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Fresh, light and flavorful…

 

 

My mind has been on fresh flavors lately, gearing up for spring in anticipation for the farmer’s markets to open with loads of fresh produce. I mainly go for the spring peas and ramps at this time, but getting out and enjoying the warmer sunshine is welcoming after a bleak winter.

 

 

The raw fennel and beet salad made several days ago was simple, but it was what we needed; a good boost of nutrition. No brisk walk later!

 

The Chioggia beets were not intentionally used in this salad, but somehow a few landed in the cart while picking the deep red variety. I didn’t even know they were there!  I love the look of these beets when shaved very thin and leaving them uncooked; vibrant and sweet with a bit of earthiness. So here they are, in this salad.

 

 

Another salad was made a few days later, for a light dinner. The wonderful Vietnamese type salads you can make are great for a more substantial meal where lettuce wouldn’t be enough. Of course J. sighs when I make a dish that will need to be photographed before we can eat. Luckily this was a quick recipe, a few quick snaps and it was time to eat. J. loves these kinds of meals; the flavors are fresh, garlicky and spicy.

 

The special ingredient is the sauce for this shrimp noodle salad. You take equal parts lime juice and sugar, and then season with fish sauce, garlic and chilies to your liking.

 

 

I think fresh energizing flavors is what we all need, and a little bit of warm sunshine to shake off the winter blues…don’t you think?

 

Coconut Shrimp Noodle Salad [Serves 2]

 

10 whole shrimp, peeled & de-veined

½ cup shredded coconut

1 egg white

Sea salt to taste

 

8 ounces rice noodles [cooked per package instructions]

 

1 large purple carrot, julienne

1 small cucumber, thinly sliced

2 large radishes, julienne

2 handfuls mixed greens -or- chopped romaine

¼ cup fresh mint leaves

¼ cup Thai basil leaves

 

¼ cup fresh lime juice

¼ cup cane sugar

2 Tablespoons fish sauce

½ garlic clove, minced

½ teaspoon crushed chilies

 

Mung bean -or- other kind of sprouts [optional]

 

Preheat oven to 350°F.

 

1. Coat shrimp with beaten egg white and coat with coconut.

2. Place shrimp on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper coated with coconut spray.

3. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until shrimp is opaque and coconut starts to color.

 

4. While shrimp is cooking, combine lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, garlic and chilies in a small bowl.

5. Fill bowls with lettuce then rice noodles.

6. Place shrimp and prepared vegetables over noodles and pour sauce over and enjoy.

 

*note: A traditional Vietnamese salad uses pickled carrots and radishes which you can do in a snap with some rice vinegar and a little sugar to balance. Drain the vegetables after 30 minutes of marinating and continue with recipe.

 

Beet & Fennel Salad Recipe [Serves 2-4]

 

1 large fennel bulb, shaved -or- julienne

2 medium golden beets, shaved into rounds

2 medium Chioggia beets, shaved into thin rounds

1/3 cup fresh peas

 

4 Tablespoons grape seed oil -or- olive oil

2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 Tablespoons fresh lime zest

3 Tablespoons fresh orange juice

2 ½ teaspoons cane sugar -or- honey

1 Tablespoons shallots, minced

¼ teaspoon sea salt

 

1. Toss fennel, beets, peas and some of the feathery fennel tops together in a bowl.

2. Whisk together everything except the oil and marinate for 10 minutes.

3. Just before serving, which oil into the juice in a little stream until emulsified.

4. Toss with vinaigrette and enjoy.

Years ago after moving into this home it seemed that the large stone terrace garden and other open spaces on the grounds were perfect for summer entertaining, sharing cocktails with friends and neighbors. One such year was a mojito inspired party, serving many guests, the night was a hit. I guess the chatter and excitement of the party with the unusually warm weather was the perfect combination to enjoy such a frosty and minty drink. 

As the years went by, more and more parties were held, each with their own theme and plan. I was noticing a pattern, how the party flowed and what was necessary to keep the party going. Considering the details and flow of guests is crucial to the success of such an event. You will know how much to prepare, best times to hold outdoor soirées and so on. 

Long before the party, planning was underway to determine the current year’s theme and featured drink. Guests were always welcome to bring something, but it is not necessary. One of the greatest joys for your guests is to offer them your hospitality.

To this day, with gratitude, the annual summer parties are a memorable experience for the many guests who have attended and look forward to another great evening. 

For now, the days are growing longer and temperatures are rising. Here is my classic mojito recipe and a watermelon version that has served my guest well, not to mention is an excellent thirst quencher after a long day of weeding in the garden, the perfect moment for a mojito, to refresh and relax. 

 

Classic Mojito Recipe 

2 ounces Flor de Caña silver rum

2 ounces fresh lime juice, strained

4 mint leaves

2 teaspoon sugar

2 ounces club soda 

In a 10-ounce tumbler, muddle the mint leaves with the sugar until the sugar turns light green and only flecks of mint remain. This step releases the essence of the mint that will flavor and perfume the drink. Pour in the fresh lime juice, and rum. One of my top favorite rums to use for this drink is Flor de Caña silver rum.

Add in the ice, yes, lots of ice. Fill the glass all the way to the top and finish with club soda. 

I find that beverages such as these are best made to order. Freshness is a great thing to savor. 

 

Watermelon Mojito Recipe 

2 ounces Flor de Caña silver rum

2 ounces fresh watermelon juice

1 ounce fresh lime juice, strained

4 mint leaves

1 ½ teaspoon sugar 

1 ounce club soda 

In a 10-ounce tumbler, muddle the mint leaves with the sugar until the sugar turns light green and only flecks of mint remain.  Pour in the watermelon juice, fresh lime juice, and rum.  Fill the glass all the way to the top with ice and finish with club soda.

*note: To make fresh watermelon juice, remove the rind of the watermelon and place flesh in a food processor, process until smooth. Strain through a medium size sieve and again through a fine mesh sieve. The color will depend on the variety of the fruit, so I suggest the small individual ones. They have deep red color and are sweeter in character. I shy away from using a blender as it is too hard for this purpose, much of the pulp becomes too fine and muddies the flavor. 

If you are planning an evening to entertain friends, give these recipes a try. Or, use the classic mojito recipe as a starting point to create your own unique mojito. Don’t stress the heat, have a mojito!

When conceptualizing recipes, I tend to draft up a large list of ideas that are possible creations. Mousse cakes are one such recipe with endless possibilities and certainly a mint chocolate chip is one of those have to make ideas.  If you see the photo and think mint chocolate chip ice cream, that’s exactly where I got the idea. Growing up this was and still is my favorite flavor, not to mention this minty green color is at the top of my favorite paint colors list.

Chocolate Cake

1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons granular sugar

6 Tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted

¾ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon sea salt

½ cup mini chocolate chips

¾ cup coffee

6 Tablespoons safflower oil

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

3 medium eggs

Preheat oven to 350°F

Prepare a 12”x8 ½” sheet pan by coating it with butter and lining with parchment.

Whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the oil, vanilla extract and eggs. Whisk until a smooth batter forms. Next, whisk in coffee.

For this recipe I chopped a block of chocolate for the chips needed, but mini chocolate chips will work just as well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, sprinkle with chocolate chips and bake for twenty minutes. After baking, allow cake to rest for a few minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack lined with parchment. Why parchment? This cake is very moist and will stick to just about anything it can and with a handful of chocolate chips in this cake, it will be hard to resist eating any broken cake pieces

As instructed in my Neapolitan mousse cake recipe, the size of this cake is a little smaller. A cake board frame measuring twelve inches by four inches was constructed. The left over cake can be used to make trifles or saved for another mousse cake recipe later on.

 

Mint Chocolate Chip Mousse

4 cups cream

¾ cup granular sugar

2 teaspoons peppermint extract

¼ teaspoon green food color paste

1/3 cup cold water

1 Tablespoon gelatin

½ cup hand chopped chocolate [these are the chips]

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cool water and allow to bloom. Meanwhile, in a bowl combine the cream, sugar, colorant and mint extract. Beat just before soft peaks form. The consistency will still have soft peaks but they droop a little more. You want to stop at this point because the folding in of the gelatin will work the cream further. Heat the gelatin over simmering water. Remove from heat and warm the remaining cream. The cream should be slightly warmer than room temperature. Combine the gelatin and warmed cream. Pour this mixture over the whipped cream and fold in. Fold in the chocolate chips and fill the mold. Chill for several hours to set the mousse.

“To make chocolate chips for the mousse, simply fine chop any quality semi-sweet chocolate.”

Peppermint Spread

1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted

1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

2 teaspoons peppermint extract

To make this high intensity flavor layer for the mousse cake, whip together all ingredients in a bowl and frost the top of the chilled mousse cake.

Chocolate Glaze

2 tablespoons cream

2 tablespoons granular sugar

½ Tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon honey

2 Tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt cream, sugar, butter and honey in a saucepan on low heat just until combined. Whisk in cocoa powder and vanilla. Once cool, spread chocolate glaze over the peppermint spread and chill for the last time.

If you plan on serving this the next day or so leave the cake board frame on so the mousse does not dry out. When the moment arrives, use a long knife and slide it down along the cake board in one direction. This will keep the layers more intact. Mousse cakes are best carved when they are cold.

This recipe serves ten if cut into slices and less for square cutouts.

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