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Iron Chef MLE presents – A Picnic

It is a warm spring day, and nothing but blue skies and lazy breezes await. In the feast you are about to consume, I have done my best to embody spring as an ingredient, whenever possible using produce appropriate to the season.

All portions of your repast were packed in appropriate sealed containers with blue ice in an insulated picnic bag.

Spread upon the ground is, of course, a classic red and white gingham oil tablecloth. What better way to set the scene of a picnic? To your great surprise, this tablecloth has the additional power of keeping the insects away as you seat yourselves under a newly-leafed tree, with just the right amount of shade and sun.

You will begin with a light snack of freshly made hummus with vegetable crudite and pita chips. To drink you have a cooled sun tea made from Celestial Seasonings’ Red Zinger, lightly sweetened and with orange and lemon slices, brought to the picnic in a Lexan plastic bottle and served in plastic tumblers that came with the picnic bag.

Your appetite is only lightly whetted – you need something a bit more substantial. Luckily, in the picnic bag is a container with teriyaki-marinated chicken satay on wooden skewers, and alongside you find a small covered bowl filled with fresh peanut sauce. The ever-so-classy white plastic plates provide a convenient place on which to place your chicken and pour out your sauce for dipping.

You have noticed that your picnic bag has an attached insulated bottle holder. Inside you find a chilled bottle of medium-dry mead, with notes of both spice and honey. You pour yourself a glass of mead into the plastic wine glasses you find in the bag and propose a toast to Spring.

But what else is in the bag of mystery? Why, it’s a fresh pasta salad, made with bow tie pasta, freshly white wine-poached salmon, feta cheese and red grapes. Your spork makes this far more fun to eat, since parts of it stick to the fork and other parts get scooped up by the spoon. You detect hints of dill and balsamic vinegar as you hungrily consume this dish.

You’re now ready for the main event, and find in your bag some toasted hoagie rolls, citrus-marinated pork tenderloin medallions, freshly-made barbecue sauce, and a kohlrabi and cabbage cole slaw. The tangy sweet citrus notes of the pork and the deep smoky chipotle flavor of the barbecue sauce cry out for the pungent freshness of the slaw, and you assemble your sandwich to great delight, using the provided plastic serving utensils.

After a while, you realize there is still more in your picnic bag of wonders. Reaching in once more, you find an airplane-sized glass bottle of absinthe and alongside it is a packet of almond-anise biscotti. A little note details the steps in the process of your first dessert, and you drip a small amount of absinthe over each biscotti before biting in.

Just when you think you can eat no more, you decide to dig down into the bag to see if there is anything left. And there is! A strawberry rhubarb turnover made with browned butter pastry, singing notes of Spring itself. It can be held in one hand, yet packs a deliciously sweet-tart punch. What a way to end such a grand outdoor repast!

Hummus
1 can garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas), drained, reserve some of the liquid
5 cloves fresh garlic
1 tbsp tahini (sesame seed butter)
juice of one lemon
1/2 medium tomato
a few dashes crushed red pepper
salt & pepper to taste

Crudite – jicama, snap peas, baby carrots, red bell pepper strips, English cucumber (peeled)

Pita chips – Brush pita bread with olive oil and sprinkle with garlic powder. Cut each pita bread into 8 wedges. Toast on medium in toaster oven. Remove from toaster oven; cool.

Chicken Satay
1 chicken breast, cut into thin strips and marinated in your favorite teriyaki sauce
then skewered and grilled on stovetop or Foreman grill. When chicken is cooked, chill until ready to eat.

Peanut sauce for dipping

1/2 cup chunky natural peanut butter
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice vinegar

Heat all ingredients in small saucepan and stir until everything is well-mixed. Thin with water as necessary to reach desired consistency.

Salmon, grape and feta Pasta Salad

Bowtie pasta, cooked to al dente (2 cups cooked)
1/2 pound salmon fillet
1/2 cup white wine
juice of 1/2 orange
2 tsp Penzey’s fox point seasoning
1 cup red grapes, halved
1/2 cup feta cheese
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp fresh dill, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse salmon fillet and rub with fox point seasoning. Poach in medium frying pan in white wine and orange juice until flaky. Remove from pan, refrigerate. When fish is cool, remove skin and cut into bite-sized pieces. Toss pasta, fish, grapes, and feta together in a bowl with olive oil, balsamic, dill, and salt & pepper. Refrigerate for at least one hour or up to overnight to allow flavors to meld.

BBQ Pork tenderloin sandwiches with kohlrabi coleslaw

Hoagie rolls, toasted

1 pork tenderloin
3/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried thyme
1 clove minced garlic
dash salt

Marinate pork tenderloin in other ingredients overnight.
24 hours before picnic, cook pork tenderloin on a charcoal grill over low flame, turning meat frequently, until meat reaches internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Chill tenderloin in refrigerator overnight. The morning of the picnic, slice into 1/4-1/2 inch thick medallions and keep cool until ready to assemble into sandwiches.

BBQ sauce
3/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup cider or red wine vinegar
1/8 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/8 cup soy sauce
1 canned chipotle pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tbsp dry mustard
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 clove minced garlic
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Mix all ingredients and cook in a medium saucepan over medium heat until sauce comes to a simmer. Makes about 1 cup.

Cole Slaw

1 medium red or green kohlrabi, shredded
1/2 medium green cabbage, shredded
2 large carrots, shredded
Sauce:
3/4 cup mayonnaise
several large squirts spicy brown mustard
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt

Shred all slaw ingredients and toss to mix. Make sauce, adjusting levels to taste. Toss slaw with sauce and refrigerate.

Almond-anise biscotti

1 cup plus 2 tsp all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
3.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 large eggs
1 tablespoon absinthe or other anise liqueur
1/3 cup whole almonds, toasted, coarsely chopped or sliced almonds

1 egg white

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into medium bowl. Mix sugar, melted butter, 1 egg, and absinthe in large bowl. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and stir with wooden spoon until well blended. Mix in almonds.

Using floured hands, shape dough into 2 1/2-inch-wide log. Transfer log to prepared baking sheet. Whisk egg white in small bowl until foamy; brush over top and sides of log.

Bake log until golden brown (log will spread), about 30 minutes. Cool log completely on sheet on rack, about 25 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.

Transfer log to work surface; discard parchment paper. Using serrated knife, cut log on diagonal into 1/2-inch-wide slices. Arrange slices, cut side down, on same baking sheet. Bake 12 minutes. Turn biscotti over; bake until just beginning to color, about 8 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool.

Strawberry rhubarb turnovers in browned butter pastry

1.5 cups strawberries, hulled and chopped
1 cup rhubarb, chopped
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp cornstarch

Mix ingredients and let sit, stirring occasionally, while you make the browned butter pastry.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp powdered sugar
1/4 cup (half a stick) butter
enough ice water to make dough stick together

Melt butter in saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. When butter has started to brown, continue to stir until butter is the color of brown sugar. Remove from heat and refrigerate until butter is solid again. Meanwhile, combine dry ingredients using pastry blender. Once butter is completely solid, cut into flour etc. until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add ice water a few drizzles at a time and toss with a fork until the dough holds together OK. Transfer dough to a floured surface and divide into two balls, then gently press each one out into a flattened circle with your hand. Roll each pastry out until about 1/4 inch thick, then add 1/2 strawberry rhubarb filling to each circle. Fold each circle in half over filling and press closed with a fork, poking holes in the top to allow steam to escape. Bake for 20-30 minutes at 375F.

Goings-on

Life suddenly got busy.

I am playing on a work softball team. We had two practices and our first game was yesterday evening, wherein the mercy rule was invoked after the 4th inning (this is when one team is up by more than 20 runs) and after that we just played for practice, but I got an RBI in the 5th! And another hit after that!

I am voluteering with an organization that my cousin is involved with. The main purpose of the organization is a focus on women’s rights in countries where that is not always easy, and my responsibilities are primarily to help facilitate ESL-type communication via chat room between women in Afghanistan and native English speakers in other countries (most of whom have ESL or EFL teaching experience).

Dan is finishing up final projects for school and will be graduating on the 17th of May. Because of this, I’m planning a graduation party for him for Saturday the 16th and because my family will be in town for his graduation I’m planning a belated Mother’s Day brunch the morning of the 17th in honor of my mom and his mom. That’s two parties and a graduation in one weekend. Hold me.

My Iron Chef battle #2 is underway. This time there isn’t a theme ingredient but a theme theme, and the theme is PICNIC. There are a lot of restrictions on what we can do (no cooking at the picnic site, have to assume a significant amount of time between food preparation and consumption, etc.) so I am finding it to be challenging. Interesting, of course, but challenging, especially since so many typical picnic-type foods don’t involve a lot of cooking or recipes. I myself am fond of simple things on picnics: breads, cheeses, fruit, and wine. But I have some ideas and will post them like I did last time when they are finished. My deadline is tomorrow (Saturday) at midnight my time, so if anyone out there has suggestions for picnic foods that are interesting or unusual or just even want to tell me your favorite things to have on a picnic, I’m all ears. Or eyes, since this is primarily a written form of communication.

I’m in the middle of judging the scholarship applications for the 6th year in a row. It’s going more slowly than in previous years; perhaps I’m jaded or maybe I’m just too far out of high school to be impressed by some of the accomplishments listed by the kids.

Also, there is some work stuff. I won’t get into it. Maybe later.

This weekend, I will be:
Preparing my Iron Chef submission
Cleaning/organizing/purging the house
Party prep/planning for the graduation party and brunch
Sleeping (I hope)

Dan and I are heading out pretty soon to go see Star Trek. If you haven’t been reading his blog this week, he’s been posting some Star Trek- themed Top 5 lists. Go check them out!

Iron Chef MLE presents: Tangerines around the world

Iron Chef MLE presents: Tangerines around the world

We begin in South America, the tropics of Brazil. You may have had a caipirinha before, one made with the traditional limes, but feast your eyes (and tastebuds) on this delicious alternative.

Tasty beverage: Tangerine Caipirinha – South America
2 oz cachaça
1/2 tangerine, halved
2 tsp granulated sugar

Sprinkle the sugar over the tangerine pieces, and muddle them in the mixing glass part of a Boston shaker until the sugar is dissolved and the tangerine juice is released. Pour an old-fashioned glassful of cracked ice into the mixing glass, add the cachaça, and shake to incorporate. Return all the contents to the old-fashioned glass.

Heading north, we shall make a stop in the Caribbean sea. The islands have a wonderful mix of food and culture, and here you have a twist on an old favorite, shrimp ceviche. The flavors of shrimp and tangerine combine with jicama, red onion, and garlic, with a little spicy kick, and are garnished with tangerine segments and avocado. Before you I unveil the ceviche – in a giant blue-rimmed margarita glass. Here are some white corn chips to accompany the dish. For this presentation, I have left out the cilantro, as I know some find the flavor disagreeable. The hot sauce I used is Maya-Ik, available in Guatemala.

Appetizer: Shrimp ceviche with tangerine and avocado – Caribbean
(serves four)

1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined, chilled
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1/2 cup tangerine juice
3 tsp lime juice
1/2 cup finely diced jicama
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro (optional)
2 cloves finely minced garlic
1 tsp hot sauce of choice
salt and pepper to taste
1 avocado, peeled/pitted and diced
1/2 tangerine, peeled, segmented, and coarsely chopped

Prepare all ingredients. Coarsely chop shrimp and put in a medium-sized bowl. Add tangerine juice and lime juice, mix well, and let sit for at least an hour or until shrimp turns opaque. When shrimp is ready, add onion, jicama, garlic, hot sauce, and salt and pepper to taste; mix well. Serve in a giant margarita glass or four smaller margarita glasses with white corn tortilla chips. Garnish with avocado and tangerine segments.

Far to the west, we cross the international date line, and find a dish with flavors gleaned from the Far Eastern nations of China and Japan. On a white rectangular plate you see before you a composed salad of baby greens, dressed with a tangerine and rice vinaigrette. Atop the greens are thin slices of lightly seared tangerine-marinated tuna steak, crusted with sesame seeds, and topped with a soy-tangerine-wasabi glaze. To add visual interest and crunch, I have included a small sculpture of oil-puffed rice vermicelli. Pleaase enjoy a glass of chilled plum wine to accompany this dish.

Salad/Fish: Tuna steak and tangerine over greens – Asia
(serves four)

1 lb tuna steak/s, 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick
1-2 cups freshly-squeezed tangerine juice
sesame oil and black/white sesame seeds

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup honey tangerine juice
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 tsp wasabi

1/4 cup tangerine juice
1/8 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 cup vegetable oil (canola or similar)
4 cups baby salad greens

1/4 cup vegetable oil
handful of thin rice stick noodles

Marinate tuna steak in tangerine juice (enough to cover tuna) for 30-45 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine soy sauce, honey tangerine juice, and mirin in a small saucepan. Stir slowly over heat until reduced by half. Add wasabi powder and set aside.

Make salad dressing: combine tangerine juice, rice vinegar, salt, and pepper. Slowly drizzle in 1/2 cup vegetable oil while whisking juice mixture until combined. Toss with 4 cups of baby greens; divide.

Heat vegetable oil in a small frying pan. When oil is hot (but not smoking) throw in the handful of rice noodles. They should puff up quickly (within a few seconds). When this happens, scoop them out with a heat-safe utensil and let drain on paper towels.

Heat a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. Brush tuna steaks with sesame oil and dredge in sesame seeds on both sides. Sear tuna steaks for approximately 2 minutes on each side in hot cast iron pan; remove from pan and let sit for a minute or two to cool down. Slice tuna steaks thinly and arrange 1/4 of slices over each salad plate. Drizzle with soy-tangerine glaze and garnish with puffed rice noodles.

We swoop across Asia and Eastern Europe to find ourselves in the French countryside. A glass of spicy French syrah accompanies a white bone china plate with French blue accents. On the plate is a chevre- and herb-stuffed chicken breast topped with grilled tangerine slices, over a bed of white bean and garlic puree, drizzled with tangerine balsamic from Modena, Italy.

Entree: Chevre- and herb-stuffed chicken breast with puree of white beans and garlic – Europe
(serves four)

4 chicken breasts, rinsed and patted dry
4 oz mild goat cheese
1 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh chives
2-3 tangerines sliced into thin rounds
3-4 tsp tangerine balsamic vinegar

Heat oven to 375 F.
Cut a 2×3 inch slit in the thick part of the chicken breasts to make a pocket in each one.
Combine goat cheese, pepper, salt, and chives in a bowl. Stuff each breast with 1/4 of the goat cheese mixture.
On a 15 inch square of foil or parchment, lay 2-3 slices of tangerine, top with one chicken breast, and place additional tangerine slices on top. Fold parchment or foil into a packet and bake for about 25 minutes.

2 cups canned white beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 c olive oil
1/2 bulb pureed garlic (see below)
salt and pepper to taste

Peel skin from cloves of 1/2 medium garlic bulb. Cook in 1/2 cup chicken broth until soft. Remove from liquid and mash with a potato masher. Add garlic and cooking liquid to beans and oil and process in a food processor until smooth and combined. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Grill 8 slices of tangerine briefly on each side in a grill pan or countertop grill.

When serving, remove tangerine slices from around chicken. Place a dollop of white bean puree on a plate, top with a chicken breast. Top chicken breast with one or two grilled tangerine slices and drizzle over all with tangerine balsamic (available in specialty stores).

Finally, after one last ocean crossing, we end in the good old US of A. An adult version of a childhood favorite, the creamsicle, sits before you in a chilled martini glass rimmed with caster sugar. You see a parfait of fresh tangerine curd topped with a dollop of vanilla whipped cream, garnished with a thin slice of tangerine peel.

Dessert: Adult creamsicle – USA
(serves four)

Zest of 2 tangerines
1/2 cup honey tangerine juice
2 splashes tangerine liqueur
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
4 eggs
1/8 tsp salt

1/2 pint light whipping cream
2 tsp powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Chop zest as finely as you can. Then, in a food processor, process chopped zest and sugar until zest is in tiny bits. Transfer sugar/zest mixture to a stand mixer and add butter; cream together. Add eggs one at a time. Add juice and liqueur. Transfer to a medium-sized saucepan and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes or until thickened. Pour curd into four sugar-rimmed martini glasses and chill about one hour.

Whip cream with sugar and vanilla to stiff peaks.

To serve, top tangerine curd with whipped cream. Garnish with a curl of tangerine peel if you like.

Edited to add: This was my entry in an Iron Chef competition on a message board I read. The intent is to garner points for presentation, flavor, and originality while keeping it all in the world of the internet – though I think my recipes sound good enough that someday I’ll actually make them.