Post #486 Three Miscellaneous Thoughts

July 1, 2016 at 8:30 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #486 Three Miscellaneous Thoughts

These are the thoughts:

Watermelon Salad

Cheese Salad

Flour Tortillas

Someone on a food group I’m a member of on FB (Food Interactive – Hi guys!) recently asked if there were any fans of salad in the group.  I think I’ve shown I am by the posts in this blog.  Salads are incredibly easy and variable.  You can make a salad out of nearly anything at hand so it’s a majorly seasonal kind of dish.  The first salad “recipe” I ever read was in a horror novel.  I still remember the character saying “I take every fresh vegetable I can buy and chop it into a bowl, plus hard boiled eggs.”  I tend to follow that pattern although I’m a little more cognizant of flavor combinations now.  Once, while in Tucson, I set down a bowl of salad and said, “If you taste lemon it’s because I added fresh lemon balm herbs to the salad.”  One of the people said, “Now that’s the mark of a real chef as opposed to just a cook.”  I just rolled my eyes at him.

There are a couple of salad ideas I’ve had in my head for some time and I’ve posted about one of them a couple of times.  The other is, I think, a totally new and unique idea, but I’ll leave that to you guys to tell me if you’ve ever heard of it before.

I like watermelon.

watermelon 1

Chilled and fresh, it’s likely the best thing on the planet.  My dad used to sprinkle a tiny bit of salt on it before eating to add a counterpoint flavor.  I once accidentally spilled lemon juice on it and loved the competing flavors.  I’ve written about watermelon salad before, but I’ve had an idea bumping around in my brain (there’s a lot of room for things to bump around in up there) and I think I finally see a way to make it.

Watermelon is juicy.  No matter what you do to it, besides drying it out in an oven, it always remains juicy.  Hence, its name.  As I wrote in an earlier post, you can sprinkle salt on it and put it in a colander to remove some of the juices, but a lot still remains.  So I decided to make a salad wherein the escaping juices get incorporated into the dressing.  But I also wanted some crunch to complement the melon, and some tart to counterpoint the sweet.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • 2 cups watermelon cut into half inch cubes (I kept the seeds in cuz I like them)
  • 1 cup English cucumber cut into quarter inch cubes
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper seeded and cleaned, then chopped roughly (omit if you don’t like spicy)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese cubes cut about the size of a pistachio nut
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup shelled and broken pistachio nuts
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2-3 tablespoons high quality extra virgin olive oil

Mix it all together and chill it for an hour.  Serve with grilled flesh of some animal and it’s perfect!  You can add mint or basil leaves just before serving.

As with any salad, you can take any combination of fruit and veggies and create something unique and tasty.  I was in college when I was introduced to putting cheese in salad.  This was back in the 80s, and it was Arizona, not a cultural hub by any means.  So the cheese that was added was always cheddar or parmesan.  Maybe other cheeses existed, but none went into a salad.  But I learned to love the flavor combination of cheese mixed with oil and vinegar.  As time went on and I experimented with different cheeses for various dishes and meals, an idea started percolating in the back of my brain.  Remember, lots of room there.

Cheese and fruit is often used to end a meal in place of a sweet dessert.  I’ve often made a light meal out of cheese and fruit and crackers.  Another dish that often comes at the end of the meal (rather than the beginning as is customary here in America) is the salad.  It’s supposed to be a palate cleanser and a way to end the meal on a light note.  A few years ago, I wondered if it would be possible to create a salad with just cheese and a dressing.

I prefer the sharper cheeses to the milder ones, although I do like the milder flavored cheeses.  To make a salad that I’d like, it would have to be a combination of those, but the dressing would have to complement both of them.  And I like a crunch factor, whether it’s croutons (dried up old stale bread crumbs) or nuts or seeds.

So let’s get this clear up front, I haven’t done this yet.  But I’m going to, and soon.  I’m going to take half a dozen of my favorite cheeses and the first I’ll select will be a sharp Vermont cheddar.  I’ll have to choose carefully so the flavors won’t fight each other, and choose from what’s available.  At least two will be very mild cheeses, and probably one will be queso fresco, or a fresh farmer’s cheese.  All of them will be cut into smallish bite sized chunks perhaps a quarter inch on a side.  To start with, I’m only going to make a small bowlful.  It’s easy to overdose on cheese.  For visual appeal, I’m going to try to make all the cheeses of the white variety except the cheddar.  For my crunch, I’m going to use pistachio nuts.  I’ve used them in three- and four-ingredient salads before and they’re very good, lending their own particular flavor to the mix.  But the dressing, that’s going to be simplicity itself.  Since the cheese and nuts will have a high fat content, I’m going to use the smallest amount of oil possible, a bare teaspoon, possibly two.  Olive oil most likely, but I won’t turn up my nose at any inspiration or suggestions.  Then I’ll add a fruited balsamic vinegar, again very sparingly.  I once had a bottle of pear balsamic that was delicious but I haven’t been able to find it lately.  I currently have some raspberry balsamic, but it doesn’t have as fruity a flavor.  I may just add some pear juice to a bottle and see what I get.  And for the salad, I may reduce the vinegar a little so it’s syrupy and the flavor intensifies.  That’s it.  Like I said, I fell in love with the flavor of cheese and vinaigrette a long time ago, so it will be interesting to see how this turns out.

So the final idea I’m writing about is for a friend from one of my food groups (Hi Tristan!).  She wants a recipe for flour tortillas.  The best way to make flour tortillas is to go to a tortilla factory and buy them.  However, since there just aren’t that many of those in our part of the world, I promised I’d blog about them.  The only really hard part is rolling them out.

Homemade Flour Tortillas (makes 12)

  • 2 cups AP Flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 Tablespoon chilled lard (I use Crisco instead)
  • 3/4 cup ice cold water (I keep ice in the water until just before using then remove it)

Sift together all the dry ingredients.  Cut the lard into the flour until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Do NOT use the finger rub method as this will warm the lard up too much.  You can use a food processor, but do not over process.  A few short pulses should do the trick.  I use a pastry knife such as the one below.

pastry knife

Add the cold water (remember to remove the ice) and mix with a rubber spatula until dough comes together.  Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until dough is no longer sticky adding flour in small increments when necessary.  Separate dough into 12 equal pieces and roll into balls.  Let rest for five minutes under a damp cloth to avoid drying out.  Heat a flat iron skillet over medium heat while dough is resting.  Do not oil the skillet; it must be dry.

Using a floured skillet, roll one ball at a time (leaving the others under the cloth) into a circle of the desired size.  I tend to go for 12 inches across for a paper thin tortilla, but you can experiment with whatever thickness you like.  Brush off any excess flour and put into dry skillet.  When bubbles start to form, flip the tortilla and wait for bubbles to form again.  Remove to a cooling rack and start rolling out the next tortilla.  The previous tortilla will be cool enough to stack when the current tortilla is finished, but you can spread them out a bit to make sure they cool quickly.  Continue until all the tortillas are done.  Allow to cool completely (!) before storing in an air tight container.  I generally use a zip lock back, the gallon size so they can sit flat.

To use the tortillas, heat them until pliable by whichever method you prefer.  You can heat them in a microwave.  You can steam them.  You can heat them in the oven wrapped in foil.  You can heat them on the skillet again just the same as when you were cooking them.  My favorite method (when I’m cooking with gas) is to heat them over an open flame on each side for a few seconds.

Enjoy

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