Avocados in Paradise

Wherever Paradise is located, I’d love to go there someday. I think I could get used to lying on the beach, traversing mountains whenever I please, and climbing trees to knock down coconuts. I think I could be really happy watching the sun set from a warm pier with a cute little poodle or two at my side and a nice glass of really old Spanish wine in my hand.

I’m not sure if I’d really need a computer. Or a phone. And maybe I could even do without pork if I had endless coconuts, and seafood, and pretty pretty things to look at. Of course, there are tons of versions of Paradise, but that’s the one I have in mind today.

I’d have to make sure I’d have regular access to these two things: avocado and grapefruit. If grapefruits weren’t so dang messy, I’d delve into one at my desk every single day. But since they are, I settle for home-eating of said fruit. I used to eat these things like they were going outta style in the 80’s. My mom would cut them in half, give me and my brother each one half in a bowl, and sprinkle some sugar on top. Many of you might not have a clue about what a “grapefruit spoon” looks like, but we had a handful in my house – they’re like regular spoons, but somewhat pointy and serrated, so you can easily scoop out the fruit – genius! Sure, the juice always dripped into the bowl, but that was the best part – sugary grapefruit juice. Hells yes.

We didn’t consume avocado in my house. I was probably 25+ when I realized the awesomeness of guacamole, and avocado soup, and all sorts of other avocadocontaining lovelies. I don’t think they’d be very good with sugar on top, but otherwise I can imagine I’d eat an avocado most any way – even ice cream. And maybe plain while sitting at my desk.

If I did have both of those things in Paradise, I’m guessing I’d be alright eating this salad pretty much every day for the rest of my life. Okay, not every day, but at least a few times a week. Avocados are always tasty out West, and grapefruits are making their winter debut as we speak type. And when they’re both tossed around in, get this, more grapefruit (juice! vinaigrette!) it is really, really something.

The shrimp certainly don’t hurt the cause, either.

Of course, maybe your Paradise doesn’t have these things. Maybe your Paradise has chocolate and butter and bacon. Or cheeseburgers?! And cell phones and the internets. Yeah, those things are all good, too. For this month at least, this is what I crave. Next month is a whole other story.

Shrimp, Avocado, & Grapefruit Salad
Adapted from Cooking Light, December 2011; serves 4

time commitment: ~45 minutes

ingredients
2 1/2 T olive oil, divided
1 lb peeled and deveined medium shrimp
1/2 t salt, divided
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 grapefruit
2 T chopped fresh tarragon
2 t brown sugar
1 t chopped shallots
6 c chopped romaine lettuce
1 peeled avocado, cut into 12 wedges

instructions
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 t oil to pan; swirl to coat. Sprinkle shrimp with 1/4 t salt and 1/8 t pepper. Add shrimp to pan; cook 3 minutes or until shrimp are done, stirring frequently. Remove from pan; keep warm.

Peel and section grapefruit over a bowl, reserving 3 tablespoons juice. Combine grapefruit juice, remaining 2 T oil, remaining 1/4 t salt, remaining 1/8 t pepper, tarragon, brown sugar, and shallots in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add lettuce; toss. Arrange 2 cups lettuce mixture on each of 4 plates. Top each serving with 3 avocado wedges; divide shrimp and grapefruit sections evenly among servings.

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Easy Does It

It seems that the month of February has begun to fly by much more quickly than I’d anticipated. Six weeks ago, we were finally talking openly about our big move, and at the time it was a bit surreal; there was certainly more talk than action those days. Shoot, the only action, per se, was putting our condo on the market, and when we did that we thought it may be the last of the pieces to fall into place, if ever – despite it being the first physical sign that we were, in fact, moving.

But miraculously, that so-called mountain of a task has turned out to be more of an ant hill, as the condo has (fingers crossed) been sold, pending some final paperwork and such. With that, an earlier-than-expected close date has ensued, and a couple more temporary moves have been added to the moving equation.

Chris starts his job tomorrow, and as I type he’s packing his suitcases to begin the journey we thought would never get here, but in contrast it snuck up on us and smacked us silly. This first week without him will be easy, because he’ll be back late Thursday night, at which time our condo, our home for a couple more weeks, will be filled with friends and we’ll party throughout the weekend, celebrating all the Chicago days we’ve loved and all the San Francisco days we’ve yet to encounter but will almost certainly love, in time, as well.

Needless to say, the past few weeknights have been spent in bars, in restaurants, at ‘one more’ wine class – a valiant effort to clear our Chicago bucket list, and the attempt was largely successful. But in doing so, the kitchen here has been barren, so much so that yesterday the dishwasher was full of coffee mugs rather than plates, spoons rather than forks and knives, and no tupperware symbolizing a hefty week of leftovers.

I usually relish the idea of a potluck party, an event I take advantage of fully by digging through my recipe clippings/ideas and whipping up something I’ve been eyeing for a while, like the arancini, but couldn’t find a reason to make at home. But on Thursday, I had no clue what I’d bring for the Friday event, and I quickly searched the recipe pages of a few blogs I read, easily tossing out any recipe that would take more than 30 minutes and involve any worrisome ingredients that might require special grocery store trips. I was even starting to wish I’d RSVP’d as maybe, so I’d have the opportunity to back out gracefully.

But I was reminded of our sort-of mottos for the past few weeks of craziness – take things one step at a time, don’t let the large details get to you; easy does it. It seems to work for lots of life’s issues – moving, house-selling, looking for new jobs, and even potlucks.

Citrus Salad w/ Feta and Mint
inspired by Smitten Kitchen; serves a party

time commitment: 30 minutes

this is a perfect winter salad, and it’s gorgeous for a dinner party, which is where mine was utilized. you can use any combo of citrus you want, really whatever looks pretty and isn’t full of seeds. adjust amounts based on number of guests – this will serve a large group or make for great leftovers.

printable version

ingredients
1/2 red onion, chopped into very thin slices
1 pink grapefruit
1 yellow grapefruit
2 blood oranges
2 cara cara oranges
2 T fresh mint, chopped into strips
4 oz goat’s milk feta cheese, cut into small cubes/chunks
1 T red wine vinegar
extra virgin olive oil (amount varies – see recipe)
1/8 t dijon mustard
fresh ground pepper
kosher salt

instructions
put onion strips in the bottom of a mesh strainer and position strainer over a medium-sized bowl. peel outer rind away from each citrus fruit, using a smallish knife, removing all the white pith from the fruit. cut each piece of fruit into 1/4″ thick wheels and layer citrus over onions in the mesh strainer (juice will slowly collect in the bowl and ‘pickle’ the onions slightly). let sit for a few minutes to drain a bit.

arrange citrus wheels neatly on a large platter, and top with onion slices. top with mint and feta. to the bowl of citrus juice, add red wine vinegar and enough olive oil to double the amount of liquid (probably ~2-3 T). add mustard, salt and pepper and whisk to create a citrus vinaigrette. pour over fruit prior to serving.

Nectar of the Gods

In the compass of cooking, the word ‘easy’ is arbitrary. If you’re a French pastry chef, you’d whip up a batch of macarons (no, not macaroons – those are easy if you’ve got at least one hand and egg whites) with your eyes closed. They do not appear easy to me, although I will admit I haven’t tried. If you’re Masaharu Morimoto, you can carve sashimi that’s one-eighth of an inch thick with precision and agility that I can only dream of, or watch on TV. If you’re me, you pride yourself on ‘supreming’ citrus.

Yes ma’am. Su-prem-ing. Say it loud and proud like the French, and not like the pieces of chicken (su-preeeme). And when you say it, think of my picture beside it in the dictionary. Because I am a supreme master.

The definition? According to Wiktionary, to supreme is to divide a citrus fruit into segments, removing the skin, peels, pith, membranes. I suggest you go to either your nearest grocery store, your local farmers’ market, or (if you’re lucky) your backyard and grab a bag of fresh, juicy citrus fruit – now. Then head over to YouTube and watch this video, ignoring the ginormous knife he’s using and the weird music that sounds as if he’s about to murder someone with said knife rather than cut citrus. To be quite honest, a simple paring knife would do but I’m sure he thought the shiny butcher knife would give him more authority in his instruction. Whatevs.

Nevertheless, you do not have to go to culinary school to learn this trick. And with citrus fruits cropping up all over the place during these winter months, the timing is on par.

Now that you’re back and ready for supreming (citrus in one hand, ginormous butcher/puny paring knife in the other), I present to you a perfect recipe to test your skills. Citrus salad. Over salmon. A perfectly supremed, juicy citrus salad accented with the salt of capers, the freshness of mint, and the bite of lemon that’s covering an ever-so-slightly-sweetened, moist filet of wild Alaskan salmon. Sweetened with, you guessed it, nectar of the gods – and I don’t mean honey, friends. I mean agave nectar.

You want to buy some of that fine, fine stuff. Like, it’s so good you should have bought it in 2009. It’s sweeter than sugar, lower on the glycemic index than other sweeteners, natural, vegan, and so lovely I could probably drink it straight if I weren’t busy putting it on fish or making granola bars with it. Yeah, it’s versatile too.

Did I mention that it’s made from the same plant as tequila? If that doesn’t seal the deal, I’m not sure what will. On the other hand, you could just down a few margaritas, sweetened with agave nectar, and call it a night, skipping the dinner altogether – and you can test your supreming skills out on the limes.

Salmon with Agave Nectar & (Expertly-Supremed) Citrus Salad
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis, Giada at Home; serves 4

Serve this dish with millet or another healthy grain. For millet, cook 1 cup organic millet in 3 cups of water. Bring to boil, stir and reduce heat and cover for about 15-20 minutes or until water is gone. Let sit a few minutes and fluff with a fork. For this dish, I squeezed some citrus juices (basically, the juices remaining after segmenting the fruits) and tossed some chopped mint, salt, and pepper into the millet.

printable recipe

ingredients
Salad
2 large oranges
1 large grapefruit
1/4 c evoo
1/4 c fresh lemon juice
1/3 c chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 scallions, finely sliced
3 T chopped fresh mint leaves
2 T capers, rinsed, drained and coarsely chopped
2 T orange zest
1 t lemon zest
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper, to taste

Salmon
2 T canola oil
4 (4 to 5-ounce) center cut wild Alaskan salmon fillets, skin-on
2 T amber agave nectar
salt and pepper

instructions
For the salsa: Peel and trim the ends from each orange and grapefruit. Using a paring knife, cut along the membrane on both sides of each segment. Free the segments and add them to a medium bowl. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, scallions, mint, capers, orange zest, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes. Toss lightly and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

For the salmon: Preheat oven to 350 F. Heat an oven-proof skillet with canola oil over medium-high, until oil starts to shimmer but not smoking hot. Brush the salmon on both sides with the agave nectar and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Saute, skin side down, for about 2 minutes. Flip carefully and sear other side for about 30 seconds, then place in oven for about 4 minutes or until cooked and flaky. Transfer the salmon to a platter and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Spoon the salsa verde on top of the salmon or serve on the side as an accompaniment.

Episode VIII: A New Hope

As a child, I remember the simplest grapefruit preparation: my mom would cut a large, juicy, brightly colored grapefruit in half and sprinkle sugar over the exposed segments. She then handed me the grapefruit half, placed in a small bowl with a jagged spoon beside it (aptly called a ‘grapefruit spoon’), and that was that. I gobbled up every little piece of that ruby red citrus in all its’ glory, and I’d squeeze the remaining juice into the bowl and drink it in one large slurp, sorta like the way you drink the milk after downing a bowl of Cookie Crisp or Fruity Pebbles.

That, in a nutshell, is my experience with grapefruit. I find it odd, since I choose citrus fruits any day over berries (well, seed-bearing berries, because I hate having to maneuver around them). Why, I could eat a lemon whole and have eaten them in that fashion since learning how to from my parents’ French spades/hearts comrade, Aurora. I remember thinking she was so cool because she was the only person I knew who drank alcoholic beverages so “neatly” – by eating the entire citrus slice without changing her expression one iota, and not leaving that silly rind behind like unwanted garbage beside the cherry stem.

And no, I’m not eating grapefruit rinds anytime soon – they’re way too thick and tasteless. But, but, I did eat a shit-ton of grapefruit-containing foods! Yes, friends, the eighth installment of the infamous Iron Chef Chicago battles – those monthly (in general) gatherings involving lots of good friends who love to eat. This time, we delved into one of my favorite “eat by itself with sugar” fruits (strawberry being second on that list, which already happened).

And while many associate citrus with summer, grapefruits are now at their peak and are a great escape from all this winter squash and stew, if you’re feeling the need to get away to somewhere warmer but can’t quite make it to the Bahamas right now. Tart and tangy, juicy and sweet, these citrus rounds are loaded with vitamin C and lycopene and go well with all sorts of foods, as you can see from all these lovely dishes.

For one dish, I went for a tried-and-true new favorite of mine and made two different flavors of grapefruit marshmallows (one with cardamom and one with ginger), and then fell upon a recipe for stuffed whole fish with grapefruit vinaigrette and grapefruit butter (served with millet instead of couscous), courtesy of my DVR and Tyler’s Ultimate. We had a couple of drinks, sorbet, various shrimp and scallop dishes, cakes and even lettuce wraps & pizza. It was, as usual, quite a spread.

The top three:

  1. Hope’s ‘Dark Chocolate Grapefruit Cake’, a gluten-free & vegan must have. I think Jon almost crapped his pants it was so good, and this time he got to eat cake with the rest of us!
  2. James’ ‘Grapefruit Cheesecake’ & (yes, a tie!) Christina’s ‘Grapefruit/Pork Lettuce Wraps’. James is a newcomer (Hope’s boyfriend – he does exist!!) who really came strong during his first attempt. Christina always seems to bring strong dishes and is getting very close to a win, I suspect. The wraps were my personal favorite, with both cakes coming in next.
  3. My ‘Grapefruit Marshmallows x2’. Clearly, you can’t go wrong with marshmallows, can you? I love them so much I’m going to start manufacturing them (yes manufacturing) and selling them on Etsy. I’m serious. Wait for it.

And with that, it looks as if the girls are back in business with two straight wins following the guys’ run. With the 9th competition right around the corner, February’s ingredient is sure to be a great one, as long as Hope can whittle down that list of possibilities!

Dark Chocolate Grapefruit Cake
Hope’s winning vegan, gluten-free recipe
adapted from the Gluten-Free Goddess blog
for a non-vegan version, click here

printable recipe

ingredients
6 oz unsweetened dark chocolate
3/4 c vanilla soy milk (warmed)
3/4 c fresh grapefruit juice (warmed)
1/2 c very hot double strong coffee
1 T vanilla extract
14 oz pumpkin puree
1 1/4 c brown sugar
1/2 c rice flour
2 T potato starch
1 T Ener-G Egg Replacer
1 t xanthan gum
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 t cinnamon
1 T grapefruit zest (optional, if you want even more grapefruit flavor!)
grapefruit segments for garnish
chocolate sauce for drizzling

instructions
Mix chocolate pieces with hot coffee and heated milk and grapefruit until chocolate is melted.  Add vanilla extract and pumpkin puree, blend.  Add in brown sugar, rice flour, potato starch, egg replacer, xanthan gum, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and grapefruit zest, if using.  blend thoroughly until creamy and smooth.  Pour into a 9 in springform pan lined with greased parchment paper and smooth top.  Bake at 350 for 55-65 minutes until middle doesn’t wiggle.  Chill for a minimum of two hours. top with grapefruit segments.

Like my new puppy? Just kidding, sadly. Chris hasn’t given in yet! Oh, and a big thanks to my buddy Lindsay for the pictures. I think all of these are courtesy of her and her lovely camera. *sigh*.