Saturday, April 28, 2012

Sweet Chili Fried Eggs & Avocado

The combination of eggs and avocado has been around for a while.  Who hasn't seen an avocado sneak onto a plate of huevos rancheros, looking at you with feigned innocence?  I came across a baked egg in avocado on Pinterest recently, and tried it.  Booooring!  It was definitely flat in the flavor department.  Something needed to cut the richness of the yolk and avocado.  But... what?  That's usually the function of the salsa.  I was on a mission!  (Not really.. I was just hungry).  

I thought of ways to give that combo some zing.  Lime?  Vinegar?  Frankly, the thought of citrusy fried eggs did nothing for me.  But... add a squeeze of lime to some avocado?  It's magic.  It makes your taste buds wake up and say "hello!"  Squeezing lime over things always makes me want pad Thai.  I know, I know... a lot of people think about an icy cold beer... but not me.  So, "eggs and avocado do Thailand" was in full production.  I'm happy to say that it was absolutely delish.  Sweet, sour, creamy, spicy... made my taste buds supremely happy.

Sweet Chili Fried Eggs & Avocado
(serves 1 rather hungry person)

1 avocado, pitted, sliced, and scooped out of its skin
1 wedge lime
2 large eggs
1 tsp. neutral-flavored oil, such as canola or grape seed
1/2 tsp Thai fish sauce
3 Tbsp sweet chili sauce
pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup cooked white sticky rice (leftovers are fine, just reheat them with a teaspoon of water)

Place the avocado slices on a serving plate.  Squeeze the lime over the avocado.  Add the hot rice to the plate.  Set aside.
In a hot nonstick skillet coated with the oil, fry the eggs to desired doneness (I like mine over-medium).  Once eggs are done, add the fish sauce to the pan and swirl the eggs, coating  them with the sauce.  Remove eggs from the pan, and set on top of the rice.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Top with sweet chili sauce.  Enjoy!

Don't blame me if you want to eat this every day.  It's that good.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Duxelles-Stuffed Artichokes

Despite the laboriousness in preparation, I love artichokes.  There is a certain finesse involved in peeling each petal off, dipping it in melted butter or a spicy vinaigrette, and scraping it gently with your teeth.  I cheat the clock by steaming these in the microwave.  The duxelles--a minced, sauteed mushroom concoction is usually found tucked around a tenderloin of Beef Wellington, offer the artichoke an earthy, substantive quality.  This duxelles recipe makes more than you'll need for two large artichokes, and I highly recommend either mixing the leftovers with unsalted butter, rolling it into length of waxed paper, and putting it in the freezer.  The next time you have a perfectly grilled steak, cut a slice and melt it on top.  If you're not willing to wait that long (I don't blame you one bit), slather it on a bagel in the morning.  It's amazing stuff.

If you're new to artichokes, there are a few things you should know about this flower.  When buying artichokes, carefully lift the petals from the sides, looking inside for any bugs or bug... residue.  There's nothing worse than getting a nasty artichoke.  They should look clean, like this:

The petals have a sharp spiny bit at the very tip, just in the middle.  You're going to want to be careful handling these.  As you trim the tips from the petals, gently lift each petal by the side edge to avoid being jabbed by the thorn.  They're nasty little buggers, and the bigger the artichoke, the bigger the thorns are.

Timewise, you're going to want to prep the artichokes after you make the duxelles.  You don't need anything fancy to make these, but a mini food processor will speed things up considerably.  


1- 8 ounce package sliced white mushrooms, minced very fine
1/3 cup very finely minced sweet onion
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
2 Tbsp. red or white wine
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs (if you use the prepackaged stuff , reduce this to 1/4 cup)

Over medium-high heat, melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saute pan.  Add onion and saute until translucent.  Add the mushrooms, salt, pepper, and thyme, stirring to combine.  The mushrooms will release a liquid after a minute or two:

Stir in the wine, and continue to stir frequently until the mixture is dry and caramelized.  Remove about a quarter of the mushroom mixture from the pan and reserve for another use.  Add the breadcrumbs to the pan and cook for another 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.

After the breadcrumbs have been added.  See the difference?

Prepping the Artichokes:

You'll need:
2 large artichokes
1 lemon (optional)
1/2 cup water
microwave-safe shallow glass dish (ie. pie plate or casserole dish)
microwave-safe cling film, or a microwave-safe bowl that will fit over the plate you are using
Duxelles recipe, above

The first thing you're going to want to do is wash these.  Sometimes they're coated with a waxy coating that you'll need a soft scrub brush to take off (I use an extra-soft toothbrush).  You also may like to have a lemon handy to keep the cut parts from browning, but it isn't absolutely necessary.  If you don't have one, no worries.

Be mindful of the thorns, take the artichoke from the stem, turn it upside down, and brush downward under running water.  We'll save rinsing the inside until after the petals have been trimmed.  

Once rinsed, pull the tiny petals at the very bottom off.  My mom pulls the entire bottom row of petals off after this step, but I don't find it necessary unless they're in bad condition.  Beginning on the bottom row of petals, take a pair of kitchen shears (or scissors), and snip the top third of the petal off.  Continue doing so until you are in the center of the artichoke and you just cannot pull any more petals apart.

Once trimmed, rinse the artichoke under running water, right side up.  Gently separate the petals so the water can rinse any trapped dirt.  Shake them over the sink to dry.  

Slice the stem off of the artichoke, as straightly as possible, so they can stand up in the plate without leaning over.  Place one of the two artichokes in a microwave-safe, shallow glass plate (I use a Pyrex pie plate).  

Using your fingers, gently pry a petal open, and stuff the opening with a pinch of duxelles.  Continue until all of the cut petals have been stuffed (except for the tightly-packed petals in the very middle; don't worry about those).  Repeat with the second artichoke.  If you have duxelles/breadcrumb mixture left over at this point, continue stuffing the petals until you don't have any more stuffing.  Place both artichokes in the dish, and pour   the water into the dish (NOT over the artichokes).  

Cover the dish with the cling film.  If you're using the bowl, put the dish into the microwave and then cover with the bowl.  Microwave on high power for 9 minutes in a 1000-watt microwave.  Let stand in the microwave for 5 minutes.  Wearing oven mitts, remove the plate from the microwave.  Keep the mitts on as you slice the cling film (which, by this time, looks vacuum-sealed).  Be careful: the hot steam trapped in the bowl can cause a nasty burn.  Using tongs, lift the artichokes to serving plates.  Serve these with melted butter on the side, if you wish.  

If this is your first artichoke-eating experience, you'll want to peel the petals from the bottom, one at a time as you eat them.  The only edible portion of the artichoke is the tender bit at the bottom of the petal, where the petal was attached to the stem: 

You don't want to bite into the petal, as the outer part tends to be tough.  Put the bottom half of the petal in your mouth, and pull it out slowly; gently scraping the petal (and the duxelles) between your teeth.  The edible bit just comes right off of the petal.  The petals will have a larger edible bit as you approach the center.  As you get to the VERY middle, you're going to approach the fuzzy, inedible "choke".  Don't spazz and throw it away!  It is super easy to scrape the choke from the "heart" of the artichoke with a spoon.  Each little hair of the choke is attached to to the heart.  Just slide the edge of a spoon in there and scrape all of those fuzzies off.  You should now have the heart of the artichoke.  Dip it in butter... or of you're a gluttonous heathen, go get the remaining duxelles and pack it into the heart (it's okay, I won't tell).  

The "choke" attached to the artichoke heart

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fiery Cucumber Sandwiches

I don't know about you, but when it is hot out, I can't eat anything heavy.  Living in Florida, this leaves me craving food that fills you up, but doesn't make you feel like you have a lead balloon in your stomach.  If you like spicy food that makes your tongue tingle, give this a shot.  It is crispy, sweet, hot, and definitely addictive.

The bread you use for this is rather important.  You want to avoid a harder, chewy crusted bread, because when you bite into it, the cucumbers will slip out the other end.  A bread that is too soft can't support the moisture that the cucumbers produce, and will fall apart in a gummy mess.  Aim for bread rolls that are substantial, with a dense, drier crumb.  My supermarket bakery calls these Water Rolls, and they are somewhat like an Italian bread with a soft, chewy crust due to the egg wash that is applied.

Fiery Cucumber Sandwiches  (makes 2 small sandwiches)

1/3 English cucumber, peeled and sliced thinly (this is not an exact science)
thinly sliced onion, about a tablespoon per sandwich
2 tsp mayonnaise (real mayonnaise!), divided
2 tsp Thai sweet chili sauce, divided
1/2 tsp sriracha sauce, divided*
2 small rolls (hamburger roll sized)

Slice the rolls horizontally.  Spread the bottom of each roll with 1 tsp mayonnaise, and squirt about 1/4 tsp of sriracha sauce directly on the mayonnaise.  Spread evenly on top of the mayonnaise.  Spread half of the sweet chili sauce on the other half of the roll.  Divide cucumber slices and onion slices between the sandwiches.  Place the top of the roll on each sandwich, grab a napkin, and go to town.