Chocolate Caramel Shortbread Bars – Gotta Try This

 

Doesn’t the thought of caramel make your taste buds perk up?

The taste and texture are so luscious, so luxurious.

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My favorite? Chocolate-Caramel Shortbread Bars – shortbread on the bottom and caramel-amped chocolate on top. DELICIOUS.

Caramel flavor is hard to pin down in words. Carole Bloom, author of “Caramel” (Gibbs Smith, $24.99) said that is because the word caramel itself is often used to describe the flavor of wine or foods.

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“It’s a rich, pleasurable flavor that everyone loves,” Bloom said. “The sugar is caramelized to a dark color creating depth of flavor.”

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“Caramel” by Carole Bloom (Gibbs Smith, $24.99)

For me, the flavor offers a just-right amount of sweetness, a taste made even more irresistible by an alluring aroma. Caramel enlivens everything from versatile sauces to candies to bar cookies; custards, tarts and ice creams.

TIP: Cookbook author Carole Bloom advises that when you decide which caramel treat you want to make, read through the entire recipe before getting started to make sure you have all the necessary equipment, utensils and ingredients. She recommends that you layout everything you will need, including all the measured ingredients. If some preparation work is required, such as chopping or toasting nuts, do that before you start the recipe.

Chocolate-Caramel Shortbread Bars
Yield: 16 (4-by-1-inch) bars
Shortbread:
Nonstick spray
9 tablespoons (4 1/2 ounces, 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup (1 1/2 ounces) firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups (6 3?4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher or fine-grained sea salt
Chocolate Caramel:
10 ounces bittersweet (64 to 70% cacao content) chocolate, finely chopped, see cook’s notes
1 1/2 cups (10 ounces) granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
6 tablespoons (3 ounces, 3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon kosher or fine-grained sea salt
Cook’s notes: It is important to use a chocolate that is high in cacao; Bloom recommends 64 to 70 percent. I used the Belgian chocolate from Trader Joe’s that is labeled “72 percent dark chocolate.” It was delicious.
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, letting it curl over the edges. Spray the foil with nonstick baking spray.
2. Prepare shortbread: Beat butter in the bowl of an electric stand mixer using the flat beater attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand-held mixer, until fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the brown sugar and beat mixture together until smooth and completely mixed.
3. In a medium bowl, sift the flour. Add the salt and toss to blend. Add this mixture to the butter mixture, in 3 stages, blending completely. Turn the dough out into the prepared pan. Dust your fingertips with flour and press the shortbread evenly into the pan. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack.
4. Prepare chocolate caramel: Place the chocolate in a large heat-resistant bowl; set aside. Combine the sugar and water in a 3-quart heavy-duty saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until the mixture begins to boil around the edges, then brush around the inside of the pan with a damp pastry brush at the point where the sugar syrup meets the sides of the pan. Do this twice during the cooking process to prevent the sugar from crystallizing. Cook the mixture over high heat, without stirring, until it turns amber colored, 6 to 8 minutes. When the mixture is amber colored, remove pan from heat and immediately add the butter, cream, and salt. Be very careful because the mixture will bubble, foam and steam. Stir constantly with a long handled heat-resistant spatula until the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. Pour this mixture over the chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute then stir together until completely combined. Let the chocolate caramel stand for 8 minutes to cool, stirring frequently.
5. Pour the chocolate caramel over the shortbread in the pan. Cover the top of the pan tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until the chocolate caramel is firm.
6. Use the edges of the aluminum foil to lift the shortbread from the pan then carefully peel the foil away from the shortbread. Use a large chef’s knife dipped in warm water and dried to trim the edges of the shortbread. Cut the shortbread in half; then cut each half into 8 equal bars, dipping the knife in warm water and drying between each cut. Serve the bars at room temperature. (I like to cut the bars into small squares!)
Make ahead: Store bars tightly covered with aluminum foil at room temperature up to three days.
Nutrition information (per serving): 222 calories, 59 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 4.1 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 22 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 64 mg sodium, 0.5 g fiber
Source: adapted from “Caramels” by Carole Bloom (Gibbs Smith, $24.99)

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Stonehill Tavern’s Scrumptious Holiday Burger – It Has It All

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Raj Dixit, executive chef at Stonehill Tavern at the St. Regis Monarch Beach, makes a  scrumptious holiday-themed turkey burger. It captures the bright flavors of a traditional holiday turkey menu: turkey, gravy, crisp apple salad, cranberry marmalade and a sweet potato bun.

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Dixit grew up in Mission Viejo, about a ten-minute drive from where he works. A Culinary Institute of America graduate, Dixit studied and worked in kitchens in France, Spain and Japan before cooking in in some of New York City’s most prestigious restaurants.

Watch Chef Dixit make it happen in this short video!

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I dream of his whole-fried Jidori chicken served with long beans and truffled mac and cheese. And his masterfully cooked Kurobuta pork belly and bone-in chop served with perfect spaetzle. But his seasonal burger  is the source of new longing.

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The home cook may prefer to take some shortcuts. Prepared whole cranberry sauce could substitute for his made-from-scratch version. Store-bought potato buns could replace his made-in-house sweet potato pan au lait buns. Leftover turkey gravy or, heaven forbid, prepared turkey gravy, could be swapped for freshly made.

 

Dixit freshly grinds the turkey he uses, generally a Bourbon Red heritage bird. He combines 50 percent dark meat and 50 perfect white, so when buying ground turkey at the supermarket, don’t opt for the extra lean.

Stonehill Tavern’s Holiday-Themed Turkey Burger
Yield: 4 burgers
Cranberry Marmalade Spread
1/2 cup whole fresh cranberries
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 cinnamon stick
Gravy:
2 ounces (1/2 stick) butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups turkey stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth, boiled down to 1 1/2 cups
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Patties:
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 small white onion, finely diced
1 small parsnip, peeled, finely diced
1 small celery stalk, finely diced
3 medium-sized garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds ground turkey, not extra lean
1/2 cup finely diced apricots
About 4 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
3/4 tablespoon minced fresh sage
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
Apple Salad:
2 heads Little Gem lettuce or small hearts of romaine, cut into thin strips on diagonal
1 apple, Pink Lady or Fuji, unpeeled, cut into matchsticks (julienne)
1/2 cup very thinly sliced white onion
Vinaigrette: 1/2 cup cider vinegar mixed with 1 teaspoon honey, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, salt to taste
4 buns, brioche or pretzel (or potato roll), toasted
1. Prepare marmalade: Place all marmalade ingredients in heavy-bottomed medium saucepan; bring to boil. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer for 35 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool; remove cinnamon stick. Puree if desired in food processor.
2. Prepare gravy: In a medium saucepan on medium heat, combine butter and flour. Whisking frequently, cook mixture 1 minute. Whisk in stock. Bring to boil, whisking constantly on medium-high heat, until mixture thickens. Season with salt and pepper; set aside to cool.
3. Prepare patties: In medium skillet, heat oil on medium-high heat; add onion, parsnip and celery. Cook until softened, reducing heat if necessary. Stir in garlic; cook until softened, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat. If preparing patties ahead, cool mixture completely.  Preheat barbecue. In large bowl combine vegetable mixture, ground turkey, 1/4 cup cool gravy, apricots, panko, sage and parsley. Gently form into 4 patties.
4. Grill patties: Chef Dixit uses a hot cast iron skillet with a little vegetable oil that heats on the grill, but he says that patties can be grilled directly on a clean, oiled grate. Cook on both sides until cooked through.
5. Prepare salad: Place lettuce, apples and onion in bowl. Drizzle enough vinaigrette to lightly coat leaves around side of bowl; toss. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
6. Assemble: Slather bottom of toasted bun with cranberry marmalade. Top with burger. Top with apple salad and top bun.
Source: Raj Dixit, executive chef Stonehill Tavern, St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point

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A quick tip from Melissa’s …

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Here’s a delicious passed appetizer that is quick-to-prepare!

Shots of cold cucumber soup.

Yum-oh-lah.

Chilled soup: In blender combine 1 peeled and sliced hothouse cucumber or 2 peeled, seeded and sliced common cucumbers, 2 1/4 cups honeydew melon chunks, 2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lime juice, 1 tablespoon minced fresh mint and 1 cup plain nonfat yogurt. Cover and whirl until smooth. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

From: “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce” by Cathy Thomas (Wiley, $29.95, available at melissas.com)

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Mahi Mahi a la Salt Creek Grille

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Salt Creek Grille’s Mahi Mahi

Including liquid pectin in a glaze for fish was new to me. I was eager to see how Scott Green, the company executive chef for the Salt Creek Grille restaurants, utilized it in his Citrus Glazed Mahi Mahi.

Joining me in my home kitchen, he showed me how he prepares the glaze that includes full-flavored components such as a reduction of sweetened fresh orange juice, lemongrass and ginger.

Here’s short video to see how Chef Scott Green prepares the fish and kale side dish.

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Pectin, a substance found in ripe fruits and vegetables that is used for thickening, not only changes the consistency of the flavorful glaze, it also makes it shimmery. The surface of the fish has appealing glossiness once the glaze is spooned over it.

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The fish is cooked over a mesquite-fueled grill at Salt Creek Grille in Dana Point, the restaurants’ Orange County location. In my kitchen, Green used a grill pan on my stovetop.

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Two colorful accompaniments shared the plate with the fish, a generous smear of avocado mousse, as well as quick-to-prepare kale concoction. The kale, stemmed and coarsely chopped, was sautéed with garlic until it began to wilt. Halved cherry tomatoes and peeled orange segments came to the party and the bright green and red combo was ready.

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Green grew up in Palos Verdes and is a graduate of Johnson and Wales University with a degree in Culinary Arts. He lives in Irvine with his wife Sarah and two children.

Scott Green’s Citrus Glazed Mahi Mahi
Yield:
1 serving, with enough glaze and mousse for 4 to 6 servings
Citrus Glaze:
2 cups fresh orange juice
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 stalk lemongrass (lower portion), bruised with back of knife
1/2-inch piece unpeeled fresh ginger, crushed
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
1 small shallot, sliced thin
1 small sprig fresh rosemary
2 ounces liquid pectin, such as Certo brand liquid pectin
1 5-by-5-inch square of cheesecloth
Avocado Mousse:
2 medium-ripe avocados
1 small shallot, finely diced
1 small garlic clove, peeled, crushed
1/4 jalapeno, sliced, seeded
Juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons cold water
Pinch kosher salt
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
Fish:
One 7-ounce mahi mahi filet
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Vegetable oil or canola oil for brushing on grill pan
2 ounces Citrus Glaze, divided use, recipe included
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup kale, central stems removed, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 cherry tomatoes, halved top to bottom
5 orange peeled segments
1/4 cup Avocado Mousse
Optional garnish: small amount of microgreens
Cook’s notes: A grill pan is a heavy metal pan containing ridges spaced evenly across the bottom. The glaze can be prepared up to two days in advance and refrigerated. To cut orange into peeled segments: Cut top and bottom off orange, making those two cuts parallel to each other and cutting just below white pith.  Place cut-side down on work surface. Cut off peel and pith in strips about 1-inch wide, starting at the top of the fruit and cutting down (following contour of shape). Use a sharp small knife to cut parallel to one section’s membrane, cut to center; turn knife and cut along the membrane on the other side of that section to remove it. Repeat until all sections are removed. The kale, tomatoes and oranges came from local grower VR Green Farms in San Clemente.
1. Prepare glaze: 1. In a medium-size saucepan over medium heat bring the orange juice and sugar to a simmer; stir to dissolve sugar. Slowly reduce to half its original volume. Meanwhile, make bouquet garni: place the lemongrass, ginger, garlic, shallot and rosemary in cheesecloth and tie to close it using cotton string. Add it to the orange juice reduction and simmer 1 minute. Remove from the heat, cover and set aside for 45 minutes to allow the flavors to infuse. Remove bouquet garni and stir in liquid pectin. Set aside.
2. For mousse: Place all ingredients except for the cream in a blender; puree until smooth on low speed. Stop and stir the mixture if it becomes too stiff. With motor running, slowly add the heavy cream.
3. Season fish on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat grill pan on high heat and brush with oil; add fish and cook until cooked through, turning half way through cooking. Place fish on a rimmed plate and coat with 2 tablespoons of citrus glaze.
4. While the fish is resting, heat olive oil in a medium-size skillet on high heat. Add kale and garlic; sauté until kale begins to wilt, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes and orange segments; gently toss and cook just long enough to heat tomatoes and oranges. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Make a generous smear of mousse across plate. Place kale mixture on one side and top with fish; spoon 2 tablespoons citrus glaze on top, and drizzling some around edge of plate and over the mousse. If desired, top with a small amount of microgreens.
Source: Executive Chef Scott Green, Salt Creek Grille, Dana Point

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Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s!

cucumbersstilllife450Peppery Jack cheese adds a perky edge to the chopped salad mixture.

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Pita Sandwiches Stuffed with that chopped salad and cheese are scrumptious for lunch or a light dinner.

Each sandwich weighs in at 270 calories. Not bad!!!!

Pita Sandwiches Stuffed with Chopped Salad and Cheese
Yield:  8 halves
1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint or fresh basil
1/2 tsp. each:  salt and pepper
1 ripe avocado, diced
2 hothouse cucumbers, cut in half lengthwise, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
3 Roma tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup sliced pitted green olives
1 cup grated pepper-jack cheese
2 hearts of romaine lettuce, coarsely chopped (about 6 cups)
4 pita rounds, 6 1/2-inch
1. In large bowl, combine lime juice, oil and honey; stir to combine. Add mint, salt and pepper; stir to combine.
2. Add avocado, cucumbers, tomatoes and green olives; gently toss. Add cheese and lettuce; toss. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Cut pita rounds in half, open pocket and fill each half with salad. Do not over-fill or pita will tear.
Source: “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce” by Cathy Thomas (Wiley, $29.95)

You can watch me make these sandwiches at the end of Scott Green’s video (see above).

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Kale Glory – A Leafy Green To Love

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It seems like everyone I meet wants to tell me about kale, their new culinary discovery. They speak about kale with such enthusiasm that they make the leafy green sound better than crisp bacon.

Some juice it, turning it into bright green elixir that is frequently spiked with fresh ginger. Some whirl it into thick yogurt-based liquids in powerful blenders, sweetening the vegetal taste with undiluted frozen orange juice.

kalesaladAt the root of the kale craze is the realization that raw chopped kale, either common curly kale or Tuscan kale, make delectable salads. Kale’s leathery leaves can be tamed, both in texture and taste, by marinating in citrusy vinaigrette for 20 to 30 minutes.

The first one I sampled was years ago at True Food Kitchen in Newport Beach. The restaurant’s menu is based on the principals of Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet.

Their revolutionary rendition of kale salad is very simple. The 1/4-inch wide shreds of Tuscan kale are marinated in a mixture of extra-virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, smashed garlic, salt and a smidgen of dried red chili flakes. Once marinated, it is garnished with grated Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese and toasted whole wheat bread crumbs.

To see Nathan Coulon, former chef at True Food Kitchen, prepare Kale Salad in a short video = click here

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Common Curly Kale: Almost without exception, supermarkets carry this variety. The leaves are green and have frilly edges. With thick central rib removed, it is delicious quickly cooked or served raw when marinated.

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Tuscan Kale: Also dubbed lacinato, black kale, or dinosaur kale, this more-tender variety has puckered leaves that are such a deep green color they can almost look black. With thick central rib removed, it is delicious quickly cooked or served raw when marinated.

Now, almost every restaurant features some type of kale salad on their menu. Most add an element of sweetness to the dressing with a little honey, maple syrup or agave nectar. Often fresh or dried fruit is added to the mix, or chopped dates or sugared nuts. Some add tasty cheese, often either a grating cheese such as Parmesan, or crumbled feta.

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Three Seventy Common, Laguna Beach, has one of my favorite interpretations. There, Chef-Owner Ryan Adams cuts the kale into narrow crosswise strips and soaks it in salt water to tame the greens. Once drained and dried, it is tossed with vinaigrette that features the juice of oranges, limes and lemons. The autumn version of the salad showcases sliced figs, apples, pickled grapes and toasted hazelnuts. Sheep-milk feta rounds out the dish to perfection.

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But my homage to Chef Ryan’s creation is greatly simplified. Rather than marinating the greens, I use a mix of oh-so-tender baby kale and lettuce, thus avoiding the necessity for soaking. Some supermarkets are now selling clamshell containers of baby kale, the leaves of immature kale no longer than 1 1/2-inches.

Kale Salad – Homage to 370 Common Homage
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon finely diced shallot
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
Pinch ground cayenne pepper
2 1/2 cups blend of extra-virgin olive oil and canola oil
Salad:
5 cups baby kale
3 cups romaine lettuce or red leaf lettuce torn into bite-size pieces
1 cup red grapes, halved
1 unpeeled Gala apple or Fuji apple, cored, cut into large dice
3 fresh figs, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
Optional: 1/4 cup dried cranberries or raisins
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup Marcona almonds or toasted slivered almonds, see cook’s notes
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese, sheep-milk feta preferred
Cook’s notes: Chef Adams uses toasted and skinned hazelnuts; they are delicious but require more prep time. Spread nuts on rimmed baking sheet and toast in a 350-degree oven for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned. Wrap nuts in kitchen towel and set aside for 1 minute. Rub surface of towel to loosen skins. Don’t worry if some of the skin stays intact; cool.
1. In a blender combine all vinaigrette ingredients except oil; whirl until smooth and well combined. With motor running, add oil in thin stream.
2. In a large bowl, place kale, lettuce, grapes, apple and figs. If using, add cranberries or raisins. Stir vinaigrette. Add just enough vinaigrette to lightly coat the leaves; toss. Place salads on plates. Top with nuts and cheese; serve.
Nutrition information (per serving): 160 calories, 38 percent of calories from fat, 6.7 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 21g carbohydrates, 6 g protein, 350 mg sodium, 6 g fiber
Source: recipe adapted from Ryan Adams, executive chef/owner, Three Seventy Common, Laguna Beach

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The Big Night – Thank You

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GOLDEN FOODIE AWARDS: Thank you so very much for voting me Best Food Writer in Orange County!  It was such fun to look our at the audience and an ocean of chefs and restaurateurs  who have shared their hearts and recipes with me over the last 25 years.

ALAN GREELEY: This man is one of a kind. His culinary genius and generosity make him one of my favorite people on the planet. How wonderful it was that he received the Golden Foodie Award for Best Chef in Orange County.

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RED CARPET: Who are you wearing, Cathy? Not a clue. I found this in the back closet. Better ask me what am I eating! (Phil looks handsome, right?)

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Wing Lam (Wahoo’s Fish Taco) presented the award for Best Food Writer. What an amazing fella he is! I, of course, blathered on with a food story.

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Here’s a montage from the Golden Foodie Awards from photographer Anne Watson. Anne gave birth to a son a few days ago. Best wishes and congrats, Anne. Thank you for all your great work!

Click here to see a list of the winners.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cow-Pig-Duck Nirvana, The ARC Burger

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Imagine the Arc Burger – that luscious cow-duck-pig combo served at ARC, the everything-from-scratch eatery in Costa Mesa’s South Coast Collection (SoCo).

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 The beef is hand cut into itty bitty pieces. The pig is crisp cooked cubes of house-cured bacon.  The fowl is rendered duck fat.

Watch the short video to see the action (and learn some secrets).

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At Arc, everything that is cooked does so over a wood-fueled fire; the burger is no exception, vigilantly supervised by executive chef-/co-owner Noah Blom.

The patty’s exterior gets crisp and crunchy while duck fat sizzles around the edges of meat; it’s in a cast iron skillet nestled in hardwood embers. It contrasts delectably with the moist interior, the juices rich in flavor and aroma.

Skill and dedication team with innovation and style in Arc’s open kitchen. He joined me in my kitchen and outdoor kettle barbecue to show me step by step how he creates his burgers. The process wasn’t slap-dash quick, but the flavors and textures were worth the wait.

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ARC Burgers
Yield: 2 burgers
1 pound boneless short rib, finely chopped by hand
1 pound rib-eye strap, finely chopped by hand (or use 2 pounds boneless short rib)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 large yellow onion, caramelized, see cook’s notes
1/4 pound bacon lardons (3/8-inch cubes), cooked crisp
1/2 cup rendered duck fat (or melted butter or a high-end olive oil), divided use
Seasoning: salt, freshly ground black pepper, fresh-cut chives, chopped fresh chervil
2 potato buns
Garlic aioli, enough to thinly coat both cut-sides of buns, see cook’s notes
Handful of Red Oak lettuce , see cook’s notes
Shaved red onion
2 large heirloom tomatoes, contrasting colors such as 1 red and 1 orange preferred, cut into 3/8-inch slices, one slice of each per burger
Pickled red Fresno chilies, sliced crosswise, see cook’s notes
Optional: shredded white cheddar, aged 5 years preferred
Cook’s notes: Note that ingredients and instructions in parenthesis vary from the way burgers are prepared at ARC, but may be easier for home cooks. (To caramelize onion, slice a yellow onion crosswise into thin slices. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large deep skillet on medium-high heat. Add onions and toss to coat with oil. Cook until starting to soften and turn brown. Reduce heat to medium-low.  Cook until nicely browned, stirring occasionally, 15 to 20 minutes. Use half of onion in this recipe; reserve remaining onion for another use. Cool and chop before adding to meat. At ARC, they prepare aioli in a mortar and pestle. To make it in a food processor, drop 2 peeled garlic cloves in feedtube with motor running. Stop motor once minced; add pinch of salt, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 2 egg yolks, juice of 1/2 lemon – then whirl to combine. With motor running, add 3/4 cup room temperature canola oil in a very thin steam. Season to taste with salt and pepper.) To pickle chilies, cut 5 into crosswise slices. In a saucepan, add 1 1/2 cups rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes,  l teaspoon whole coriander seeds and 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns.  Boil on high heat until sugar dissolves. Add chili slices and remove from heat. Cool; refrigerate 12 hours or up to 5 days. Chef Blom lightly dresses the lettuce before adding it to the burgers. He makes vinaigrette with minced shallots, minced garlic, sherry vinegar, canola oil, pepper and salt.
1. Hand chop cold beef and place in bowl (or have butcher do a coarse grind). Add garlic, caramelized onion, cooked bacon lardon; gently toss with fingertips. Add salt, pepper, chives and chervil; gently toss with fingertips. Add 1/3 of the duck fat, reserving remaining duck fat to use when cooking.
2. Form 2 large patties and refrigerate well-sealed, for 24 hours.
3. Heat briquettes in a charcoal grill. Top with chunks of wood. Let fire burn down until flames die down and surface is hot and more or less flat. Place a little duck fat in a cast iron skillet; place patties in skillet and ladle remaining duck fat over and around meat. Place skillet directly into the coals (no grate used). Cook until burgers are well crusted on bottom, about 10 minutes; pull out skillet using well insulated barbecue mitts and cautiously turn meat. Return skillet to coals and cook until burger reaches the desired degree of doneness. Remove skillet from heat. If you want to add cheese, add it to the top of the burger. Grill cut sides of buns until lightly browned.
4. Spread a thin layer of aioli on cut sides of buns. Add meat, shaved red onion, 2 lightly salted tomato slices, and a few slices of pickled chilies. Top with bun.
Source: Noah Blom, executive chef/co-owner ARC, Costa Mesa

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Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s

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Tame rapini’s distinctive personality by teaming it with sweet, caramelized onions.

This dish is quick to prepare as well as luscious.

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The recipe is from “50 Best Plants on the Planet”

Rapini with Caramelized Onions and Brown Rice
Yield: 6 servings
4 cups cooked brown rice blend or brown rice, see cook’s notes
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, halved top to bottom, cut into 3/8-inch thick slices
Optional: 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/4 pounds rapini, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cups cooked brown rice blend
Optional garnish: 2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
Cook’s notes: Cook 1 1/2 cups raw brown rice or brown rice blend; that should give you about 4 cups of cooked rice.
1. Cook rice according to package directions. Meanwhile heat the oil in a large deep skillet on medium-high heat. Add onions and toss to coat with oil. Cook until starting to soften and turn brown. Reduce heat to medium-low. If desired, add sugar; sugar helps onions to caramelize, but they will brown without it, it will just take a little longer. So leave out the sugar if you prefer. Cook until nicely browned, stirring occasionally, about 12 to 15 minutes, adding garlic 3 to 4 minutes before the completion of cooking.
2. Put a large pot of salted water on high heat. When boiling, add rapini. Cook until tender-crisp, about 3 minutes. Drain well, shaking colander to remove as much water as possible. Add to onions; add chili flakes and toss. Add salt and pepper. Divide rice between 6 bowls. Spoon mixture over rice, sprinkle parsley on top if desired and serve.
Nutritional information (per serving): calories 220; fat calories 40, total fat 4.5 grams; sat fat .5 gram, cholesterol 0 milligrams; sodium 35 milligrams; total carbohydrates 37 grams; fiber 3 grams; sugars 3 grams; protein 7 grams
Source: “50 Best Plants on the Planet” by Cathy Thomas (Chronicle, $29.95)

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Easy-to-Make Tapenade Torta Is Appetizer Joy

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Tapenade, that scrumptious Provençal-style olive spread, is fast and easy to make at home, especially if you have a food processor and use pre-pitted olives.

It is especially tempting layered in a torta with a mixture of goat cheese and cream cheese, plus store-bought roasted red peppers and basil pesto.

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Made with these traditional olives the tapenade is delicious, but I’ve noticed over the years that many find the tapenade made exclusively with these assertive varieties too strong. So I’ve come up with a culinary compromise that retains the heart of classic dish, but takes it from gutsy to perky but subtle.

 

I call it “Green Black Tapenade” because it utilizes both kalamata olives and mild green olives, along with capers, garlic, anchovies, fresh thyme and extra-virgin olive oil. The green olives are the canned pitted style, packed simply in water and salt. Not the acidic Spanish pimento-stuffed green variety that so beautifully garnish martinis; those contain ingredients such as calcium chloride that keep them crisp, but makes their flavor much more acidic and less buttery than the water-packed counterparts.

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The food processor does the work in just a minute or two. I drop in the peeled garlic through the feedtube with the machine running; the spinning blade minces the garlic lickety-split. Then, with the motor off, I add the drained capers, fresh thyme leaves and anchovy fillets. (A note here to anchovy haters; the anchovies add a luscious depth of flavor, not a fishy taste.) With the motor back on, it takes about 20 seconds for the whole shebang to be pureed. In go the pitted green olives, pitted black olives and olive oil. Pulse on-off three or four times, just enough to finely chop them (but not puree) and voila, the oh-so-versatile Green Black Tapenade is at your fingertips.

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Green Black Tapenade
Tapenade can be prepared a week in advance and stored, airtight, in the refrigerator. It is best served at room temperature. Place tapenade in a small bowl in center of serving platter. Include a little knife for spreading. Accompany with thin slices of rustic bread or French baguette or Italian bread slices. Or toast bread slices that have been brushed with olive oil and garlic to make crostini. If desired, place goat cheese and chopped sun-dried tomatoes on serving platter. Garnish with sprigs of fresh herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and Italian (flat-leafed) parsley. Yield: makes 1 1/2 cups
3 medium cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons drained capers
4 anchovy fillets
Leaves from sprig of fresh thyme
1 cup pitted black olives, kalamata preferred
1 1/4 cups pitted mild green olives, see cook’s notes
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Cook’s notes: Use green olives such as Early California Fresh Cured Green Olives or Santa Barabara Olive Company Green Olives. Graber green olives are very delicious; they are only sold with the pits intact.
1. With the food processor running, drop garlic into feedtube to mince it. Add capers, anchovies and fresh thyme leaves; process until minced, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
2. Add olives and olive oil; pulse until olives are finely chopped but not pureed.
Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 30 calories, 95 percent of calories from fat,  2.9 g fat, 0.1 g saturated fat, 3 mg cholesterol, 0.5 g carbohydrates,  1.2 g protein,  125mg sodium, 0.1g fiber

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Tapenade Torta
Yield: 12 servings
1/4 cup store-bought basil pesto, room temperature
Vegetable oil for brushing pan
1/4 cup rinsed and finely chopped, well-drained store-bought roasted red peppers
11 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
9 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup Green Black Tapenade, drained well in sieve, recipe included
For serving: crostini, crackers or thinly sliced baguette
Special equipment: a 2 1/4-cup loaf pan (5 3/4 by 3 1/2 by 2 1/4 inches)
1. Drain pesto well. Place in a small fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl 15 minutes; discard oil drained from pesto. If necessary, pat with paper towel to remove excess oil.
2. Lightly oil a 2 1/4-cup loaf pan (5 3/4 by 3 1/2 by 2 1/4 inches); line with a sheet of plastic wrap large enough to allow a generous overhang on all 4 sides. Blot peppers well between paper towels to remove excess liquid.
3. In a food processor, combine goat cheese and cream cheese; process to smooth and well combined. Spread about 1/3 of cheese mixture evenly over bottom of loaf pan and top with all of bell peppers, spreading evenly. Drop about 1/2 to 3/4 cup cheese by tablespoons over pesto and spread gently to cover peppers with a dinner knife or offset spatula. Top with pesto, spreading evenly. Add tapenade, spreading evenly. Drop remaining cheese mixture by tablespoons and spread gently to cover. Cover pan with another sheet of plastic wrap and chill at least 8 hours.
4. Remove plastic wrap from top of pan and invert torta onto a serving plate, then peel off remaining plastic wrap. Provide a knife and crostini, crackers or thinly slices baguette for serving.
Nutrition information (per serving): 325 calories, 72 percent of calories from fat, 26 g fat,  3 g saturated fat,  25mg cholesterol,  15g carbohydrates, 7 g protein,  739 mg sodium, 2.4 g fiber

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Banh Mi Twist at Slapfish

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Banh mi, sub-style Vietnamese sandwiches explode with sweet, sour, hot and salty flavors balanced in perfect harmony inside a just-baked baguette.

Each element, whether cooked or salad-like raw, weaves a seductive contrast. A marriage of French and Vietnamese components, banh mi showcases side-by-side culinary fusion.

Traditionally, the meat filling can be anything from stacks of paper-thin cold cuts to soy-cooked chicken, from duck-liver pâtè to Chinese-style barbecued pork.

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At Slapfish in Huntington Beach, executive chef/co-owner Andrew Gruel concocts a twist on conventional banh mi. He substitutes yellowtail for meat, and creates an irresistible sweet-sour-spicy pan sauce as the fish completes its cooking.

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Loads of crisp, quickly-pickled vegetables and herbs add crunch and color; vinegar splashed carrots, jicama, radishes, cilantro and jalapenos make the sandwich pleasantly salad-like.

See how easily Gruel prepares this delicious treat in this short video!

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The Slapfish menu has been reviewed by a team of experts and scientists in conservation and marine biology at the Aquarium of the Pacific’s sustainable seafood program, Seafood for the Future. Chef Gruel says that his banh mi is available upon request, and may eventually become part of his regular menu.

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The three Slapfish food trucks had legions of devoted followers. The trucks were retired last year when the brick-and-mortar “modern seafood shack” Slapfish location opened.

Slapfish’s Yellowtail Banh Mi
Yield: 2 sandwiches
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
10 ounces yellowtail cut into large pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Pan sauce:
1/2 cup tomato juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
Veggie mixture:
1/4 cup carrot cut into matchsticks
1/4 cup jicama cut into matchsticks
1/4 cup fresh jalapeno, seeded, cut into thin lengthwise strips
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, plus extra sprigs for optional garnish
2 small red radishes, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Assembly:
1 large baguette, see cook’s notes
2 tablespoon mayonnaise
Cook’s notes: Use a baguette that is as fresh as possible. Many banh mi shops in Orange County sell freshly-baked baguettes and are a good source
1. For yellowtail: Heat the grapeseed oil in a non-stick pan over medium high heat. Once the oil is shimmering (not smoking) add the yellowtail. Season with salt and pepper. Flip the yellowtail after it is slightly browned on one side and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the ingredients for the sauce and bring to a low simmer. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer for about 5 minutes.
2. For veggie mixture: In a bowl, toss carrot, jicama, jalapeno, radish and cilantro leaves with the vinegar. Season heavily with salt and pepper. Set aside.
3. To finish: Cut baguette into 2 pieces. If the bread is incredibly fresh, serve as is, if not, toast in the oven for 1 minute or until soft and slightly toasted. Use your hands to break bread almost in half, leaving the bottom portion attached, so that there is space to add filling. Spread a light layer of mayonnaise onto the bread. Pack the veggies into the bottom of the roll. Top with the fish (leave sauce in the pan). Drizzle hot sauce over sandwiches right before eating. If desired, garnish with cilantro sprigs.
Source: Andrew Gruel, executive chef/co-owner Slapfish, Huntington Beach

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Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …

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Nectarine Salsa is scrumptious spooned over grilled poultry, fish or grains.

And nectarines have been especially luscious this summer.

Here’s the recipe!

Nectarine, Mango and Black Bean Salsa
Yield: 6 servings
1 ripe nectarine, pitted, diced
1 mango, pitted, diced
1 medium-sized jalapeno chile, seeded, veined removed, minced, see cook’s notes
1/2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, diced
1/2 hothouse cucumber, peeled, diced
1 cup canned black beans, drained in sieve, rinsed with cold water
Juice of 2 limes
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) to taste
Cook’s notes: Use caution when working with fresh chiles. Upon completion, wash hands and work area thoroughly; do NOT touch eyes or face.
1. In nonreactive bowl, such as glass or ceramic, combine all ingredients. Gently toss with a rubber spatula. Allow to rest 30 minutes at room temperature. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Spoon over grilled chicken, fish, pork or tofu. Or serve with toasted pita chips to use as dippers (see p. Roasted Vegetable Dip with Pita Chips, p. xx).
Nutritional information (per serving): calories 90; fat calories 5, total fat 0 grams; sat fat 0 grams, cholesterol 0 milligrams; sodium 200 milligrams; total carbohydrates 19 grams; fiber 4 grams; sugars 10 grams; protein 3 grams; vitamin A IUs 20%; vitamin C 70%; calcium 2%; iron 4%.

Source: “50 Best Plants on the Planet” by Cathy Thomas (Chronicle, $29.95)

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BBQ Sauce Like Grandma Used To Make

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Jonathan Monfort, Huntington Beach, knows barbecue sauce.

It’s in his blood.

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He attained his grandmother’s secret sauce recipe after promising his reluctant mother that he would put the formula to good use. The sauce is tangy, with a mustard-vinegar kick that isn’t too sweet. It is Carolina style, an alluring flavor that is distinctive to western Kansas.

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In June last year his Grandma Izetta’s Kansas City Roadhouse Barbecue Sauce hit the market, an 8-ounce bottle selling for $4.99 at izettabbq.com .

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In 1938 his grandmother Izetta started serving the sauce atop ribs, brisket and chicken at her eatery outside Russell, Kansas.

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She bought the recipe from the roadhouse’s previous owners for $150, a very sizable sum at the time. Izetta put up her prized German china as collateral.

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Monfort’s wife, Lindsley Lowell, primarily uses it on pork ribs and beef ribs, but admits that she loves it on eggs, burgers and french fries.

She marinates ribs in the refrigerator, whether beef or pork, covered with the sauce for up to two days, then bakes them in a 400-degree oven for 60 to 95 minutes; Monfort finishes them off on the grill, slathering them with more sauce in the process.

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AND, she uses it in chocolate cake, a cake I call a ‘Texas Sheet Cake.”

CHOCOLATE BBQ SHEET CAKE
Butter for greasing pan
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature, cut into several pieces
1 cup water
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup plain low fat yogurt
1/4 cup Grandma Izetta’s BBQ sauce
FROSTING:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature, cut into several pieces
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon Grandma Izetta’s BBQ sauce
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-by-15-inch pan with butter.

2. Mix flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in bowl. Set aside

3. Put butter, water and choc chips in medium saucepan and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat. Add melted chocolate mixture to flour mixture.  Stir in yogurt and BBQ sauce.  Pour into prepared.  Bake for 20 minutes.

4.   Prepare frosting: In small saucepan on medium-high heat, melt butter, milk and choc chips, stirring frequently. Bring just to a boil and take off stove. Whisk in bbq sauce and vanilla, then powdered sugar stirring until smooth and well blended. Note: If the powdered sugar is not melting, put on stove and turn on low heat and stir for about 15 seconds until melted. Stir in nuts. Pour frosting over warm cake and smooth out so it covers the whole cake.

Source: Lindsley Lowell, Huntington Beach

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Lincoln, Lindley and Jonathan’s dog, gives the chow at his house a stamp of approval.

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So does wee Winney, the alpha dog.

 

 

 

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Lazy Dog’s Spicy Thai Chicken Salad

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It’s easy to fall in love with a salad that showcases crunch and color, along with spicy-sweet flavors boosted with the just right tartness of fresh lime juice. Gabriel “Gabe” Caliendo’s Spicy Thai Chicken Salad hits all these tasty notes.

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Caliendo, the executive chef at the Lazy Dog Restaurants that have four locations in Orange County, showed me how to make the salad, assuring me that it is simple enough to prepare at home.

 

 

 

The spicy-sweet-sour dressing is convenient in that it can be prepared three to four days in advance and refrigerated. The vegetable components can be prepped and ready in the bowl an hour in advance, then tossed with the cold chicken and dressing just before serving.

It was interesting to see the technique used to cut the red bell peppers, a method that made the strips thin enough to be noodle-like malleable.  The video shows how he did this.

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He said that they gently poach the white-meat chicken at the restaurant to make it tender and juicy, but home cooks can use store-bought roasted chicken and include dark meat if that is preferable.

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The salad is part of the restaurants’ “nutritious and delicious menu,” a designation granted to dishes with less than 650 calories.

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Gabe’s ginormous chili paste jar crowned with my itty bitty jar.

Lazy Dog’s Spicy Thai Chicken Salad
Yield: 4 servings
Thai Peanut Dressing
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic
4 tablespoons sambal chili paste, see cook’s notes
1/4 cup peanut butter, creamy or chunky
Salad
12 ounces cooked chicken breast, shredded (approximately 2 cups)
1 cup Thai Peanut Dressing, see cook’s notes
1 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup shredded red cabbage
1 cup red bell peppers, cut julienne (1/16-by-1/16-by-3 inches), plus additional for garnish
1/4 cup peanuts, finely chopped
2 cups hothouse cucumber cut into 3/4-inch chunks
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup small mint leaves without steams
8 cups shredded napa cabbage
Cook’s notes: Sambal chili paste is sold in many supermarkets in the Asian specialty section. If the label simply says chili paste or chili paste with garlic, that is fine too. The recipe for the dressing makes enough for 4 to 6 servings. Leftover dressing can be refrigerated for up to 4 days and used to dress salads or grilled poultry or pork.
1. For dressing: In a medium bowl, combine all dressing ingredients except peanut butter. Whisk together until well blended. Add peanut butter and use whisk to stir until well integrated. Set aside.
2. For salad: In a large bowl, use tongs to mix chicken with 1 cup dressing. Add the rest of the salad ingredients, except for the napa cabbage. Toss to lightly coat ingredients with dressing. Add napa cabbage and gently toss. If desired, garnish with additional red bell pepper strips. Serve immediately.
Source: Executive Chef Gabriel “Gabe” Caliendo, Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar with Orange County locations in Brea, Huntington Beach/Westminster, Irvine and Orange

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Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s Produce…

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Aqua fresca, which translates from Spanish as “fresh water,” is a refreshing beverage made most often from fresh fruit, water, and some kind of sweetener.

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Here the star is fresh watermelon, cut into chunks and pureed in a food processor with water. Agave syrup and fresh lemon juice add just-right balance to this refreshing drink.

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Watermelon Aqua Fresca
Yield: 5 servings
5 cups (1-inch) cubed seedless or seeded watermelon, divided use
1 2/3 cups water, divided use
1 teaspoon agave syrup, or to taste
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
Ice, preferably crushed
Garnish: 5 fresh sprigs mint or peppermint or spearmint
Garnish: 5 thin lemon slices
1. Place a medium mesh sieve over a medium bowl; if you have a batter bowl with a spout and handle, it is handy for this.
2. Place 1 cup watermelon cubes and 1/3 cup water in food processer or blender. Pulse until pureed. Place in sieve. Repeat, using 1 cup of melon and 1/3 water, until all melon and water is used and strained in sieve.
3. Add agave syrup and lemon juice to strained mixture. Taste and adjust as needed, adding more agave syrup or lemon juice, or additional water.
4. Fill 5 glasses with ice. Stir mixture and pour into glasses. Garnish each glass with a sprig of mint and a lemon slice.
Nutritional information (per serving): calories 45; fat calories 0, total fat 0 grams; sat fat 0 grams, cholesterol 0 milligrams; sodium 5 milligrams; total carbohydrates 15 grams; fiber 1 gram; sugars 14 grams; protein 1 gram; vitamin A IUs 10%; vitamin C 20%; calcium 2%; iron 2%.

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This recipe is from the newest book, “50 Best Plants on the Planet.”

 

 

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