Thursday, June 30, 2011

Salsa Savvy

If I had to live off one thing for the rest of my life, it would probably be chips and salsa. And by probably, I mean definitely. I have literally eaten half my body weight in chips and salsa in one sitting (okay, maybe not literally). Almost every weekend, I make a pyrex bowl full of salsa, and every week, it's gone in an embarrassingly short amount of time. It's kind of a problem. Whenever there's a party, and I've disappeared, look for the salsa bowl. With that said, I think you could probably say that about anybody. People love chips and salsa. Who hasn't sat down for some Tex-Mex, only to find that when your meal has finally arrived, you have gorged so bad on chips and salsa that you couldn't possibly fit anymore into your fiery belly. So, what better for the 4th? Plop down some super-fresh salsa, and watch your friends turn into salsa-induced maniacs. It may not be pretty as they dip, dive, and attack with animalistic ferocity, but I promise, they'll thank you later (after some pepto).

As promised, I will share the Fiedler Family salsa recipe, as well as some other salsa-esque recipes. These are recipes I made a while ago, but wanted to share with you now so you can plan accordingly for the 4th (or whenever some salsa would suit your fancy)!

Fiedler Family Salsa

* 5 large tomatoes (vine-ripened are my favorite)
* 1 yellow onion
* 4-6 garlic cloves (depends how big, and how much you love garlic)
* 1-2 serrano chiles (depends on how well you can take the heat!)
* 1-2 jalapenos
* 1-2 anaheim peppers
* 1 teaspoon sugar
* 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
* A handful or two of cilantro, chopped
* Salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste (my taste: at least 1 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper)

* Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
* Halve the tomatoes and onion (may want to quarter the onion if it's really big)
* Place the tomatoes, onions, peppers, and garlic on a baking sheet.
* Roast in the oven until the onions are translucent and peppers are slightly charred (45 minutes-1 hour).

* Let cool a bit, then run your roasted ingredients with the other ingredients through a food processor (food processor is preferred, but a blender will work too).
* This is about how much the recipe makes:* If you want more or less, half or double the recipe. I change it up a lot depending on how many people I'm serving. Also, make sure you have enough to save for yourself!


This may seem strange in the summer, but I think that a pureed type of salsa is best warm. If you've had it in the fridge, I would suggest putting it in a little bowl and nuking it. It's still good cold, but just a thought.

*The Waiting Game
This salsa will get better the more time it has to sit and develop. So, if you have the time, I always like to give it about 12 hours or a day for all of the flavors to marry. Also, just a warning, salsa tends to get a little hotter as this process occurs!

* Calling All Sissies
I do a range with the amount of peppers, so you can adjust depending how hot or not-so-hot you like it. If you really can't take the heat, just FYI: most of the heat in a pepper lives in the ribs and seeds. So once you roast, take this stuff out if you like a really mild salsa. Also, one trick my Dad taught me-- use latex gloves when handling peppers! Hopefully you have not had the misfortune of chopping up a pepper (sans gloves) and then washing your face, touching your eye, or the sort, but it is PAINFUL. Even if you wash your hands after, it usually does not help. If you really like peppers, do yourself a favor and buy a cheap box of latex gloves to keep in one of your drawers!

* Why Roasting?
Roasting vegetables helps bring out their natural sweetness and intensifies their flavor. The veggies get slightly browned, carmelized, and crisp, and man-oh-man, do they taste good! One of my favorite ways to cook vegetables is to hit them up with some EVOO, salt, pepper, and roast (put in an oven around 375-425 degrees until the veggies are golden and delicious). It is cooking with ease and simplicity at its finest.

* Disclaimer
To make this a true Fiedler Family salsa, the peppers and such are usually smoked by my father. This gives it such a great flavor, however, I don't have a smoker, and if I did, this would probably be way too much work for me on a weekly basis. If you do have access to a smoker, go ahead and do this instead of roasting! It would also be really great if you grilled the vegetables. Again, it may be too much work to do on a normal basis, but if you already had the grill on (especially this 4th), throw your salsa veg on while you're at it!

Other Tried and True Recipes (to get your dip on):


* My spin: I use 1-2 jalapenos diced (instead of serrano chiles), another minced garlic clove, and no EVOO. You can also use white onion instead of red onion (which is a little more traditional), but the red onion makes this a favorite of mine.

Mango-Avocado Salsa

* Note: This is really delicious with some grilled fish. Yum!

Black Bean & Corn Salsa

* My spin: I add fresh squeezed lime juice and I sometimes will substitute tomato for the red bell pepper. Also, you really don't have to grill the corn, but it is recommended because it gives the salad a great depth of flavor!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Raspberry-Blueberry Muffins with Streusel Topping

* Quick baking note on ingredient temperatures (before I proceed with the recipe):

With baking, the little things really do count. I think this is one reason that people get turned off from it. If you aren't careful, the results will be disappointing, and then you wasted all that time for nothing. But I promise, if you carefully follow the recipe, you will be quite pleased with yourself! One of my goals for this blog is to give food advice that may not be found in other recipes (things learned from Mom, oops! moments of my own, and years as a Food Network junkie). So if you are a beginner, hopefully these tips should get you ahead of the curve!

Here's the first:
In my scone recipe, when it says cold butter, it means COLD butter. In my muffin recipe, when I say room temperature butter, I mean ROOM TEMPERATURE butter. The reason for this is to ensure that you accomplish the appropriate consistency of the baked good you are trying to create. In general, with things like muffins and cakes, the ingredients need to be room temperature. Even if the recipe doesn't call for it, let your eggs or any liquids come up to room temp. This will help give that perfect fluffy-cakey texture. For things like scones or pie crusts, when you want to accomplish a flaky texture, your ingredients should be cold, cold, cold. That's why recipes will often ask you to put the batter back in the fridge or make sure the ingredients you are adding are cold. Please do not forgo this step. What you are making might turn out okay if you don't, but if you are going to all the trouble, you might as well make it perfect.

** Okay, now on to the muffins!! 

Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze

The interns in my office have an instituted a pretty rockin' Friday Breakfast tradition (shout-out to the other divisions that served as inspiration). And for the inaugural day, I made scones and muffins (berry-inspired, of course). Now, just in case you haven't figured this out already, baking is a fail-proof way to win affection. With that said, I hope this recipe will guide you in your shameless attempts to bake-your-way into co-workers' hearts and bellies.

Scone Batter:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoon unsalted butter, cold, cut into chunks
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup fresh blueberries

Lemon Glaze:
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 cups confections sugar (powdered sugar), sifted
1/2 lemon, zest finely grated
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

* Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
* Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, sugar).
* Using a pastry blender (or two forks), cut in the butter to coat the pieces of flour (make sure the butter is already cut into very small pieces). When finished, the mixture should look crumbly.
* Make a well in the center and pour in the heavy cream (to make a well, just make a hole in the mixture large enough for the cream to fill without overflowing, with dough rising up the sides of the bowl).
* Then, you will gently fold the dough over the cream. Work the dough until the cream becomes incorporated (be careful not to overwork, just enough to incorporate).
* Gently fold the blueberries into the batter (try not to crush them because the blueberries will bleed - as you can see from my picture, a few of my blueberries were compromised - if yours are too, it's no big deal, it just looks better when the blueberries stay intact).
* Press the dough onto a lightly floured surface into a rectangle (for an idea of appropriate thickness see picture). From the rectangle, cut scones into triangles. I only made 8 scones, but I wished that I had made the rectangle thinner and cut smaller scones. You may want to try this, and it would probably yield 12 or so.

* Place scones on an ungreased cookie sheet and brush the tops with egg whites or heavy cream (either will give it that a nice shiny top, but I used heavy cream because it was already on hand).

* Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden-brown.

* Once the scones cool, prepare the lemon glaze (yes, you need to let the scones cool before putting on the glaze - trust).
* If you are a traditionalist, mix the lemon juice and sugar over a double boiler, and stir until sugar dissolves. Then add the lemon zest and butter, and whisk until smooth. Although, I have tried this same thing in the microwave (by quickly heating the juice and sugar, and then whisking in the zest and butter) and it has come out just fine. Whatever you feel comfortable with!
* Once the scones have cooled, drizzle the glaze over the top. Wait a few minutes for the glaze to set up, and enjoy!

Note: Recipe adapted from Tyler Florence (pretty much the same, just changed up glaze proportions and instructions).

Baking With Berries

It's summertime, and you know what that means?! No, not wedding season (okay yes, but more importantly),... it's berry season! Just so you know what you're in for, I LOVE BERRIES. Anytime I hear the word, my mouth starts to salivate and I have this instinctive desire to bake, bake, bake.

What you're likely to see coming up are a number of desserts that combine berries with accents of lemon. There's something about the sweetness of a berry that is perfectly complemented by the tangy/zesty zip of lemon, and this combination makes for the most perfect summery treat (and I can't get enough). Now that berries are ripe for the picking, my head has been swimming with berry-inspired dishes. I don't know about you, but I could really go for some homemade jam, pies, tarts, cheesecake (with berry topping of course), souffle, cobblers, crisps... yeah, I could keep going... Okay, and I know this isn't dessert, but there may be some sangria coming too...

So stock up (have you noticed yet that seasonal fruit is always on sale?!), and enjoy some berry goodness!

* Posts to follow:
Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze
Raspberry-Blueberry Muffins with Streusel Topping

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Food Philosophy

I have an intense love affair with food. This is a love that is a bit obsessive, and often misunderstood. I was once wrapped up in an explanation of some recipe I just tried, or some food I’d just eaten at one of Houston’s fabulous restaurants, and the person said, “It’s just food.” Seriously?

Food as Art

Cooking and baking is a time to create. Food is the most beautiful and interesting art form because it encompasses all of our senses. Experience rolling out a sticky, pliable pizza dough, dicing and slicing vibrant vegetables, smelling garlic as it hits a warm pan of olive oil, the sizzle and pop of searing meat on high heat, smoke that emanates from the grill in summertime… And the best part is, it doesn’t stop there. When you’re done creating, you get to eat it! All the while enjoying the colors and composition of the plate, savoring the textures and flavors as they interact on your palate, and clinking your glass with good company.

With food, you literally get to have your cake, and eat it too. Yes, the food will not be there once you’ve devoured it, but the memories you made making and enjoying the food will.

Food as Community

Food nourishes our bodies; great food nourishes our soul. A good meal brings us back to a specific time, place, and sensation. My oldest and fondest memories involve food, such as my dad dubbing himself the "Grill Master", or my grandmother's house that always smelled like her famous oatmeal cookies. Every day requires three meals, and every important event revolves around a special food tradition. If food is such a profound ritual in our lives, shouldn’t we enjoy it? Respect it? Pay particular attention to not only how it affects us, but the people we love?

Today, food has the potential to make so much more of an impact than just an enjoyable meal. We are at a crisis in this country with food--from obesity, to chemicals, hormones, and the horrendous treatment of animals we eat (the list could go on and on). But now, we all have the opportunity to change that. I look around Houston, and I see numerous farmers’ markets with lush food grown from our Texas soil. More and more restaurants are opening that are committed to local, organic produce, with many chefs using the food they grow themselves.

How I Can Help

Have you ever eaten a piece of fruit so fresh you think to yourself, “Now that’s what it’s supposed to taste like!” It’s so simple. That’s what this blog is about. It’s not about how to rush as-fast-as-you-can to get dinner on the table or gimmicks. It’s about making food an enjoyable part of your life. It’s about getting a cup of fresh-roasted coffee at a farmer’s market with a friend, enjoying nature’s bounty, seeking out beauty in your backyard and kitchen. It’s about recipes that you will enjoy making, eating, and sharing with the people you love. It’s about community, and what you can do daily to make a difference.

My attempt is to share with you recipes that make sense for the season. Some of them may be very simple, while others more complex. Hopefully you can find what you are looking for here, whether you are a cook, a baker, or you’re just getting started in the kitchen. The one thing I promise you is this: the food will be fresh, seasonal, and delicious.

* Stay tuned, here’s what’s coming:

Blueberry Scones

Blueberry-Raspberry Muffins

Fiedler Family Salsa

Eggplant Parmagiana with Homemade Marinara

And much more!