Sort-of Ajiaco Soup

By Michael Elmore

Ajiaco is a traditional Columbian soup (specifically, Bogota) that is hearty and filled with some pretty delicious flavors, from a rich, velvet broth to starchy potatoes, and chicken that has melted away. Making it here in the United States, however, proves difficult due to two ingredients that are pretty difficult to come by: a potato variety specific to Latin America of very think skinned, and very small yellow potatoes, and guascas, or potato weed, an earthy herb.

One of my closest friends is Columbian, and while she traveled there this year pre-pandemic, she sent me photos of this dish, and the mouth-watering sight put it on the list of new things to try. I confess, I forgot about my list until recently while watching a food documentary that happened to talk about it. Being in self-isolation from my move, what better time to reach for new flavors than the present?

This recipe is not ajiaco. Unable to find the necessary potatoes and the guascas, I did my best to replicate the flavors described to me by my friend while she attempts to hunt down those ingredients for me so that I can make a proper ajiaco. However, whatever this dish may or may not be, it is certainly delicious. While the recipe looks long, it is a fairly straight forward dish, but be sure to read the recipe first before planning on making it! Buen provecho!

Ingredients:

  • 5 green onion stems (white part with roots only – reserve the remainder for other dishes)
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ¼ of an onion, cut in half (reserve the remainder for other dishes)
  • ¼ of a bunch of cilantro
  • 3 chicken quarters
  • 3 cups chili stock (make this ahead of time – soak dried chilis of your choice in a big bowl of water, then blend the next day. You can skip this step if you like by replacing this with more stock).
  • 5 cups good quality chicken stock
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 6 small Yukon gold potatoes, cut into ¼ inch slices
  • 3 russet potatoes, divided (peel and grate 1 of the potatoes; peel and slice into ¼ inch rings for the other 2 potatoes)
  • 2 ears of corn on the cob, cleaned and sliced into 6 equal pieces
  • 1 tbsp Mexican oregano

Directions:

  1. In a cheesecloth (I did not have a cheesecloth, and if you don’t, that’s alright – use coffee filters like I did), place the first three ingredients and enclose, then tie tightly with butcher’s twine so nothing falls out.
  2. In a large pot, add the chicken, the cheesecloth, all 8 cups of the stock, the salt, and the pepper. The stock should submerge the chicken completely – if not, add more stock or water. Bring to boil slowly over medium high heat, then reduce to simmer and cover. Slow cook on low, checking on it frequently, for approximately 3 hours.
  3. Check on the chicken, it should be cooked at this point, and very tender. Using tongues, pull the chicken out and set aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle, pull apart into pieces (tip: save the bones to make some stock later).
  4. Add the potatoes to the pot, including the grated potato. Cook, covered, another 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are extremely soft and starting to fall apart. Using a stick blender, blend the mixture for 30-60 seconds until thickened. In the alternative, if you do not have a stick blender, take half the potato mixture out and put into a blender, then return it to the pan, or add a roux.
  5. Add the corn and the Mexican oregano. Cover and cook another 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  6. The soup is done. You can return the chicken to the pot or you can serve it in a more traditional style and plate the soup separately, then add the chicken and corn piece to each bowl. Serve immediately or serve later by reheating slowly!

Under Thai Sea: Thai Chili Scallops

By Michael Elmore

My fiance, Catie, loves scallops. If given the choice between some tender seared scallops and a rib eye, I think she would be hard pressed to choose. As a lawyer, she works pretty long days, and so I surprised her with dinner by combining her favorite flavors: tender, lush scallops with Thai flavors.

We had these as an appetizer with a steak dinner entree (hey, just cause I said she would choose one over the other, doesn’t mean I made her choose!), but the scallops were the real star. A balanced, controlled heat from the peppers, a lushness on the tongue from the butter, and a tangy acidity form the lime juice that brings all the flavors together made every bight scrumptious. So grab some seafood and enjoy this epic journey under the sea!

Ingredients:

  • 15 scallops
  • 1 Thai chili, minced (to lower heat, seed the chili; you can also use a jalapeno to drastically drop the heat level without sacrificing flavor).
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp fish sauce
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1.5 teaspoon ginger, minced
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom, ground
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Fresh mint, chopped

Directions:

  1. Put 2 tbsp vegetable oil into a large pan (just enough to coat) over medium high heat. While heating, pat the scallops as dry as possible with a paper towel on each side (this will help give a better sear). Cook the scallops approximately 3 minutes per side, making sure to flip only once, until cooked through and opaque. Remove from pan onto a paper towel to dry any excess oil and sprinkle with salt.
  2. To the same pan, add the chili pepper and ginger, stirring frequently until fragrant, approximately 30 seconds.
  3. Add the fish sauce and soy sauce, and, using a wooden spoon, scrap the pan of any browned bits on the pan.
  4. Add the butter, cardamon, lime zest and juice along with a pinch of salt. Whisk and cook for a couple more minutes, making sure not to boil the butter (lower heat if required).
  5. Plate scallops then spoon on some of the sauce on top. Garnish with fresh, chopped mint if desired.

Summer Grilling Happened So Fast

By Michael Elmore

My dad’s birthday was a couple of weeks’ ago (Happy Birthday, dad!), and what better way to celebrate a summer birthday by grilling up a storm. We made a number of dishes, but the favorites may surprise you: grilled portabellas and cauliflower, and grilled whole fish.

While a rib eye maintained its well earned love by my mother and me, my father prefers lighter meats, such as fish, and has a passion for vegetables without rival. To be sure, between the tender flesh of the branzini and the smokey, melt-in-your-mouth mushrooms, nobody will miss red meat if you decide to just go with those items for your next cook out and ahead of the Fourth.

Chili Spiced Portabella Caps

Ingredients:

  • 4 portabella caps, stems removed (reserve these for another use such as making vegetable stocks, or dicing and sauteing them as a topping for a burger).
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Mix all ingredients except the mushrooms together in a bowl to make a thick paste – add more vegetable oil if needed.
  2. Slather the mushrooms evenly with the paste, and place in a plastic bag up to overnight so that they absorb the flavors.
  3. When ready to cook, on a hot, well-oiled grill, over direct heat, cook the mushrooms for approximately 3 minutes per side, trying to flip the mushroom as infrequently as possible as the flames allow.
  4. Serve immediately – if desired, squeeze some lime juice on top before serving.

Grilled Whole Branzini

Ingredients:

  • 2 whole branzini – ask your fishmonger to clean and gut these for you.
  • 2 lemons, sliced
  • 1 bunch of cilantro, trimmed and cleaned
  • 1 tsp salt, divided
  • 1 tsp pepper, divided,
  • 1 tbsp cumin, divided
  • 2 teaspoon chili powder, divided
  • vegetable oil

Directions:

  1. Several hours before you wish to grill, take the whole branzini and rinse them under cold water, making sure the fishmonger did not leave any remnants of unpleasantness in them and that the fish is entirely de-scaled. If not, de-scale the fish by running the back of a knife against the fish to get any missed scales.
  2. Make sure you have everything prepped ahead of time. Squeeze some vegetable oil throughout the fish (we did this previously out of video).
  3. With your CLEAN hand, sprinkle the seasonings evenly among both fish and the cavities of both fish. Stuff the fish with lemon slices and cilantro sprigs – as many as you can fit without the herbs and fruit spilling out.
  4. Wrap butcher’s twine around the fish to keep everything inside of it. Place covered in fridge until ready to grill and up to overnight.
  5. When grilling, make sure you oil the fish (again) very liberally, that the grill is very well oiled, and that you are working on high, direct heat. This will all prevent the fish from sticking. Grill for approximately 4-5 minutes on each side. The fish should not stick when you flip it over if it is cooked and you’ve done all these steps. If you do not feel like dealing with risk of a sticky fish, use a cedar or other wood plank pursuant to their directions and cook the fish on top of that. This will take longer but will still be delicious.
  6. Remove the fish and serve with a squeeze of lemon. Remember to be wary of bones!

Who you gonna call? Pan-Seared Cauliflower

By Michael Araj

Comfort food can encompass all measures of ideas and concepts. Of course, most of us gravitate to the usual stars of the show. Macaroni and cheese. Pot roast dinners. Steak and potatoes. These are, of course, all great items full of memories from childhood of home cooked meals, but not always attainable in our adult lives for various reasons.

I recently got some bad medical news requiring me to change my diet, and while it is certainly disappointing that steak and potato dinners will be greatly reduced in my near future, there are other ways to get those same feelings of nostalgia and comfort. Enter: pan seared cauliflower. With its steak-like shape, beautifully colored florets, and tender texture, one can still be satisfied with a great meal.

First, we trimmed the head to make a steak. One head can usually produce two steaks, but as we were in experiment stage, we only made one steak so as to use the rest of the cauliflower for other dishes.

Next, we seasoned the cauliflower before we pan-seared it.

After we pan seared it on both sides (we used a cast iron to give it more of a grilled feel and because the heat is evenly distributed), we drizzled some vinaigrette on with it. We also served it with some roasted watermelon radishes (coming soon!) and a lemon slice.

This recipe is quick, easy, and great for weeknight cooking. Plus side, it’s extremely healthy so you won’t have to feel guilty for going back for seconds!

Pan Seared Cauliflower

Ingredients:

  • 1 head of cauliflower (white, purple, or other color)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Paprika
  • Lemon Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
  • Parsley (for garnish)

Directions:

  1. Cut the cauliflower to make two “steaks” out of the head (see picture), and trim off any greens.
  2. Coat each side of the cauliflower using one tbsp of the olive oil in total, and season with salt, pepper, and paprika (we went heavy handed on paprika because we love it so much)
  3. Heat a cast iron pan on medium high heat with the remaining olive oil. Once the pan is hot, sear the steaks on each side for approximately 4-5 minutes or until a knife pierces through easily with no resistance. Work in batches if needed.
  4. While the cauliflower rests, make the lemon vinaigrette.
  5. Plate the cauliflower, drizzle the vinaigrette on top and garnish with chopped parsley and a lemon wedge if desired. Serve immediately.

Lemon Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

  • Juice of one lemon
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Directions:

  1. Place the lemon juice in a small bowl with a pinch of salt and pepper.
  2. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the olive oil so as to emulsify the mixture.
  3. Once emulsified and incorporated, the dressing is ready to use. You can add shallots, or lemon zest in the first step to vamp up some new flavors. If the vinaigrette is too bitter for your liking, try adding a teaspoon of honey with the lemon juice.

Getting Curried Away: Thai Lobster Curry

By Michael Araj

When we made our Lobster Boil, we had Loki the Lobster Queen leftover who was simply too big to fit into the pots with the remaining lobsters. As a result, we experimented with making a Thai inspired curry. Fragrant aromas of garlic, chili and coconut will make your kitchen transform into the coast of Thailand. Sweet, spicy and acidic, the sauce compliments the subtle sweetness of the lobster without overwhelming it.

Ingredients:

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 2 Thai chili peppers, stems cut off
  • 1 can coconut cream
  • 3-5 mussels
  • 1 lobster, approximately 2 lbs
  • 1 cup water
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • Lime wedges for garnish

Directions:

  1. In a mortar and pestle, ground the garlic and peppers to make a paste. To help with friction, add a pinch of salt.
  2. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a pot over medium high heat. Add the shallots. After they soften, add the paste. Once fragrant after approximately 30-60 seconds, add the coconut cream and stir.
  3. Once simmering, add the lobster and cover. Steam the lobster for approximately 15 minutes.
  4. Add the water to the mortar and stir to get the excess oils.
  5. Uncover the pot and add the mortar water. Flip the lobster, cover again for approximately another 10-15 minutes until the lobster is red and mostly cooked. Add the mussels, and baste the lobster with the sauce from the bottom of the pan, approximately another 5 minutes.
  6. Remove the lobsters and mussels to another plate. Put the sauce into your serving platter, then put the lobster and mussels on the platter.
  7. Garnish with chopped cilantro and lime wedges.