Saturday, May 31, 2014

California Fish Tacos

When visiting California many years ago, I was truly amazed at the number of fish taco stands and trucks there were. "How come I never heard of this before?" I wondered.
Yes that's guacamole on the side!
If I thought about it for a minute, I probably would have figured it out on my own. California has an ocean to the west that runs from the south to the north. Where there's an ocean there's fish and a lot of them. So it just makes sense. I should also point out that my good friend had a son who wanted to start a taco truck business in Australia. I did a little research and found that it had great potential in Australia, but not so much in California.
True Cod and Char Crust "Amazin' Cajun" Blackening Seasoning
Recently I went to my daughter, the chef to ask her about fish taco's. Many do have lettuce, cabbage or a slaw on them, but it is not required. Most any seasoning will do but I prefer a Char Crust blackening spice.
Let the spice rub get cozy with the fish
When I went to get the fish I was looking for mahi-mahi, or tilapia,  neither of which they had. What they did have was fresh Alaskan true cod, which is wild caught, available year round and sustainable. Make sure the fish filet is uniform in thickness so that it cooks evenly.
What do you really need? Other than the fish, the other ingredients include corn or flour tortilla's and for the fish you're going to need a great seasoning. Cajun spice seems to be a popular one. Next up is some kind of salsa (rojas or verde) and some pica de gallo. Do you like cilantro? Many people don’t and think it tastes like dish soap. No problem, just pick up some curly, or Italian parsley. This is a great substitution for cilantro. Don't forget to get some fresh limes! A fresh lime squeezed over fish taco’s adds a fresh taste that can’t be achieved by bottled lime juice.
Pica De Gallo, Salsa Rojas, Queso Fresco Red Cabbage
Sprinkle the fish liberally with olive oil or butter on both sides, and then massage the spices into the fish. Let the fish sit for about 15-30 minutes to allow the flavor to develop. 
Preheat the lightly oiled cast iron pan or griddle until really hot. Place the fish into the hot pan. Cook the fish on the bottom for 2-3 minutes until that side becomes opaque half way up develops the blackened crust (not burnt). Using a fish spatula carefully flip the fish over and cook this side as you did for side one. Do not touch the fish for at least 2-4 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.
Developing that blackened look
Carefully lift one corner to see if it is grilled to perfection. Carefully remove it from the pan to a cutting board or a platter. Stop what you're doing and take a picture. A properly blackened piece of fish really is a thing of beauty. Let the fish rest for a couple of minutes while you cook some tortilla's. I used the min-corn tortillas.
Okay this looks delicious.
Drizzle or spray the pan or griddle with oil and place your tortillas on it. Just heat them until they get some color on them but are still soft and pliable. Some people use one tortilla per taco and some use two. Whatever floats your boat. It really doesn't matter.
Flip these over and lightly brown side two. Once all of your tortillas are ready begin assembling your fish taco's. Fold the tortilla in half and place a dollop of the salsa in the center of the shell and then some of the grilled fish. Spoon some of the pico de gallo over the fish, a little more salsa. Drizzle with some fresh sour cream or crema and then sprinkle with crumbled Queso Fresco. Put 3-4 tacos per person on the plate and add a good dollop of guacamole on the plate as a garnish.
True cod fish tacos

What to serve with this meal? How about some fresh corn on the cob? Never worry about making to much corn. If you have left-overs why not whip up some green corn tamales.
Where did I put the butter?

Apparently the method of blackening, was discovered or started by New Orleans Chef Paul Prudhomme. The first time I had blackened anything, it was a steak, and it was burnt. My first thought was that anyone can burn a steak. Then I had a steak that was blackened, but not burnt, and it was delicious. The secret is not to let whatever it is that you’re cooking burn. It is the caramelization of the fat and spices on the fish that you're after. That being said, why not try blackened steak or chicken taco's next time?
© TMelle 2014

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Jello Project - Memorial Day

I'm talking a real retro comfort food and it's a dessert too!
Growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s, it was not uncommon to have some kind of jello on hand to be served as a quick dessert. Some I really liked and others I didn’t. It’s true, or real good marketing that “there’s always room for Jello.” In my opinion Jello is about as American as apple pie and certainly a comfort food.
Will you be my Valentine?
Generally if the Jello has some type of vegetables in it, I really don’t want to even try it. Fruit on the other hand does not bother me. It should be noted that way back
in the 50’s and 60’s the flavors of Jello available were very limited.
Today you can get almost any flavor that you can think of. In addition to the many flavors available today, there are also many more Jello molds available.
Old school retro Jello mold
One that I distinctly remember was an orange Jello with shredded carrots and pineapple in it. If that wasn’t bad enough, it was served with a mayonnaise topping. It was called a salad and not a dessert. “How could anyone screw up Jello?” I thought. The good news is that if you have water, know how to boil it, and have a refrigerator you can make jello.
Jello mix
When it comes to Jello and the holiday’s my sister always makes her famous lemon Jello. It is something that she makes better than anyone. A Thanksgiving without her Jello just wouldn’t be right.
Add boiling water and refrigerate. That's it! You made Jello
My wife changes her Jello recipes depending on her mood, but usually makes a spectacular multicolored jello mold with some kind of fruit in it. When it comes to summer holiday Jello, she can be a real firecracker.
Christmas tree Jello with whipped cream center
My wife's sister is famous in her family for her frosty orange gelatin dessert. This Jello reminds me of a Creamcycle. It doesn't get more retro than that. Similar to my sister's lemon jello, this one has wedges of Mandarin oranges in it. It really is a refreshing summer dessert.
Happy Memorial Day, 4th of July, or Labor Day.
My wife is always quick to ask why I bought something to cook in or with. When I bought heart shaped metal molds and a heart shaped cutter that she discovered hidden away, she only had one question. “What do we need these for?” When I served her heart shaped French toast in the morning and a heart shaped Jello for dinner on Valentines Day, her question was answered.
Heart shaped French Toast
For the Jello hearts it was just a 3.5 ounce package of Raspberry Jello made according to the package directions, and then poured into a heart shape Jello mold.
I guess I could have just bought a Valentines Day card.
How hard was that? To un-mold the cold Jello, hold them into hot water bath, being careful not to submerge it until the Jello releases from the mold.
Frosty orange gelatin
I’m sure that you’ve all had Jello before, but one day a friend of ours from England introduced us to “Junket” Pudding and Pie Filling Glaze. It is a Danish Dessert similar to Jello but a completely different texture. You can find these in 4-3/4 oz. boxes at most grocery stores with an international section. When was the last time that you made Jello?
Champagne jello
My daughter works in the pre-pack and catering department of a local high-end grocer. She has probably made more jello in bulk than anyone I know. One day I went to see her when she was making rainbow jello. When she came out of the kitchen her apron was covered in various colors of the rainbow. She looked like she just walked through a Rainbow Brite mine field. It's hard to get her to make Jello for me these days. 
In closing there are so many Jello recipes on the Internet, it's hard to determine who created them. Hats of to Jello! I also heard that Jello is good for making your nails grow strong. Making Jello is a fun project for parents and children. 
If anyone has the lemon or orange jello with shredded carrots, pineapple and mayonnaise topping, or any fantastic Jello recipe please leave it in the comments section at the bottom of this post.
PS. My daughter made the red white and blue Jello      
© TMelle 2014

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Summertime Taco Salad

Ingredients ready to assemble (Mis en place)
If you're looking for a great family-style Tex-Mex salad for summer, this is the one you're looking for. We were served this dish at a party 28 years ago. This was not a side dish as we thought. It was “the meal.” It takes a little time, it's not cheap, and has a whole lot of ingredients, but the expense and effort is worth it. But before we begin put on some good music to get you in the mood to cook. Since this is about retro food why not some retro music to go with it? If you've never heard of Freddie Fender or the Texas Tornado's before, head on over to YouTube and listen to Freddie perform "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights." Now mix up a pitcher of Margarita's, cook and listen:
Frozen Margarita and Strawberry Dacquiri
You're going to need some lettuce
Add Taco Seasonings
NOTE: *The taco seasoning packets can be found at your local grocery store. They make putting this salad together a piece of cake. You can also experiment on your own if you like with spices like chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, paprika, salt, black pepper, Mexican oregano and crushed red pepper flakes. You can also eliminate the plates and serve this salad in a grilled corn or flour tortilla.
It's a deconstructed Taco
1-1/2 lbs. ground chuck 80/20 
1 1.25 oz pkg. taco seasoning mix*
3/4 cup water
1 whole avocado, cut into slices
1 head Iceberg lettuce, shredded, or chopped
6 oz. cheddar cheese**, grated
1/2 cup French dressing
1/3 cup green taco sauce 
as needed red taco sauce
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 large tomato, chopped, or wedges
1 6 oz. can black olives, sliced, drained
11-1/2 oz. bag nacho cheese chips, crushed
as needed sour cream, for top
In a skillet brown the meat. Drain the grease from the meat and discard. To the well browned and drained ground beef add the contents of the taco seasoning package and 3/4 cup of water mixing well.
Add a dollop of taco sauce and sour cream

Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and set to the side and allow to cool. Wash and spin dry the lettuce. Cut or shred the lettuce. Set this to the side in a large salad bowl. Remove the skin and slice or chop the avocado. Chop the  onions and tomatoes. Slice the black olives and shred the cheese(s). Crush the nacho chips in the bag and set to the side. Once all of the prep work is completed, assemble the salad in the bowl, leaving out the nacho chips, red taco sauce and the sour cream until ready to serve. Chill the salad but keep in mind, the blended ingredients will wilt the lettuce and soften the crushed nachos. Prepare within an hour of serving. Mix the French dressing with the green taco sauce. Toss salad with the dressing.
Serve that salad!
Set out the sour cream and red and green taco sauces on the table for topping off individual servings.
One final note: This recipe makes a lot of salad. It may be cut in half if you desire. You may adjust to your own personal taste. This is Tex-Mex at its best. **Get creative and substitute the Cheddar cheese with Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, or Mexican cheeses like Queso fresco, Queso añejo, Queso quesadilla. ENJOY!

© TMelle 2014

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mother's Day Hors d'oeuvres - Antipasti or Antipasta?

My wife and I recently attended a First Communion followed my a meal at a local restaurant. There was a large table set up with champagne glasses, champagne, orange juice (Mimosa's), red and white wine (Merlot and Pinot Grigio), sort of a self serve drink buffet or bar. My first thought was "this is nice."
Antipasto platter
Mimosa's are a great choice for a Mother's Day brunch or Spring cocktail. My Mother thought that they were elegant. Generally  the mimosa is prepared in a champagne flute filled half way with champagne or prosecco (sparking Italian wine), and the remainder of the way with orange juice. Guests who don't like to drink a lot of alcohol might like a 1/3rd champagne, 2/3rd's orange juice mix. Garnished with an orange slice you are ready.

Mimosa is an exceptionally festivite cocktail – its name is a flower, it looks bright and yellow and it is to be served chilled in a wine glass, all nice and sparkly. Both its name and taste are supposed to remind you of spring. - See more at:
Mimosa is an exceptionally festivite cocktail – its name is a flower, it looks bright and yellow and it is to be served chilled in a wine glass, all nice and sparkly. Both its name and taste are supposed to remind you of spring. - See more at:
Shortly after we arrived they began placing platters of antipasti on the beverage table. This was a place to socialize and enjoy the appetizers and wine. For those of you who don't know, an antipasto is just like the Spanish tapas, our more common hors d' oeuvres. Many different offerings on different plates are antipasti. It is considered a before the meal snack. Since the hosts are Italian, the traditional antipasto consisted of cured meats, olives, peperoncini, pickled onions, mushrooms, anchovies, artichoke hearts, cheese, some drizzled with an Italian vinaigrette. In addition fried and grilled calamari was served. 
The actual meal was a sit down affair consisting of a 1st (soup), the 2nd (salad), and 3rd (Fettuccine and mushrooms) courses, came before the choice of entrees (3). This got me thinking about Mother's Day.
The perfect Mother's Day - Breakfast in bed!
If you're not having people over for Mother's Day, my first choice for Mom's is breakfast in bed. What better way to say thank you for all they do for us? Add a mimosa to the tray and your favorite Mother should be on her way to a great day. How about Seafood Eggs Benedict? All you need is some lobster or crab meat, eggs, and some English muffins. Most people are put off from making eggs Benedict because of the difficulty poaching eggs or making Hollandaise sauce. My son called it "Holiday sauce." There are many recipes on-line for the sauce. The easiest are the blender recipes. In a pinch you can buy it in a container, or a packet that you make.
In my Mom's recipe box I came across this handwritten recipe and asked her about it. She did not know where it came from but it was foolproof. You're going to need:
2 whole egg yolks
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. Kosher salt
2 drops Tabasco sauce
1/2 cup butter, melted
Drizzle hot melted butter into egg mixture.

Melt the butter and set to the side. In a blender combine the egg yolks, lemon juice, salt and Tabasco. Put the cover on top and pulse the blender and turn off when the mixture is smooth can creamy. Remove the blender cover plug and turn on low, slowly increasing it too high speed. Gradually pour in a steady stream the hot melted butter into the blender. In a pot filled with hot (not boiling) water, big enough to hold  the blender mixing container, place the blender container into the warm water, or pour the Hollandaise into a small soup size thermos to hold it at a proper temperature.
Shrimp Shooter's!

If you're having company over why not consider hors d' oeuvres, antipasti,  or tapas bar? Let me tell you often it is more time consuming and expensive than a regular sit down meal. If you don't have the proper plates or glassware you can always rent them.
You can keep it simple, or as my brother might say... Go crazy Ya'll!
Add a couple bottles of champagne or prosecco (Italian sparkling wine), orange juice, tomato juice, some 1/2 pint bottles of water, glasses and ice.

I personally think that a Bloody Mary is the perfect start to a Mother's Day breakfast, or brunch. To build a classic Bloody Mary you're going to need a few things. If you like salt on the rim of the glass why not try celery salt. You can go with straight tomato juice, or pick up a store bought Bloody Mary mix. The choice is up to you.
Bloody Mary loaded. Salami?
Classic Bloody Mary
ice filled glass
1-1/2 vodka, or a little more
4 oz. tomato juice
1 tsp. prepared horseradish
2-3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
For the garnish there is no set rules. Mostly you will find a stalk of celery, and a lime or lemon wedge. I once had a Bloody Mary at a Boston hotel where the rim of the glass had four prawns mounted on it. The bartender called it a liquid shrimp cocktail. There are no rules, just drink responsibly.
As for gifts all I can say is make it from the heart. Flowers and candy are always nice, but taking them out to a show, or offering to go shopping for them, or cook a meal can give you and her that special one on one time.
How do you spend Mother's Day with your Mother? Leave a comment in the section below. If you're a Mother what was your most memorable Mother's Day ever? What gifts do you like to receive on Mother's Day.
Can I pour one for you?
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© TMelle 2014