The victory of a "Mexican David beating a French Goliath" is the reason for celebrating Cinco de Mayo on Friday the 5th of May. It seems that the Mexican government was a bit short of money to pay back a loan to France and rather than wait a couple of years for repayment, France decided to attack. In 1862, Napoleon III sent his 6,000 man navy to Mexico where they were beaten by an army of just 2,000 Mexican soldiers. According to one source, the observance of Cinco de Mayo in America first started in California in the 1860's in response to the resistance to French rule in Mexico. "Far up in the gold country town of Columbia (now Columbia State Park) Mexican miners were so overjoyed at the news that they spontaneously fired off rifle shots and fireworks, sang patriotic songs and made impromptu speeches." What a coincidence... Columbia is only a few miles from Murphys, where I live! It wouldn't be a proper Cinco de Mayo without the ubiquitous guacamole and though there are many good recipes out there, I wanted to share mine.
2 avocados, split peeled and cut into 1/2" chunks
1/4 red onion, diced to 1/4"
1 serrano chile, seeded and minced
1/2 c cilantro, chopped coarsely
juice of one lime
1/4 t salt and a pinch of ground pepper
Put the avocado in a bowl and mash with a fork, leaving it a bit chunky. Add the other ingredients, stir and taste to adjust salt. Serve with tortilla chips. Feel free to add some diced fresh tomato, a spoonful of good salsa or, as my friend Mary Jo does, diced mango!
I recently purchased a package of tofu for a vegetarian meal on a catering job. I ended up with half a package leftover so I sliced it, pan seared it in a bit of olive oil and ate it for lunch. I'd forgotten how much I LOVE tofu. Low in carbs and fat, it's high in protein and iron which makes it ideal for vegetarians and vegans. It's the perfect canvas—having a bland taste, it absorb marinades well and can be tossed into soups or stews or deep fried and added to noodle dishes. I've even replaced the cheese on a fresh mozzarella, basil pesto, heirloom tomato sandwich with tofu! I came across this crusted and fried tofu recipe from an Israeli-born, London based chef named Yotam Ottolenghi (cookbook author, deli owner and restauranteur) and wanted to try it. I'm taking it to a girls' luncheon today as an appetizer. I think they are going to love it.
Crusted Fried Tofu
3/4 c panko crumbs, (Japanese bread crumbs)
grated zest of 1 lime
1 T coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1 T sesame seeds, white or black or a combo is good
1 - 14 oz package of firm tofu, cut into 1" chunks
1/2 c flour
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 t water
1/2 t salt, more to taste
peanut or vegetable oil, for frying, about a 1/2 c
1 T cilantro leaves chopped for garnish
1 T honey
1 T lime juice
1 t sesame oil
1 t siracha chile sauce
2 t rice wine vinegar
pinch of chile flakes
2 T peanut oil, veggie or corn oil, not olive oil unless it is very mild
To make the dipping sauce, whisk together the honey, lime juice, sesame oil, sriracha, rice vinegar and a pinch of salt. Continue to whisk as you slowly pour in the peanut oil, until fully emulsified. Set aside.
Place the panko, lime zest, coriander seeds, sesame seeds and salt in a bowl and mix well. Toss the tofu in the flour, dip into the egg and then finally toss it in the breadcrumb mix until well coated. Heat the oil in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot add half the tofu pieces and fry for 4 to 5 minutes, turning so that all sides get golden brown and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Repeat with the last of the tofu, adding a little more oil to the pan if necessary. Serve with the dipping sauce.
Toasted Farro Salad + Fava Beans + Snap Peas + Asparagus + Feta, Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
I stopped in the valley to pick up strawberries last Tuesday, on my way home from the bay area. I always stop at the same place, a stand run by a family that farms the land just behind. Their strawberries are the best and you must eat them within days or make jam, that's how ripe they are. They grow a few other things too, and on this day they had beautiful fava beans! I always get excited when I first see favas, the season is short so you have to buy them and eat them when you can. They also had gorgeous asparagus and some snap peas, the kind you have to string (I am so spoiled with the packaged 'stringless' variety) but I didn't care, they were so fresh and vibrant! I have been wanting to make something with farro (an ancient grain) forever so I started to put together this salad. It just screams SPRING! It is easy, tasty and beautiful and it holds up well so it would be great for a picnic...maybe Mother's Day?
2 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 t chile flakes
1 1/2 c farro
2 t salt
6 c water
1 bay leaf
Heat the oil over medium heat in a skillet that has a lid. Add the garlic and the chile flakes and cook for 3 minutes, the garlic will begin to brown slightly. Add the farro and begin to toast it, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes. Add the water, salt and bay leaf, stir, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes until done. It will still be chewy (don't cook until it pops or it will be mushy). Drain and spread out on a sheet pan to cool.
Fava Bean + Snap Pea + Asparagus + Toasted Farro Salad
2 c snap peas, *parred, cut in half
2 c asparagus, *parred, cut in 2" pieces
1 c **fava beans, *parred (about 2# in the pod)
2 T chives, chopped
4 T mint, ***chiffonade or chopped
3 T parsley, chopped coarsely
4 oz feta, crumbled
salt and pepper to taste
Toss with the cooled farro and the Meyer lemon vinaigrette.
*To par the veggies, heat a pot of water to a boil, add the snap peas and cook for 1 minute, using a strainer, scoop out and plunge in to an ice water bath. Next cook the asparagus in the same pot of water for about 2-3 minutes (depending on their size), scoop out and plunge into the ice water bath.
To cook the fava beans, see below.
Drain all well.
**to prepare the favas, just run your thumb down the slit in the pod, opening it up and releasing the inner beans (very zen). Drop them into boiling water for 2 minutes then scoop out and splash in to an ice water bath. When cooled, take the out and press the outer whit covering gently and the green inner beans should pop right out. They are now ready to use. It may seem like a bit of trouble but believe me it's worth it!
***to chiffonade the mint, pick the leaves off of the stem. Stack the leaves into a pile and roll them into a cigar shape, slice thinly across to get a fluffy pile of mint.
Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
zest and juice of one Meyer lemon (if using regular lemon, add 1/2 t sugar)
1 T red wine vinegar
3/4 c good olive oil
pinch of salt and pepper
Zest and juice the lemon. Mix in the vinegar, salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in the olive oil a little at a time to emulsify. Pour over salad and toss.
Lemon + Currant Cream Scones
Over the last few days I have been thinking about a post for Easter. I am busy with a catering for Hovey Winery on Sunday so I won't be cooking for family this year, but in years past, when my kids came home, we always made these scones. The dry ingredients can be assembled the night before and then the next morning, just add the cream and bake. They are always a hit and so incredibly easy to make. I sometimes make them without the lemon peel and without a glaze but for a more elegant, dressed up version they're perfect! They freeze well and if there are any leftover, split and toasted they are divine. Peter Rabbit would have enjoyed these with a cup of camomile tea after a nice romp in Mr. McGregor's garden, just right for Easter Sunday!
Lemon + Current Cream Scones
2 c unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/4 c granulated sugar SAVE $
1 T baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 c dried currants (feel free to use any dried fruit on hand or combination)
1 1/4 c whipping cream
1 t grated lemon peel, optionalS
1 c powdered sugar
2 to 3 T lemon juice
Additional grated lemon peel, if desired for the top SAVE $
Heat oven to 425°. Use an ungreased baking sheet. Combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl stirring a with fork to mix well (I use a Kitchen Aid mixer but this is totally doable by hand). Add in currants and 1 teaspoon lemon peel. Add whipping cream all at once; stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn out on to a lightly floured surface and gently knead dough 8 or 9 times or until smooth. Pat dough 3/4 inch thick into a 10" circle. Cut the circle into 12 wedges (or use a biscuit cutter) and place 2 inches apart on cookie sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes or until light golden brown.
For glaze, in small bowl, stir powdered sugar and enough lemon juice until smooth and thin enough to drizzle. Drizzle over scones. Top with additional lemon peel. Serve warm.
You could also add 1/4 cup of nuts or even a teaspoon of thyme or rosemary to the mix for a different flavor direction.
Out in Annie's garden the asparagus are shooting up quickly, standing up so straight and tall, just waiting to be broken off, cooked and enjoyed. There are so many easy ways to prepare asparagus, roasting, steaming, sautéing...but I have decided to pan sear a salmon filet today so I am going to prepare the asparagus in the same pan for ease. Topped off with an Orange-Pistachio Pesto, (my friend and co-chef, Kathleen is sharing her recipe for this special sauce that is a favorite at Wren Catering) this dish cooks up in just 20 minutes and is fancy enough to serve for a spring dinner party or even an Easter feast!
1 # asparagus spears, broken at the bend point
2 T unsalted butter
salt + pepper
Melt the butter in a large skillet until bubbly. Add the asparagus, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, (depending on the thickness) browning slightly, until you can pierce easily with a sharp knife. Take out and set aside on a sheet pan and let come to room temp or keep warm in a 200 degree oven.
Pan-seared Salmon Filet
4 - 8 oz salmon filet, skin off, about 1" thick at the center
2 T unsalted butter
2 T olive oil
salt + pepper
Pull any bones out of the salmon filets and place the salmon on a plate. Sprinkle 1 T olive oil over the filets and massage on all sides to distribute then sprinkle with salt and pepper. In the same large frying pan, set over medium heat add the butter and the rest of the oil and heat until melted and sizzling. Add the filets, top side down and cook for 2 minutes, then turn the heat to low and continue to cook for 3 more minutes. Turn over and cook for
5 minutes more. Remove the salmon from the pan to a platter and allow to rest for a few minutes before (if) plating. Serve atop the asparagus and spoon some of the pesto on top.
1 c toasted pistachios
2 T lemon juice
1/3 c olive oil
grated zest of one orange
1/4 c fresh orange juice
Place pistachios in the food processor, purée. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth. Feel free to try using other nuts such as almonds or hazelnuts for a different flavor direction. This sauce is equally good on chicken, pork or veggies.
Note: This sauce is vegan so spoil your vegan friends.
As a caterer for over 30 years, I have established a reputation for consistently creating original menus inspired by the occasion and the season, presenting them with an ease and elegance uniquely my own. Fresh, locally-sourced ingredients are the basis of my creative “from scratch” menus, which range from the classically elegant to rustic and whimsical.
"Love your recipes! Pat made your avocado toast a few weeks ago, delish! I'm taking them to a party in a few weeks, although the mushroom crostata looks pretty darn good!"