Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mango Musings: From Selection to Salsa

My local grocery store has tons of mangos on sale and I also received an enormous, ripe beauty in my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box this week - so it must be Mango season!
I just love a succulent, juicy mango whether it's sliced "hedgehog-style" with lime juice and a touch of chili powder or diced in a fruit salad with strawberry. I recently had the most delightful martini of mango sorbet and vodka and highly recommend that combination as well.

My grocer has been stocking two types of mangos lately. The Common Mango and the pale yellow, sugary-sweet Champagne Mango. I prefer the Common Mango and its fleshy, peach-like, texture. It's sweet, without setting my teeth on edge.

If you're stumped as how to select a ripe mango, here are a few tips. Try sniffing the stem end for a fragrant fruity odor, or squeeze very gently, if its ripe the flesh with be firm yet yielding feel under your fingers. If you've purchased a under ripe mango have no fear, placing the fruit in a paper bag on your counter overnight usually does the trick.

Mango peel is considered inedible so you should remove it. You can either peel it like a banana or, use a knife to slice around the large central seed, as you would an avocado. Twist the fruit gently to divide it into two halves, and remove the seed. Sometimes the seed lifts right out but if it doesn't, you can coax it out with your knife. At this point, you can spoon the fruit directly into your mouth or - if you feel like sharing - slice or cube it.

Grilled Chicken with Mango Salsa

For years I've been making a mango salsa that is absolutely to die for (if I do say so). It has splashy colors, bright citrus notes, and just a hint of heat to balance the sweetness of the mango. It's perfect for simple grilled chicken or fish. I wanted to share it with you just in time to kick off grilling season.

Mango Salsa
Serves 4
1 medium mango, peeled and diced
1/2 medium red bell pepper, diced
2 tbsp red onion, minced
1/2 to 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
3 tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
salt to taste

Combine ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Toss to mix. Season with salt to taste.
Serve on grilled chicken, pork, or shrimp.
Don't you just love food that's pretty and easy to make? Me too!

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

In Praise of the Percolator

Alright, I live in Seattle - admittedly the most coffee-obsessed city in America, possibly the world - so perhaps I've become a little coffee-conscious since I moved here. Coffee isn't just coffee to me anymore. That's good. I am not complaining. I've become refined in my tastes.

I've tried all the trendy and classic coffee drinks from frappu-whats-its to espresso. I've mastered coffee-house lingo. I've spent way too much money on expensive coffee beans. I've got a French press, and a drip coffee maker. I've tinkered with my daily java, adding chunks of cinnamon and a splash of vanilla. I like cream more than sugar. I prefer a dark-roasted (not burnt) full-bodied coffee with hints of sweetness and cocoa, that's not too acidic. Seriously, I never thought this much about coffee before and by Seattle standards I am an amateur. But I thought I had it pretty well figured out...until a recently trip to Arizona to visit my parents.

Let me give you a little back story. My dad has been a coffee drinker all his life. He took it black, probably harkening back to his days in the army. I remember the agonizing, lingering over coffee at restaurants. (Agonizing for a child, so we're talkin' 10 or 15 minutes here.) My dad would order coffee and my brother and I would groan because we were done eating and wanted to go. We'd even take turns gulping swigs of bitter blackness from his cup just to speed the process.

Although he was a diner-coffee drinker, my dad always seemed to be on a quest for "a good cup of coffee." He'd try different blends and ask what restaurants were serving. He'd complain about weak coffee, grouse about bitterness. Out of exasperation, he even turned to tea for a while.

When he recently told me that he'd figured out the key to the "good cup of coffee" I was naturally intrigued. So here it is. Are you ready for it? A percolator. Doesn't that conjure up visions of 1950's housewives? Let's just say I was skeptical - until my last visit.  

He pulled out the percolator on my first morning at home, brewed up a pot, and I was sold! The coffee was full-bodied, with a satisfying mouth-feel. Really, I mean it. It didn't taste like coffee-flavored water. It was richer, more rounded. I just couldn't get over it. (Don't you just hate when your dad it right?)

I just don't understand why drip coffee makers have become the norm? Maybe it's the perception that drip coffee makers take less time? That may have been the case 30 years ago, but modern percolators brew coffee as quickly as drip machines - approximately, one cup per minute. Plus, a percolator uses half the coffee grounds to make the same amount of coffee that a drip maker does. And, the percolator is greener because it doesn't use filters.

Quick, economical, environmentally-friendly, and really good coffee. What's not to love?! So, I've traded in my expensive drip machine for a quirky looking, relic of a by-gone era. Join me at my next coffee klatch, won't you?

How do you take your coffee? Have you figured out the perfect blend? Do you love your coffee maker? Tell me your story!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Shrimp Veracruz = A 'Vera' Delicious Cinco de Mayo

I’ve just returned from a visit to Arizona so my taster is up for Mexican food. With Cinco de Mayo just around the corner, I thought it would be a perfect time to share one of my favorite Mexican dishes – Shrimp Veracruz.

Veracruz, located on the gulf coast, is one of Mexico’s oldest and largest port cities. Hernán Cortés established it as the first Spanish colony nearly five hundred years ago. Known for abundant seafood and a rich culinary history, Veracruz is a melting pot with influences from Spain to the Caribbean.

Huachinango a la Veracruzana (Snapper Veracruz), a signature dish of the area, demonstrates these influences with its blend of local fruits and vegetables (tomatoes, chili peppers) and Spanish ingredients (olive oil, garlic and olives). I’ve substituted shrimp for the traditional red snapper, but this sauce is so vibrant that you could serve it with chicken or without the shrimp as a vegetarian dish.

Shrimp Veracruz is a gorgeous dish filled with color and texture, and you want to know the best part? You can make in no time at all! The whole thing takes about 20 minutes. So, ask a friend to have a margarita ready for you because you’ll be ready to celebrate Pronto! Happy Cinco de Mayo.

Camarones a la Veracruzana (Shrimp Veracruz)

2 tbsp olive oil 
1 large green bell pepper, cut into thin strips 
1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips 
1 medium white onion, cut in half and sliced (about 1 ½ cups)
1 clove garlic, crushed 
2 (14.5-oz) cans stewed tomatoes
1/4 cup sliced pimento-stuffed olives 
1/4 green jalapeño pepper sauce or green taco sauce 
1/2 tsp Mexican Oregano
2 tbsp lime juice 
1/2 tsp salt 
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup chopped cilantro 
3 cups cooked white rice 
cilantro sprigs for garnish 

Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat; add bell peppers and onion and cook until tender-crisp, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook 2 minutes.

Add tomatoes with their liquid, olives, green sauce, lime juice, salt and bring to a boil. Add shrimp, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 3 to 5 minutes, until shrimp is pink, stirring occasionally.

Stir in chopped cilantro. Serve with rice and garnish with cilantro sprigs.