Monday, January 28, 2013

Tex Mex Cooking Competition

Hello Friends...How was your weekend??

I went to a Tex-Mex cooking competition on Saturday Night and had so much fun!!  It was through a group on - and my first event with them, but not my last!! We were split into two teams, put in two separate kitchens - had 1 1/2 hours to cook 4 dishes...and were judged by a chef.  Well, we ended up all needing an extra 1/2 hour - so it was two hours of cooking...but I will say my team were troopers!  We had a plan before we walked into the kitchen - we executed it (mostly) flawlessly...and the efforts paid off - we won!  (be it by only one point...)

Either way - all the food was delicious, the evening was a blast and I can't wait until the next one!!

So let me tell you how I started my experiments before the competition... I spent some time working with ingredients that I had never, ever used before!  I highly recommend you do the same!! 

It was so much fun to experience the senses with things I've never cooked with before...(and let me tell you - you do use at least 4 of the five senses when learning about a new food ingredient!)  So, I was cooking with: Chayote, Yuca, Mango, Papaya, Tomatillos and Plantains. 

Sight: They say you eat with your eyes...and if that is so, I can't ever imagine how someone thought to pick up Yuca and eat it... an ugly brown root that in any normal situation I'd just walk by and not even think about...
But, being I had to prepare this for the Challenge - I bought some and played with a recipe:

3 large Yuca (that I peeled off the brown husks, cut into 3" sections)
Put the Yuca into a pot and fill with enough cold water to cover it by 1"
Bring the water to boil and simmer for about 20-30 minutes until it is fork tender, remove and let cool
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
Cut the Yuca lengthwise into 3/4" wedges (you'll discard the thin, woody fibers that are the core)

I then tossed them into a bowl with olive oil, cayenne pepper, salt and cumin.

Spread into a single layer, cover, and bake for 8 minutes...then uncover and bake for 7 minutes more.

They were delicious!  Flavorful, spicy and a great 'chip' for snacking...  Unfortunately they got 86'd from the competition due to time...but they were just an accent or garnish either way.

Touch:  The most interesting feel from these ingredients were the Tomatillos..
Looking like little green tomatoes, but with a husk on them that as you peel it off - leaves the fruit sticky!  It needs a through washing before you use it in any capacity.  We had this lovely fruit two ways on Saturday - one in a Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Verde (I don't have the recipe, but will get it) and it was LUSCIOUS!  Simply amazing - and a great accompaniment to just about any Tex-Mex dish!!

But the recipe I made was (of course!) Fried Green Tomatillos!
1 lb fresh tomatillo
1 cup milk (I used 1/2 c milk and 1/2 cup of Heavy Cream) for soaking
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon lime juice
1 tablespoon of the sauce from the Chilies in Adobo can
1/4 cup of flour
3/4 cup Masa - or finely ground yellow corn meal
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 (or to taste) teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons oil for frying

Remove the papery husks and stems from the tomatillos.  Under warm running water, gently rub the tomatillos using your fingers to remove the sticky residue.  Pat dry and cut up into 1/4" slices.

In a shallow bow, mix together the milk, eggs, lime juice, adobo sauce and cayenne - then add the tomatillos.  Soak the tomatillos in this mixture for 30 minutes.

On a piece of waxed or parchment paper, stir together the flour, Masa, Salt and Pepper - set aside.

In a skillet, heat the oil.  Remove one slice of tomatillo from the milk mixture then dredge each slice in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess and add to pan.  Fry the slices on each side for 5 minutes or until crispy.  Do not crowd the tomatillos.  Transfer to a paper towel to soak up the grease.
Season with salt to taste.

Yum..I'll be making these again for sure!!

Taste and Smell:
I think taste is the scariest, as having never had it before - you're not sure what to expect (well, except for the Mango and Chayote - I've had them before)... But my final dish was several ingredients I've never had before...and all of which I hadn't cooked with!

Chayote - a squash that has in many cases doubled as
potatoes AND apples!

 Chayote doesn't have much of a smell, but taste is slightly sweet, slightly starchy - hence it can be used as sweet or savory.  Look it up online, there are so many versatile recipes for this squash!  The first time I had chayote was in St. Lucia on our honeymoon - they called it christophenes  - and it was made into a gratin, similar to a potato gratin - so delicious and with so many less calories!

Papaya - to me has a very unusual...sweet, followed by a "something I can't describe" scent - and taste, the best way to describe it (to apparently, many people think it tastes like something different) like a cross between a melon and a cucumber.  I don't think I'd eat it by itself, but mixed with these other ingredients it was fine.

Yellow Plantain - Looks like a Banana, but just a little bit bigger...however the taste is much different.  There is a sweet smell to the yellow plantain, but it is very much overpowered by the starchiness.  And I'd say it does taste just like it smells, a touch of sweet with starch. It has to be cooked, and then with the right flavors to compliment, I really enjoyed plantain.

Sweet Yellow Plantain

Mangos, to me have a very sweet smell, and a sweet taste.  So sweet, that it warrants either lime juice, jalapeno or both!  It is delightful - and I can easily picture having this in a summer fruit salad, as the textures are very similar to melons too.
The last dish I made using these ingredients was Sweet Plantain easy!  You'll need:

3 Yellow sweet Plantains
1 ripe mango
2 chayote
1/2 (if its Large - or 1 small) Papaya
2 limes
1 egg
Heavy Cream
Olive Oil

Cut each plantain into three pieces and drop into boiling water - boil until fork tender then remove and let cool.

Peel and small dice the Mango, Chayote and Papaya - and place in a bowl.
* Mango has a pit in the middle that is extremely difficult to cut into - you'll use your knife to follow the line of the pit, to remove the flesh from the fruit
** Chayote has a core, but you can quarter it and remove it easily (like an apple)
*** Papaya has seeds, just half it and remove the seeds with a spoon

Put 1 tbs of olive oil into a skillet to heat... Add the juice and zest of one lime to the fruit, mix and throw into the skillet.  You'll saute this for about 10 - 14 minutes until tender, but still has texture.  Set aside.  (*** Note - in the competition, I couldn't use anything like sugar or cinnamon, and these were delicious - but you can add them to taste <though you may not need much sugar!> as you see fit).

Remove the skins from the plantains and put into the food processor.  Add the egg and about 1/4 cup of heavy cream...pulse until everything is combine and forming a dough.  If the mixture is too dry, add more heavy cream in very small batches.  The plantain dough should be slightly dry and able to form balls out of.

You will form 12 balls from this dough of equal each ball onto parchment or wax paper and flatten to about 1/4 " round.  Fill the round with about a tablespoon of the fruit mixture and using the parchment paper to fold over into half moon shapes and seal the edges.
Place on lightly greased baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.

We served this with a Mexican chocolate sauce...melting chocolate with heavy cream and adding cayenne to taste.

Below are pictures of the dishes (along with the others that my team made) as well as a final table with all the dishes from both teams... <sorry about the quality...I was so tired after the cooking that my hands were shaking!>

Same as left - but reversed to see it better

Our dishes - Sweet Plantains, Chorizo and
Squash Panecillos with Mango/Papaya Salsa,
Mexican Egg Rolls, Chipotle Guacamole,
Cilantro Crema and the Mini Fritattas
with Fried Green Tomatillos and a trio of sauces
 (roasted tomatillo salsa Verde, chipotle crema
and cliantro crema).

Final Table Presentation - Our Team on the left, the other
on the right...  They  made: Nacho Trio, Mexican Pork Dumplings,
Chorizo Fundito with Chips, and Fried Plantain with Two Sauces
As a side note:  I did also make the mini frittatas - but didn't really include them above as I've made these 1000 times and 1000 different ways before... These were good with chorizo, jalapeno, onion and queso fresco!   Soon we'll have a quiche/fritatta post as I make them all the time!

OK - enough for now, don't you think??  I'm sure you're just about running out the door to buy the ingredients for some of these most fabulous dishes!

Up coming...I've really no clue - so you'll be as surprised as I am!!

Until Next Time...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Julia + English Pub + Thai + Chilean Sea Bass =

Total Confusion!! lol

Hello friends...

Yes - the Emilyverse is just as confusing as my title says - but I promise you...I'm also clever with words and will pull it all together for you by the end of this post!

First - Happy Birthday to MLK, Jr.. (Yes, I'm writing on Monday - but probably won't post til Tuesday!)... I have to say, I remember reading his speech for the first time as an adult, and cried... What an amazing inspiration. 

And Happy Inauguration to President Obama....Democrat or Republican - what ever your beliefs...He is our President for the next four years - and I've no problem saying congrats.

But for me - Most Importantly... my Dave-ager is at it again!!   He had an idea and passed it on and well...that inspired this:  Foodie Kid - Julia's new Blog!!  See... it started the other night as we made plans to go to dinner with Elena, Julia and Mom, so off on Sunday we went to the Lemon Leaf in Hicksville...  (Yes I did go out on Friday - I'll post that below...but I have to go a bit out of order now!)...

Now, let me start by saying - Julia (who's 11th birthday is this week!!!) has been avidly reading for many years - and profusely writing for years as well.  I've read her stories and I think they should go to a children's book editor - seriously!  She has a way with words and a beautifully colorful personality and vocabulary (and a bit of a smart aleck-y way about her, thanks to her Dad!)... When Elena said that Julia was requesting Thai food because she's never had it - Dave was impressed.  He loves that at a young age - she is willing to try new foods - and exotic foods...(I'll never forget when she got back from a family trip to Greece...and she was about 4 or 5 - her favorite foods were the raw sardines and pistachio ice cream....awesome!!)

So Dave suggested to her to start a blog (his Idea was "Kids Table" but in true Julia fashion - she took her own name and ran with it!!  I am very proud!! ) So I hope you check it out - there is a link to it on my own blog because I'll be following and loving I can take my niece out and we'll both post and have such different things to say!!

Alright - Let me start by telling you about Friday night's outing at The Good Life in Massapequa Park with some friends.  Its a cute English Pup style restaurant that has some great food...(most especially I adore their Fish & Chips...their Veggie Burger and their Good Life Burger are awesome...the Clam Chowder Pot Pie - yum!!). 

However, Friday Night - we ordered a bunch of appetizers (my favorite way of eating) and tasted a bunch of items!  Not a full review - but just sharing a great place and some great appetizers!
On the left - Mashed Potato Wontons (mashed potatoes, bacon, sour cream and cheddar cheese... Top Left (almost gone!) Panko Fried Mozzarella... Bottom Right - the best Sweet Potato Tots with a Brown Sugar Mustard (Oh Lordy!)... Top Right were Chicken Fingers with three different sauces...and Top Extreme Right - Mediterranean Platter with Hummus, Roasted Red Peppers, Olives, Feta Cheese and Pita..
A better look at the Mediterranean Platter!

Yummy Spinach and Artichoke Dip with Pita points and Tortilla Chips - really creamy and good... the "best" I've ever had - no, but really good!!

The Good Life has some great food and a nice atmosphere - a huge collection of beer (both on tap and bottles - and things I've never heard of!)... all sorts of cocktails and wine - and most of all (for me) on Friday - awesome company!  Super busy on the weekends - so get their early, friends...and try it out!

Now - on to Sunday - our Thai try out for Julia...and a Thai blog for both of us - here is my version... :)

We went to the The Lemon Leaf Grill in Hicksville to sample some wonderful Thai and Thai-Asian food.  Below - the Spring Rolls...They have in regular (2) or Mini (8) that is filled with fresh, crispy vegetables, a lovely crispy wrapper and a sweet chili sauce (not spicy at all).  I did find the spring rolls quite delicious but just a tad greasy ... I know, that can't be 100% helped in a fried food!

Dave ordered the fried Calamari that had a spicy chili sauce with it... I loved it because there weren't any tentacles!  But the dish was lightly and crispy - the calamari melted in your mouth, so it was cooked perfectly.  The slightly spicy sauce was a perfect compliment to this dish - better than the usual marinara that you get! (though, I could have used a bit more kick!)

Julia ordered a soup for her appetizer... in her words "called Tom Kha Gai. It's supposed to be spicy, but really wasn't. There was two or three mushrooms, and chicken every few bites. It was super delicious-I could've had it for my dinner!"  I do only comments on this soup was - YUM!  There is the slightly coconut milk flavor added to the veggies and chicken, which was super tender.  I also agree - it wasn't as spicy as I would have liked, but delicious none the less!

 Julia ordered the Thai Iced Tea....Not really sure why its called tea as it doesn't taste like tea at all... hints of maybe papaya or mango...definitely coconut - but I wish I took a picture of Julia's face when she first tasted it (picture a baby tasting Lemon for the first time...) that's what she, Mom and I both looked like as we tasted it.  This orangy-yellow, viscus and thick beverage... Ew.  Get a Beer ... or the Water. Stay away from this stuff.

Elena and I opted to share entrees... The Grilled Jumbo Prawns with Chili sauce and the Pad Thai with Chicken. Dave and Julia also ordered the Pad Thai but with shrimp. 

I have to say - I was a touch put off as the Jumbo Prawns had their heads on - and I never like to eat food that is looking back at me.  I know I'm not the only one!  But Dave de-headed and de-shelled the shrimp and I had a taste - and honestly...the most wonderfully gently smokey tasting shrimp!  The sweet shrimp didn't get lost in the smokey flavor, it was perfectly cooked and tender - the spicy chili sauce was great, but I really felt the shrimp held its own with out any sauce! I'd order it again (and ask for the heads to be left behind!).

Your Welcome...I'm not making you look at their eyes!
The Pad Thai was lovely - gently cooked and tender noodles with moist and flavorful chicken - the ground peanuts add a great texture and of course, add lime for that just needed hit of acid.  In my opinion, you can't go wrong with Pad Thai ... my only 'complaint'... it said spicy and to me - it was very mild.  Regardless - I'd order it again in a heartbeat ... Yes, that good!

Mom ordered the Royal Feast - a non spicy dish filled with fresh stir fried vegetables, shrimp, chicken and beef - all served in a crispy noodle bowl (same as the Pad Thai noodle, except fried) in a light sauce.  It was all very tender, perfectly cooked, not spicy but super flavorful.  Really - after the appetizers, it was a meal that could be split between two!

Our last little addition was dessert - which was very lack luster, in my opinion.  Fried Banana's is pretty common in Asian food - and while these were wrapped in spring roll wrappers and fried - the banana tasted much like a plantain to me - not sweet at all, which is why it was drowning in warm maple syrup and had whip cream on it.  I've been to other places where the Fried Banana was light, delicate and delicious...this one - leave more of your dinner and you'll be happy!

So - my ratings:
Food: a very hearty B

Price:  very reasonable, appetizers (soups etc) are not higher than 7.95 and entrees are between 9.00 and 21.00 

Service: B ... We were served promptly and efficiently.  I can't really ask for more than that - but the servers did not go above and beyond as I have seen in other Thai places.  Nothing to complain about...but nothing to rave about either.

Would I go back?  Yes - but I'd also like to try some other Thai restaurants on LI first!

And to close this "all-over-the-place-confusing-blog"... I want to share with you a bit of a different fish dish that I created tonight...Dave (of course) was in the mood for steak, so he had himself some yummy rib eye...and I made some great roasted fingerling potatoes that I'll post the recipe at the bottom.... but my fish - Oh Yum!  Even Dave said he'd have that for dinner one night!!  Chilean Sea Bass!!

Let me tell you what you need to have on hand and how to cook this dish...

1/2 lb of Chilean Sea Bass
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 1/2 cups of a dry white wine (and perhaps 1/2 a cup more)
the zest of 1 lemon, and then zest from 1/2 a lemon (keep them separate)
the juice of 1 lemon
1/4 of a cup of red onions
3 tablespoons of drained capers
2 tablespoons of butter

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees and heat the olive oil in an oven safe pan on Medium-High - you want the olive oil to get hot enough to lightly start to smoke. 

Meanwhile, pat dry the bass and season both sides with salt and pepper.  On one side, sprinkle the zest from the 1/2 a lemon. 

When the oil is hot - place the fish in the pan (lemon seasoned side down).  You want to get a good, crusty sear on the fish - don't touch it!  Let go for about 8 - 10 minutes then check it...if it's nicely browned, flip it over. 

Put into the pan the 1 1/2 cups of white wine to deglaze the pan (oh, look - I just got all chef-y worded on ya!) and then add the rest of the lemon zest, red onions, capers and lemon juice...mix in around the fish - top the fish with the 2 tablespoons of butter and then put the pan into a 400 degree oven. 

You will cook the fish for about 20 minutes and then check for an internal temperature of 160 degrees.  You probably won't be there yet - and if not...add the 1/2 cup more of wine and let cook for another 10-15 minutes (start checking at 10...but it'll be closer to 15).

Take out of the oven, cover with foil and let sit for 5 minutes...then serve!

This was so delicious that Dave ended up eating some - and loving it.  My only addition next time I make it will be to add artichoke hearts, as that was the original intent (but didn't have them in house!). 

As I said above, I served it with roasted fingerling potatoes - so simple to make... I sliced the potatoes into even wedges, covered in olive oil, salt, pepper, 3 cloves of minced garlic and about 1 tablespoon each of minced rosemary and thyme - they baked in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes!  Simple!

I hope you take some time out of your culinary world to try some of these restaurants and dishes...  Just wait til next week - I'm experimenting with some tex-mex things for a Meet Up I'm going to on Saturday...I'll post my successes (and failures, if I have them!).

Until Next Time...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

I’m a blog Slacker…

I'm a blog Slacker...Yes, I'm a blog Slacker...
(In the radio in my head, I’m singing this to myself to the tune of the “wheel watcher” commercial… Yes I am that odd!)

Friends, I’m so sorry I’ve been slacking on my blog these past weeks.  The holidays were nuts, then as the New Year rang in, so did the flu and bronchitis (lucky me!) so I haven’t been feeling like my self for a few weeks.  I’m finally starting to feel well and up to going out to eat, and cooking!  Woo Hoo!

So my lame, sick excuses aside… Hello Blog World – and Happy New Year!  I am hoping for lots of happy times, great food, wonderful friends and healthy days for 2013!

When I last left you…I had grand plans for cooking.  Well, the only real cooking I did was for the Dulik mini reunion on Dec 22…and honestly – Dave did most of the cooking!  We (he) made braised short rib and meatballs (I made the meatballs) tomato sauce that was so delicious!!  The sauce simmered for 4 hours and had such a rich, delicious flavor…I will post that recipe soon.  That night, all I had to do was cook the pasta and it was my first time cooking 5 pounds of pasta!  But with 18 people eating … it’s exactly what we needed (with enough for leftovers).  The rest of the family provided pre dinner munchies, salad and garlic bread, dessert and wine…sorry to say my youngest sister and brother couldn’t be there…and while they were missed – we had a fantastic time.  That dinner finally put me in the Christmas spirit…but how can it not with these lovely Kids...

and (not so) little Ladies!!

I did make it out to brunch in early January…Vero has opened for Sunday Brunch…friends – this is a must go!  You all know I love the food at Vero (and so did Newsday with their 3 ½ star review!) and one of my favorite meals (other than dinner, lunch, appetizers, dessert, elevensies, afternoon tea…you get my drift) is Brunch. Check out their menu at  We had pancakes with bananas foster compote, the frittata, an omelet with caramelized red onions, goat cheese and spinach, the Lobster BLT, and an amazing salad.  We left completely stuffed and excited to go back!

Ok kids, I’m keeping it simple, my first post back and all… ;) – but keep watch on the blog as I’m going out with friends tomorrow, but not sure what I’ll have to report on…but on Sunday – its Thai with Dave, my sister and niece and my Mom…I’ll have plenty to say about that!!
Until Next Time…