. Bake until the thickest part of the breast registers 145-150°F on an instant read thermometer, start checking at the 30 minute mark, it could take as long as 40 minutes.
  2. Remove pan from the oven and transfer the chicken with tongs to a towel-lined plate and pat dry. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium high heat until smoking. While you are waiting for the pan to heat up, whisk the melted butter, cornstarch and flour together. Brush the top of the chicken with half of the butter mixture. Place the chicken in the skillet, coated side down and cook until browned, 3-4 minutes. While the chicken is browning, coat the other side of the chicken with the remaining mixture. Flip the chicken over with tongs, reduce heat to medium and cook until the second side is browned and the thickest part of the breast registers 160°F, another 3-4 minutes. Transfer chicken to a serving plate.
  3. Serve chicken with Mediterranean topping.

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January 25, 2015 Poached Chicken Breasts with Warm Tomato Ginger Vinaigrette

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Poach (poch) verb, to take by illegal methods, in this case, as in taking all the flavor out of a chicken breast, leaving it tough, stringy and tasteless.  Sound familiar? If you were offered a poached chicken breast you might be inclined to decline, and rightfully so.  Cooks Illustrated has taken this classic techinque and perfected it for the home cook. It’s not that difficult or time consuming and will produce consistently good results.

Poaching is a gentle cooking method, best for delicately flavored foods, whether it be an egg, fish, or in this case, chicken. The chicken is cooked in a simmering liquid, just under the boiling point between 160°F and 180°F. Problems occur when the poaching liquid is either too cool or too hot or the cook minding the pot has left the poaching process go on too long.  This method does require some watchfulness but is much easier than traditional approaches to poaching.

As with any recipe, start with the best product you can find. Just like you, your chicken shouldn’t be bloated so look for a brand that has not been injected with a saline solution.  Trim away any excess fat or sinew before proceeding with the recipe. I have found that four 6-8 ounce chicken breasts are optimal. Wrap each chicken breast in plastic wrap and pound firmly on a stable surface. Your goal is to even out the thickness of the breast so you should be pounding the thicker top part to be more in line with the thinner “tail”. Whatever you do, don’t pound with the jagged side of a meat tenderizer. It will tear the meat and leave you with something unusable. I have a flat mallet expressly for this purpose but a heavy skillet or the flat side of the tenderizer will work as well.

Next step is the poaching liquid, classic French recipes usually include flavorings such as wine, lemon, stock or a bouquet garni. The chefs at Cooks Illustrated have done years of testing for various recipes to determine what flavorings will actually permeate into the cell wall of the meat. With the knowledge they have acquired over the years, they determined that salt, sugar, garlic and soy sauce would flavor the meat and still leave the chicken with a neutral flavor suitable to a wide range of recipes. Soy brings that desired “umami” or meaty, savory flavor.  I chose to use a gluten-free low sodium soy sauce since salt was one of the ingredients in the poaching liquid.

You will need a very large pot to cook the breasts, enough to accomodate four quarts, a full gallon of water plus a little room at the top. A word to the wise, start with your pot on the burner and bring the water and the ingredients to it. In my case, a Le Creuset pot filled with a gallon of water is quite cumbersome and heavy to carry. Whisk the ingredients together in your pot until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Place a steamer basket, metal works best here, in the bottom of the pot. This is used to keep the breast from making contact with the bottom of the pot, allowing for the chicken to cook evenly on all sides.  My steamer has a ten inch diameter when opened and comforably held the breasts without overlapping or crowding. Cover and let the pot sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. This allows the internal temperature of the breast you just recently took from the refrigerator to slowly rise. After the short brine, turn the heat on your stove to medium.

Stir the water occasionally to even out any hot spots. It should take about 15-20 minutes for the water to reach a temperature of 175°F. I used my thermapen to check every five minutes or so but clipping a thermometer to the inside of the pot works as long as you are diligent to check the temperature’s progress. When the water is at the right temperature, turn off the heat and cover the pan.

Now you have a little time to make a salad and a vinaigrette (the one that follows or your own) while the chicken cooks.  Cooks Illustrated suggests that you remove the chicken at 160°F, the suggested internal temperature for poultry. I remove mine at a slighly lower temperature (155°F) knowing that the chicken will continue to rise in temperature even after it is removed from the cooking liquid. Place the chicken breasts on a piece of foil and wrap loosely.

Let chicken rest for 5 minutes. Slice the breast on a slight bias, running with the grain of the meat. I served it with a warm tomato ginger vinaigrette, an excellent accompaniment, inspired by chutney ingredients. Just remember if you are using grape tomatoes, they are meatier with a thicker skin and will not break down as easily as a cherry tomato. Serve the chicken on a bed of greens, stuff in a pita pocket or shred as a last minute addition to a soup recipe.

Wrap each chicken breast in plastic wrap and pound with the flat edge of a mallet to an even thickness.

Wrap each chicken breast in plastic wrap and pound with the flat edge of a mallet to an even thickness.

 

The ingredients that flavor the chicken breast, soy, salt, sugar and garlic.

The ingredients that flavor the chicken breast, soy, salt, sugar and garlic.

Perfectly Poached Chicken Breasts

Cooks Illustrated March/ April 2014

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 4 (6 to 8 ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
  • ½c soy sauce (I used gluten-free, low sodium)
  • ¼c salt (I used kosher)
  • 2T granulated sugar
  • 6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

Directions

  1. Individually wrap each breast in plastic and pound thick ends to an even thickness with tail end, about 3/4 inch thick.
  2. Whisk 4 quarts water, soy sauce, salt, sugar and garlic in a Dutch oven until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Arrange breasts, skinned side up in a steamer basket, making sure the breast don’t overlap. Submerge the steamer basket in the brine. Let sit at room temperature to brine for 30 minutes.
  3. Heat the pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally to even out any hot spots. In 15-20 minutes the water should reach a temperature of 175°F.  Turn off the heat,  take it off the burner and cover. Let stand until meat reaches desired temperature, 155°F to 160°F, start checking temperature of the meat in the thickest part of the breast at the 15 minute mark.
  4. Transfer breasts to a cutting board, cover with aluminum foil and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice the breast on the diagonal into 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick slices and serve.

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Warm Tomato-Ginger Vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • ¼c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 minced shallot
  • 1 ½t freshly grated ginger
  • ¼t ground cumin
  • 1/8t ground fennel
  • 12 ounces of cherry or grape tomatoes (halved if cherry tomatoes, quartered if grape)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1T red wine vinegar
  • 1t packed brown sugar
  • 2T chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

Directions

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a  10-inch skillet until shimmering. Add shallot, garlic, cumin and fennel and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds.
  2. Stir in the tomatoes and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently until the tomatoes have softened, 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. Off heat stir in the vinegar and sugar and season with salt and pepper to taste, cover or put under a heat lamp to keep warm. Stir in cilantro or parsley and remaining oil just before serving.

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January 17, 2015 Hazelnut-Orange Biscotti

DSC_0769aWhen it comes to cookies, at the top of the list of my personal favorites is biscotti.  Almond biscotti were on the menu  for a light nibble after our seven fishes dinner and I am making hazelnut orange biscotti for a pasta making dinner this weekend. Biscotti originated in medieval Italy as a long shelf life food for Roman soldiers and travelers. It is thought that both Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo relied on biscotti for sustenance on their long journeys. The word derives from bis, Latin for twice and cotto for baked. The basic recipe is simple, dough is formed into logs, baked and cooled, sliced and baked again.

Hazelnuts, are also known as filberts.  Twenty five percent of the world’s hazelnut production goes to the manufacturing of Nutella, a very popular creamy chocolate hazelnut spread. Hazelnuts may a bit harder to find than, lets say walnuts or almonds, but many large supermarkets stock them. When I can I like to buy nuts from a bulk bin to ensure their freshness. I baked the hazelnuts in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes, shaking the pan every few minutes and rotating the pan each time. The nuts will start to exude their oil and your kitchen will smell heavenly.  Transfer lightly toasted nuts to a tea towel to cool, then fold over half the towel and rub gently, back and forth to remove as much skin as possible. Don’t worry if some of the nuts refuse to be skinned, the toasting has made the tannins in the skin less bitter and will add some color and depth of flavor. The nuts should only be lightly toasted since they will be going back into the oven to be baked again in the biscotti. Some of the toasted nuts are finely ground and added to the flour mixture, the rest are coarsely chopped and are folded in at the end of the recipe. Be sure not to take the finely ground nuts too far or you may be left with hazelnut butter.

A little bit of fresh rosemary is included with the dry ingredients. If you don’t have access to fresh, a smaller amount of dried will do or you could eliminate it all together. Flour, rosemary, baking powder and salt are combined in bowl of a food processor. Be sure to check the expiration date on your baking powder.  If the date has passed or is soon approaching, there is a simple test you can do to see if it will still do the job. Baking powder  is a chemical leavener that reacts to temperature so just drop a little into a glass of hot water. If it bubbles up, you are good to go! Process these ingredients then transfer to a bowl.

Two eggs are now added to the empty bowl  and  processed until light in color and doubled in volume. I improvised a paper cone for the feed tube to make it easier to add the sugar gradually. This was much neater than using a measuring cup. The melted butter, orange zest, orange liqueur and vanilla extract are added and processed until combined.  The wet ingredients are transferred to a bowl and the flour mixture and hazelnuts are gently folded in.  I find that a large bowl and the largest spatula you have will make this easier. Lift up from the bottom of the bowl and fold over. Whatever you do, resist the temptation to stir the ingredients!

Flour your hands before forming the dough into two logs the size of the 8×3 inch template. Brush the logs with egg white wash, this will give the cookies sheen. Bake the logs for about 25 minutes, cool and cut into 1/2′ slices. I find a serrated knife works best for this. Time for the cookies to go back into the oven. Bake cookies until crisp and golden brown on both sides. Cool completely before serving.  The cookies will be great at this point but you can also take them one step further by dipping the cookies in bittersweet chocolate and sprinkling with toasted hazelnuts.

Oh, by the way, biscotti is the plural form of the word, like a batch of cookies. If you only have one left it’s a biscotto and it’s time to fill the cookie jar again.DSC_0672a

Hazelnut-Orange Biscotti

from Cooks Illustrated November 2012

Makes 30 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4c hazelnuts, lightly toasted and skinned
  • 1 3/4c all purpose flour
  • 1/2t finely minced dried rosemary
  • 2t baking powder
  • 1/4t table salt
  • 2 large eggs, plus 1 egg white beaten with a pinch of salt
  • 1c granulated sugar
  • 4T unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1T grated orange zest
  • 1 1/2t orange flavored liqueur (Grand Marnier, Triple Sec)
  • 1/2t vanilla extract
  • Vegetable oil spray

Directions

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325°F. Using a ruler and marker, draw two 8 by 3-inch rectangles, spaced 4 inches apart on a piece of parchment paper. Grease baking sheet and place parchment on it, ink side down.
  2. Pulse 1 cup hazelnuts in food processor until coarsely chopped, 8 to 10 pulses; transfer to a bowl and set aside. Process remaining 1/4 cup hazelnuts in food processor until finely ground, about 45 seconds.
  3. Add flour, rosemary, baking powder, and salt; process to combine, about 15 seconds. Transfer the flour mixture to a bowl.
  4. Process 2 eggs in the now empty food processor until lightened in color and almost doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. With processor running, slowly add sugar until thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds. Add melted butter, orange zest, orange liqueur and vanilla; process until combined, about 10 seconds.
  5. Transfer egg mixture to a large bowl. Sprinkle half of the flour mixture over the egg mixture and, using a large spatula, gently fold until just combined. Add remaining flour mixture and chopped hazelnuts and gently fold until just combined.
  6. Divide batter in half. Using floured hands, form each half into an 8 by 3 inch rectangle, using the lines on the parchment as a guide. Using a medium rubber spatula lightly coated with spray, smooth the tops and sides of the rectangles. Gently brush the tops of the loaves with the egg white wash. Bake until the loaves are golden and just beginning to crack on top, 25-30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking.
  7. Let loaves cool on baking sheet for 30 minutes. Transfer loaves to cutting board. Using a serrated knife, slice each loaf on a slight diagonal into 1/2 inch thick slices.  Lay slices, cut side down, about 1/4 inch apart on wire rack set  in rimmed baking sheet. Bake until crisp and golden brown on both sides, about 30 minutes, flipping slices halfway through baking. Let cool completely before serving. Biscotti can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

  8. To further embellish the cookies, melt some bittersweet chocolate, about four ounces in a small pan over another pan of simmering water. This is known as a double boiler.  Line a small dish with a sheet of waxed paper to catch the drippings. Hold the cookie in your non dominant hand over the dish. Use a wooden spoon to evenly drizzle melted chocolate over half of the cookie. Then immediately sprinkle some finely chopped hazelnuts on top. Let the chocolate dry thoroughly on a rack over a sheet pan that has been lined with parchment to catch any additional drippings. Store cookies in an airtight container.

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After three minutes the eggs are light in color and doubled in volume.

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After the cookies cool cut into 1/2″ slices.

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The cookies are placed cut side down on a wire rack set in a baking sheet. Bake until crisp and golden brown on both sides.

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January 10, 2015 Turkey Zucchini Meatballs

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It’s a new year and it’s time to put the emphasis back on healthy meals. But healthy doesn’t have to equal boring. Meatballs are lightened up with ground turkey and fresh herbs in this recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook, Jerusalem.  Originally from Jerusalem, Ottolenghi is a London based chef restaurant owner, food writer and cookbook author known for his vibrant, fresh, multi cultural cuisine. His recipe takes ground turkey and zucchini, two ingredients with not much flavor going for them on their own and combines them with fresh herbs, cilantro and mint, along with garlic, cumin and spicy cayenne pepper to make a delicious meatball.

In July, I would be making this recipe with herbs and zucchini fresh from the garden. But it’s a bitter cold day in January, so like everyone else I have to bite the bullet and plunk down several dollars for a small bunch of herbs I would have buckets of in the summer. Don’t get me started with the zucchini…  When I purchase herbs at the supermarket I try to treat them as a precious commodity. How many times have you (or I) brought home a bunch of herbs, used the tablespoon or teaspoon we needed and the rest was sentenced to the crisper drawer. The next time you notice it, you’re not even sure what it is. My favorite method of preserving fresh herbs as long as possible in the fridge, is to trim the stem ends and place the bunch in a glass with several inches of water. I place a loose plastic storage bag over the herbs and not only can I successfully store them for a week or more, I am more likely to use them since they are not tucked away in a drawer.

This is a wet meat mixture to work with so use a minimally processed product, the extra water added in some brands of ground turkey is not your friend.  Check the label, the turkey I purchased was 93/7, lean to fat with no water added. I used a hand grater for the zucchini and lightly wrung it out in  a cloth towel to eliminate extra liquid. I like to taste the leaf of the herbs I am using to see how pungent (or not) they are to see what adjustments I might need to make for the recipe.

Put all the ingredients in a large enough bowl so that you can combine your ingredients thoroughly. Take off your rings and roll up your sleeves to do some serious mixing.  Put some non stick spray on the sheet that you will place the meatballs when formed and also on your hands to minimize the herbs from sticking to your fingers (some will). Ottolenghi’s original recipe called for these to be made as small burgers, but I thought meatballs were better suited for this January night.

Cook the meatballs in a large (12inch) heavy skillet. I used a Le Creuset cast iron type skillet. Just a thin film of a neutral oil, canola, safflower, is all you need to coat the bottom of the pan. Be sure not to overcrowd the pan, I cooked 18 meatballs in two batches. I shake the pan halfway through to make sure they don’t stick.  Finish your browned meatballs in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes to finish cooking them.

The accompanying sauce is very simple, Greek yogurt, sour cream, lemon peel and juice and an interesting middle eastern ingredient, sumac.  I discuss sumac at greater lengths here. Sumac is extracted from the berries of the sumac bush and it adds an astringent, fruity taste to dishes. I purchased mine from Penzeys. I am over my Meyer Lemon envy of 2013 now that Joe is growing several trees that are producing fruit. They are inside now for the winter. This is the season for harvest and I was able to pick a fresh lemon from one of our trees.  More information about Meyer lemons is in this post.  Meyer lemons are not as acidic as regular lemons but the sumac added another layer of flavor complexity to the sauce.

Herb substitutions could be made, parsley for the cilantro, finely snipped chives for the green onions. A tzatziki sauce would also be a good accompaniment. Serve with a tomato sauce and zucchini “noodles” for a family-friendly spaghetti and meatballs substitution.  This one definitely goes in the “I would make this one again” column.

Turkey and Zucchini Meatballs

Makes about 18

Ingredients for Meatballs

  • 1lb ground turkey
  • 2c grated zucchini
  • 3 scallions, white and green, thinly sliced
  • 1 large egg
  • 2T chopped mint
  • 2T chopped cilantro
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
  • 1t ground cumin
  • 1t table salt
  • 1/2t freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2t cayenne pepper
  • about 1/8c of a neutral cooking oil, canola, safflower

Ingredients for the Sour Cream and Sumac Sauce

  • 1/2c sour cream (regular or low fat)
  • 2/3c plain Greek yogurt (regular or low fat)
  • 1t grated lemon zest
  • 1T freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 small clove garlic, crushed
  • 1T sumac
  • 1/2t salt
  • 1/4t freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Make the sour cream sauce by placing all the ingredients in a small bowl. Stir well and set aside or chill until needed.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425°F. In a large bowl combine all the ingredients for the meatballs, except the cooking oil. Mix well with your hands. Shape into 2″ balls. Place meatballs on a well greased baking sheet to ready for cooking.
  3. Pour enough oil into a large heavy frying pan to form a layer about 1/16 inch thick on the bottom of the pan. Heat over medium heat until oil is shimmering, sear the meatballs in batches on all sides. Cook each batch for about 4 minutes adding oil as needed, until browned.
  4. Transfer the seared meatballs to a baking sheet and place in the oven for 5-7 minutes, or until just cooked through. Serve warm or at room temperature with the sauce on the side.
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Mint, scallions and cilantro bring a lot of flavor to the meatballs.

 

I grated zucchini on a box grater and wrung out the extra moisture with a tea towel.

I grated zucchini on a box grater and wrung out the extra moisture with a tea towel.

Why yes, I pick my lemons fresh from the tree.

Why yes, I pick my lemons fresh from the tree.

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Meyer lemons have thinner skin and are sweeter than the usual lemon.

Ready to go into the frying pan.

Ready to go into the frying pan.

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Cilantro in a half filled glass of water, ready to put the bag on top and store in the fridge.

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