Fragrant Lime Salt

Do you have a zester? If you don’t, you better get one. Every foodie should have one in their toolbox…I mean, kitchen drawer. It comes in handy when you need to grate some Parmesan cheese, fresh nutmeg, or to zest some citrus. It will make you look like a pro, believe me!

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Every week, I zest some limes, add the zest to some Kosher salt and mix it until I get this beautiful fragrant salt. This lime salt is that special ingredient that turns up the volume in my homemade jalapeño-lime jerky. I sprinkle it on top of the meat once it’s on the dehydrator just before drying.

You can sprinkle it as a finishing salt on fish, chicken…or you can rim a margarita glass. Your choice. The possibilities are endless. It’s very simple to make. Here’s the how to:

Fragrant Lime Salt

Ingredients: 

  • 2 tablespoons of lime zest
  • 1 cup of kosher salt

Put the lime zest in a bowl. Add the kosher salt. Mix well. Transfer to a glass jar with a lid. It keeps for up to a month in the refrigerator.

 

 

 

 

 

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Still-frame of the week: Colors of February

 

I’m probably not the only one who’s planning on celebrating Valentine’s Day on the weekend since it fell on a Tuesday this year. Last year while I was out and about I found these little heart-shaped ramekins by Chantal. I had to have them. I don’t like to collect seasonal dishes but these can be used any time of the year. Why not? There’s plenty of occasions…anniversaries, birthdays, hot dates. As my friend says, “We’re grown-ups. We can do whatever we want.” I can’t disagree.

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February has a special place in my heart. It’s not quite winter. It’s not quite spring. It’s somewhere in between. At least that’s how it’s usually in Houston. The last of the pink blossoms on my peach tree are on the ground and tiny fruit is starting to grow in their place. I’ve trimmed dead branches, planted some seeds, and turned the soil in the raised garden bed.  I can’t wait to harvest some herbs later on this year. For now, here’s a snapshot of my week. I’ll let you see what I’ll be cooking or serving in them. I can’t wait to surprise my sweetheart with something sweet and romantic.

Have a lovely weekend!

-Camila

 

 

Still-frame of the week: Have you tried guayaba yet?

 

Guava or “Guayaba” (Wa-yah-bah), is a tropical  fruit that’s extremely fragrant especially when ripe. I would compare the scent of guayaba to a very sweet, ripe, pineapple sitting among a field of wild flowers or a bouquet of chamomile blooms to be more exact.

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At its peak, this little fruit should be have a smooth, golden color throughout and give slightly when squeezed. The more ripe a guayaba is, the more fragrant and sweeter it gets. The skin is supple and edible but a little tart in contrast to its sweet and creamy center filled with lots of smooth round little seeds which are also edible.

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Guayaba can be found in many Latin desserts. It can also be found as candies, preserves, and jams. You may find “guava paste” at the cheese counter or the international section of your market. It’s fantastic on a cheese platter or paired with a good manchego cheese, but the way I always have it is simple. I pull the fruit apart with my fingers and drizzle some honey on top. It’s like eating a fruity, flowery custard.

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Maybe the next time that you’re at the market, you’ll look for guava and give it a try. These are my still-frames of the week. I hope that your week is just as delicious!

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-Camila

 

Dear Peach Tree

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About a year after my husband and I had bought and moved into our first home, I was eager to have a garden of my own. The drawback for me was that I only had a small patio and balcony to work with. I knew very little about gardening. Growing up I watched mom prune and care for all of her potted plants. She spent hours pruning and watering. She seemed to drift in an almost meditative trance while she worked with her plants. It was one of the few things that mom enjoyed doing just for herself. Every inch surrounding our porch was filled with potted plants, herbs, succulents, aloe vera, and hanging baskets overflowing with beautiful lush foliage. By the time I left for college, mom had several fruit trees including banana, orange, and a couple of papaya trees, all bearing fruit. It wasn’t until I got my own space that I began to take interest in keeping my own plants.

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At first it was all trial and error. The first time that I tried to grow some herbs, I found out all about caterpillars. Each time that I would find new leaves beginning to sprout through the soil, the very next morning the stalks seemed to have been maliciously chopped off. The year after, I learned about slugs and the following year I was introduced to aphids. It went on that way for some time. Eventually I figured out what worked and what didn’t. In the process I earned a green thumb.

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My peach tree was a surprise after I had barely endured the war of all new gardeners. My hopes were almost lost. Luckily, there were times when I would eat fruit or vegetables and I would throw the seeds into the empty flower bed just to see if anything would successfully grow. Two years after, I had a 6 foot peach tree that I had no idea how to care for. This little tree was in the shape of the letter “V” because two thin trunks grew in opposite directions. I don’t know why I thought that it would be a good idea to twist them into a topiary. I know…I just didn’t have the heart to cut off one of those trunks. Don’t judge me. Long story short, my peach tree is now a very funny looking tree but it has been very good to me.

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It took six years before my peach tree began to bloom. By the seventh year I had a tree heavily weighed down by a generous bounty of peaches. We had to tie a rope to keep it standing upright. This little tree found the will and the courage to thrive against all odds and I am grateful for it. I really do enjoy seeing it bloom year after year from our bedroom window each January but what we enjoy most are those very sweet and fragrant peaches.

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Now I just have to figure out what to do with all those peaches. This year I tried canning for the very first time, but that’s a story for another post! Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

-Camila

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A Pound of Carrots

 

Here are a few Still-Frames of my week. I hope that yours are just as delicious.

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Carrot cake isn’t one of those cakes that I crave often because if I had a choice between carrot cake and chocolate cake I wouldn’t have to even think about going for the chocolate cake. Come on! Who isn’t unarmed by delicious chocolate cake?  The last time that I had a slice of carrot cake was years ago at a Black-eyed Pea and before that, I probably had a serving of it with my school cafeteria lunch rotation.  Carrot cake isn’t bad. It’s just not chocolate cake. My better half requested carrot cake so pulled out my recipe folder and looked for Ina Garten’s “Carrot and Pineapple Cake recipe”. I watched her make it on her show once. It looked so tempting that I printed out the recipe and saved it hoping to eventually make it.

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It turned out to be absolutely delicious! This recipe for carrot cake, in my opinion is a lot like a dense, moist, robust banana bread slathered with a sweet, creamy, buttery icing. From now on, carrot cake will not be neglected in this household ever again. Cheers, Mrs. Garten!

Try the recipe here: Ina Garten’s Carrot and Pineapple Cake 

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Masala Chai Tea

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It’s finally February! January breezed by too fast but while it’s still crisp and nippy out, here’s my first post for this new year. Some of you may remember seeing this tea on my former blog. Enjoy!

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I was flipping through the pages of Fine Cooking Magazine and a picture of a steamy mug of creamy tea caught my eye. Along with that picture was a recipe for “masala chai tea”. I had my first taste of chai tea at Starbucks. It was an interesting flavor but it was a bit too sweet and the spices were too bold for my taste. However, it peaked my interest so I thought that I should try a more authentic version of chai tea. Since making a pilgrimage to India was out of the question, doing a little research was my next option. This recipe promised a subtle and more delicate flavor so I had to try it.

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“Masala” refers to a blend of spices used in Indian cuisine, and the word, “chai” is the word for tea. So, “masala chai tea” translates to…”spiced tea, tea. Right? Think about it.

I’m enamored with the idea that there are as many chai tea vendors also known as “chai wallahs” or “chaiwalas” spotting the streets of India as there are coffee houses speckled all over our cities. Each of them as dedicated to the art of making chai tea as a barista is to brewing the perfect cup of espresso. Finding some of the spices was a little adventure and I wasn’t familiar with some of them. Lucky for me, I’m minutes away from a Mediterranean specialty foods market and they carry lots of lovely products.

What I love about this tea is that it’s fragrant, creamy, spicy, and it’s packed with healthy benefits. A tea with all of these wonderful ingredients has to be good for us right? Here’s how this tea is prepared.

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You will need:

  • 1 tablespoon of loose English breakfast or Darjeeling tea
  • 2 cups of water
  • 6 cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon of black peppercorns
  • 6 cardamon pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 slice of ginger
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar (more or less to your taste)
  • 1/3 cup of milk

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan. Meanwhile, crush each cardamon pod with the back of a spoon until you hear a slight pop or the pod slightly opens. Place the loose tea, cloves, peppercorns, cardamon pods, star anise, and the slice of ginger into a mesh tea infuser. Once the water has reached a boil, remove from heat and drop in the cinnamon stick and the tea infuser into the hot water. Allow it to steep uncovered for 5 minutes. Then, remove the cinnamon stick and the infuser from the liquid. Add sugar and the milk. Froth with a whisk until sugar has dissolved and the tea is slightly frothy.

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You should now have a foamy, creamy, fragrant tea. Pour into cups. Grate a little fresh nutmeg on top. Sip. enjoy.

Let me know what you think and have a very romantic February!

Watercress

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I fondly remember the times when I would visit my maternal grandparents. I would stay with them for days at a time. They live in the wooded mountains of Mexico, far away enough from the city. They lovingly care for a bountiful orchard that consists vastly of pears, quinces, apples, peaches, and plumbs. I remember waking up early in the morning and seeing my grandmother or my uncle making their way back to the house with a pail of fresh warm milk. I knew that meant breakfast was getting started so I would run out to fetch some eggs and take them to her. My grandparents always knew how to make me feel safe, loved, and they made the best out of anything. If I would hear a strange sound, they would tell me epic stories that would make perfect sense in the creative mind of a child. I remember being scared of the dark and it would take a bit of time for me to get used to not being able to flip on a light switch in the evenings so they would comfort me by the warm wood fire and light up a few candles to brighten the room for me. The gentle crackle of the logs burning would soothe away my fears. I loved walking among the giant pine trees and over the thick carpet of pine needles on the ground. I especially loved taking deep breaths and filling my lungs with the fresh and pure air of the woods. I have nothing but wonderful memories about being with my grandparents in that little paradise.  It was always difficult to leave and go back home.

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Watercress has a very special place in my heart. My cousin and I would run to the creek where wild watercress would grow abundantly in the running water. We gathered handfuls of watercress for grandmother’s refreshing salads. We had fun skipping and hopping from one stone onto the other to avoid getting our shoes wet. Grandmother taught us how to pick the fresh bunches of watercress and then rinse the soil off the leaves and roots in the creek. When we got back to her kitchen, she would pinch off the tender leaves into a bowl and throw out the tougher stems. She would then mix in fresh diced tomatoes, finely diced onion, a minced serrano pepper and seasoned it with lime juice and a sprinkle of salt. These are the ingredients that my memories are made of.

This is how she would prepare it:

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First, rinse the watercress and pat it dry. Then pinch off and keep only the leaves and the tender younger stems with the tiny leaves attached to them. Those are okay to eat. Throw out the tougher, longer stems. Place your watercress into a bowl and add diced tomato and onion. If you like a little spice, (I mean aside from the little kick that watercress already has) add a little finely diced serrano or jalapeño pepper depending on the heat level that you’d like. Toss all of the ingredients to mix well, squeeze the juice of one lime and season with kosher salt or ground sea salt to taste.

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You can serve this salad along with fish or chicken. You can also just scoop it up with some tortilla chips or…you can have it the way we did: wrapped in a warm tortilla. (Also known as a humble “taco”). Yep, watercress tacos. These are really, really good! Especially if you’re craving something refreshing and light. This salad can complement almost any dish but there are no rules. Do as you wish!

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This hydroponically grown watercress doesn’t compare to that one that grew naturally in that running creek at my grandparents ranch but it’s the closest thing to it. I hope that you give this a try. If you’re up to it, leave a comment or send me a message and let me know what you think! Have a beautiful week!

Tyler Florence’s Arroz con Pollo & Salsa Verde

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I have saved tons of recipes over time. Most of them I’ve picked up from cooking shows, cookbooks, or from a magazine. The only problem is as they say, “…so much of this and too little time.”

Recipes can be used as blueprints. I find that it’s a good idea to follow a recipe as it is the first time. The next time around you can play with the ingredients by substituting one protein for another or substitute this herb for a different one. Eventually that recipe becomes your very own.

However, this recipe is a very special one. Each time I’ve made it over the years I get many compliments. It’s memorable because it’s just that darn good. No matter how many times I’ve made it, it remains unchanged because in my opinion it is perfect just the way it is. I got this recipe from a show a long time ago called, “Food 911”. It was hosted by one of my favorite chefs, Tyler Florence. He also provides a recipe for a nutty, and refreshing green sauce to compliment this rich chicken and rice dish. I really would like to emphasize you have to have this salsa verde because it’s just that awesome! It isn’t the typical green tomatillo salsa that you’ve had with most of your favorite Mexican foods. This one is tangy, nutty, spicy, and it will brighten up the dish because it’s so refreshing. Especially if you have a nice bottle of chilled Rioja red wine to go along with it. I always do. The spices that soaked into the rice, the savoriness of the chicken, and the fresh sauce that’s made of toasted almonds, green jalapeño, cilantro, and lime are complemented beautifully with a little sip of Rioja. Try it for yourself!

…and if you’d like I’d love to know what you think! Here’s the link to this beautiful recipe: Arroz con Pollo with Salsa Verde

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Ratatouille

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It’s that time of the year when bright and colorful veggies are plentiful and stacked high at the market. On my last trip I got a little produce-happy and I ended up bringing home lots of crisp vegetables. I whipped out my favorite recipe for this occasion. That’s right; Ratatouille. The recipe that I use is actually from one of my favorite chefs, Tyler Florence. This recipe tastes even better the next day once all of the flavors combine. My favorite way to serve it is over a slice of toast with some grated parmesan, chopped parsley, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil


 

If you top it with an egg, crispy bacon, chopped parsley, and Parmesan you’ve got breakfast!

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Here’s the link to this recipe. Enjoy!

Bread Loaf Pizza

Bread Loaf Pizza
About a month ago, during a grocery shopping trip I discovered some packaged artisan breads that are ready to finish off in the oven. Not the frozen kind. I’m not kidding…they turn out like a fresh loaf from the bakery! One of my favorites is the Tuscan loaf. I like to rip it into pieces and spread some fresh goat cheese, extra virgin olive oil and fresh minced herbs…so delicious!
One night I was in the mood for pizza and I don’t really care for delivery pizza. I picked up a ciabatta loaf to use as pizza crust and topped it with what I had on hand. It turned out really, really, good and it hit the spot.

For the pizza sauce:
1/2 yellow onion, diced
3     cloves of garlic, diced
1      Tsp dried oregano
1      Tsp parsley (dried or fresh)
1/2  Tsp dried rosemary
6      Oz can tomato paste
A pinch of chili pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat up a sauce pan on medium heat and add olive oil.  Saute the minced onion and garlic until they are soft (about 2 mins).  Add the tomato paste, ground herbs and stir.  Next, add 1 1/2 cup of water, season with salt, pepper, and chili flakes. Turn down the heat to low, and allow a gentle simmer for about 20 mins while the bread bakes.
Once bread is ready, slice open in half. Spread desired amount of sauce on each half of the bread. Add toppings of your choice and bake at about 400 degrees for about 5 mins. This will make two very generous personal pizzas.
Keep an eye to prevent the sides from burning. If cheese isn’t completely melted, finish off under the broiler for about 1-3 more minutes to wilt the veggies and melt the cheeses. Before slicing, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil. Serve immediately.