Monday, April 30, 2012

Taco Salad

Taco Salad

Lighter & Healthier for Cinco de Mayo 

OK, let’s just say upfront that the way many restaurants serve Taco Salad, it’s not a particularly light or healthy dish. Loaded up with meat, cheese, and sour cream — and not much lettuce — it’s a high calorie heart attack waiting to happen.

But at home you have choices. And although you might want to include some meat and other fattening goodies, if you make a great tasting Salsa or Picante Sauce the flavor focus of your salad, you’ve got a scrumptious entrée that’s healthier than a plateful of Tacos.

And making Taco Salad is even easier than building that plateful of Tacos!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Quick and Easy Tacos

Hard-Shell Taco

Perfect for Cinco de Mayo

Who doesn’t like a Taco? Especially the kind that has become a favorite in the US:  spicy ground beef, lettuce, and condiments fitted into a corn tortilla that’s been fried in a crispy U-shape.

You know, the classic hard-shell taco that you find at every Mexican fast-food joint and in the #3 combination plate at your local Tex-Mex restaurant.

Good as they are in restaurants, homemade tacos are far superior.  And they’re even better if you don’t use those overpriced packets of “taco seasoning” that you find in the Mexican aisle of your local supermarket.  Add your own spices for the best flavor.

They’re really simple to make.  And did I mention they’re extra tasty?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Salsa and Picante Sauce

Salsa and Picante Sauce

Classic with Tortilla Chips

Salsa and Picante are the most popular Mexican/Tex-Mex sauces in the US.  They share a flavor profile and contain largely identical ingredients.

Best of all, both are easy to make.  And the home-prepared versions have w-a-y better flavor than those jarred sauces sold at the supermarket. 

So with Cinco de Mayo just around the corner, how about mixing up some Salsa or Picante to accompany all the great Mexican food you’ll be eating?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Chef's Salad

Chef's Salad

Deconstructing, Reconstructing, and Reviving this Classic

Chef’s Salad used to be a popular main-course choice for people who wanted to “eat light.”  Particularly from the 1950s into the 70s, it was a go-to among “ladies who lunch.”  Then people realized how much fat and sodium were in the cheese and cold cuts that typically garnish it — and the salad promptly fell out of favor.

Too bad.  Yes, Chef’s Salad has a fairly high caloric count, but then it’s supposed to be a main course.  Really a meal in itself. 

It’s also exceptionally tasty and easy to make.  So why not toss one together now?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

White Bean and Potato Soup

White Bean and Potato Soup

With Ham Bone (or a Handy Substitute)

What to do with a leftover ham bone?  There’s nothing better than a hearty soup (bean, lentil, split pea, you get the idea). 

And with ham being a popular choice for Easter dinner, chances are that if you ever have a leftover ham bone, you have one right now.  (Even if you don’t happen to have ham bone in the house, smoked ham shanks or ham hocks make an admirable substitute — and they’re available at every supermarket, and fairly cheap.)

So put that ham bone to use, and make one more amazing soup before your thoughts turn to warm weather outdoor grilling.  How about White Bean and Potato Soup?

Friday, April 13, 2012

What To Drink on Income Tax Day?

Income Tax Cocktail in Cocktail Glass amidst tax forms

Why, The Income Tax Cocktail, Of Course! 

Tax day falls on Tuesday, April 17th this year. We get a couple extra days to file because the 15th is a Sunday and the 16th is Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts and Maine. (We’re catching a break, because the IRS doesn’t always grant the Patriot’s Day extension; Wikipedia has an explanation).

So why am I discussing this? Mainly as a shameless way of promoting one of my all-time most popular posts, The Income Tax Cocktail. This post was originally published about a year ago, at a time when readership of Kitchen Riffs was much less than it is today. I’m also pleased to announce that gojee is featuring the Income Tax Cocktail as one of their Gojee Drinks Top 3 this weekend.

So if you missed it last year, now’s a great time to learn about this classic cocktail. And if you read the post when it first appeared (or subsequently found it), now is the perfect time to revisit it. The Income Tax Cocktail is a great drink for celebrating — or consoling yourself  — when your taxes are finally finished.

I’ll be back to my regular programming with a new post this Sunday, about a way to use that leftover Easter ham bone.

Read about the Income Tax Cocktail here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Blue Cheese Dressing

Blue Cheese Dressing with Wedge Salad

With (or Without) Wedge Salad

Blue Cheese may be the tastiest salad dressing around.  It has a tangy, robust flavor that makes you want to eat it by the spoonful.  And it’s versatile!  You can use it on salad, of course, but also as a dip (think Buffalo Chicken Wings) or even as a sauce.

And it’s de rigueur on Wedge Salad.  That big ole hunk of iceberg lettuce crowned with creamy dressing was a standby of the “fine dining” scene in the 1950s and 60s.  It declined in popularity for a while, as Americans discovered that lettuce didn’t have to be iceberg. 

But lately Wedge Salad has been making a comeback.  I’m seeing it on restaurant menus more often, particularly at steak houses (where it might never have left). Example? Take a look at the dinner menu for Morton’s Steakhouse, where it appears as “Center Cut Iceberg” salad.

Many people continue to view iceberg lettuce as the ultimate in untrendy.  But almost everyone agrees that Blue Cheese Dressing is terrific, no matter what you put it on. 

Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing takes just a few minutes to make — and it tastes way better than the commercial kind you buy at the grocery store.  So let’s make some.  And as a bonus, I’ll throw in a recipe for Wedge Salad!  (I know, I know — you can barely contain your excitement.)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Red-Braised Beans and Sweet Potatoes

Red-Braised Beans and Sweet Potatoes

A Chinese, Vegan Take on Red Beans and Rice

Red-braising, also called red-cooking — or in Chinese, hong shoo — is common throughout much of China.  It’s long, slow cooking at low heat, and it’s a technique that’s typically used only with meat dishes. 

But vegetables taste great cooked this way too, as I discovered a few weeks ago when I made Red-Braised Beef with Sweet Potatoes. As I was rolling the memory of that meal around in my head, I started wondering how red-braised beans would taste. And that led me to imagine a Chinese version of red beans and rice. Red-braising has a richness of flavor similar to that found in Creole red beans and rice (a dish that typically features pork bones, usually ham).

Then I decided to combine the beans with sweet potatoes — and suddenly I was planning a vegan dish.  The flavors should all work together, I thought. 

Wow, did they ever.  The flavor is spectacular. 

Next time you have a hankering for a vegan main dish, do yourself a favor and make this.  You’ll owe me.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Negroni Cocktail

Negroni Cocktail

The Perfect Springtime Apéritif

Looking for a nice, perky drink to serve before your Easter dinner?  Something with a flavor that says zip, but without over-the-top alcoholic content?  And most of all, something that would be refreshing during the unseasonably warm (heck, hot) weather we’ve been experiencing in much of the US this spring?

Then I’d suggest a Negroni.
Never had one?  Or even heard of it?  Well, prepare your taste buds for a sunburst of refreshing flavor.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Gratin Dauphinois

Gratin Dauphinois

French for Fancy Scalloped Potatoes

OK, there’s a slight difference:  Scalloped Potatoes often are sliced more thickly, and the dish can be made without cheese.  Gratin Dauphinois always contains cheese — which helps make it rich and creamy.

But if you know how to make Scalloped Potatoes, you already know how to make Gratin Dauphinois.  And even if you don’t know how to make Scalloped Potatoes, no worries:  This is an easy dish.

When you bring your Scalloped Potatoes Gratin Dauphinois to the table and tell your guests what you’re serving, they’ll be impressed.  What a fancy dish!  French, too.  Who knew you were such an accomplished cook? 

But just wait until they taste it.  You’ll want to cover your ears, because their cheering will be that loud.