Salsa with Avocado, Red Onion and Cilantro

Last weekend I attended a memorial mass and dinner at Roo’s hometown.

There were couple things about the mass that did make me twitch a little:

- The hymms posted on the placards for us to follow were completely different from those that they went over.

- I had a flash of jealously when I saw three teenagers leave the mass thirty seconds earlier than they should have.

- I was also extremely jealous when everyone went up to get their “Jesus cracker,” because I was starved at that point.

Mass ended after an hour, and the majority of the church people walked across the lawn over to Roo’s house.

I immediately ran to the beer bin, thinking it would be the fastest way to “eat” something.  As I fumbled with the bottle opener, I heard cupboards opening.  It was as if on cue, all of the suburban mothers started whipping out their appetizers from various hiding places within the house.  It was a bit strange. It was also intimidating.

My appetizer was probably the ugliest salsa I’ve made or seen.  Ever.  Woeful that I hadn’t listened to Roo’s mother’s suggestion of making hummus, I kept sampling other people’s dishes, hoping Roo would forget about what I had brought.

As the party went on, and the appetizers dwindled, Roo remembered about the salsa we had stashed away in the basement fridge.

“Hey, what about your salsa?  You should bring it out.”

“No. It’s ugly.”

“But it’s delicious, c’mon.”

Roo grabbed me by the hand, and he dragged me we went downstairs to go get it.

I looked at it again, horrified.  We don’t own any serving bowls in our apartment, so I had thrown it all together in my go-to mustard colored mixing bowl.  The colors of the creamy avocado mixed with the salsa, against the mustard background made me nauseous.

“It’s HIDEOUS!”

“No, no it’s not.”

I stomped back upstairs with Roo, and hid behind him as he asked his mother for a “more appropriate” serving bowl.  She looked completely overwhelmed, but stood on her tip-toes and dug one out from the back of the cupboard for me anyway.

It still looked hideous.

We placed it in the center of the appetizer table, and I waited, not daring to look at it.

People walked by, some questioned what it was, but all actually tried it.  And then, exclaimed it was delicious.

There isn’t a photo of the salsa, but here’s a photo of Stinky in a box instead.

Ingredients

1 jar of an acceptable salsa (I used Trader Joe’s chunky) and yes, tomatoes are best, but hey, it’s April

2 avocados, cut into 1/2 inch chunks

1/2 jalepeno, diced

1/2 red onion, diced

2 limes, juiced

1 tablespoon minced cilantro (optional)

Equipment

A sharp knife

A medium-sized bowl

Throw contents of the jar of salsa, chunks of avocados, diced jalepeno and onion to the bowl.  If you would like to add the cilantro, do so.  Add the freshly squeezed lime juice.  There should be enough sodium in the store-bought salsa to season the rest of the ingredients, but after mixing the components together, have a taste and decide.  If it needs more, add salt to taste.

It’s going to look ugly as sin.  But, be brave.  Many have attested to it being delicious; including a bunch of judgmental housewives.

Mango Salsa

Yesterday I posted about cornmeal crusted catfish.  The second half of that dish was a mango salsa. I absolutely love the heat from the jalepeño, the slight sweetness from the mango, and the creaminess of the avocado that make up this brightly flavored side.

And! It’s comprised of only five ingredients.  For someone who loves to be lazy, this is where it’s at.

Ingredients

One very ripe mango, sliced into chunks

1/2 red pepper, diced

1/2 jalepeño, deseeded and diced

1/2 red onion, diced

1 tablespoon minced cilantro (optional)

1 avocado, diced

2 limes, juiced by hand (squeeeeze!)

Coarse sea salt to taste

Equipment

A sharp knife

A medium-sized bowl

Throw the mango, red pepper, jalepeno, red onion, and avocado together into a medium sized bowl.  If you wish to add cilantro, do so.  Add freshly squeezed lime juice.  Start with a pinch of coarse sea salt to mix into the salsa.  Taste.  Add more salt if necessary.

Cornmeal Crusted Catfish

Almost 2 months ago, during what felt like one of the coldest nights of the year, Roo and I had reservations at Hungry Mother.

We sat in our apartment, feeling the wind blow through our non-insulated windows (we live in a very old, not-cared for building), dreading going outside, despite the promise of chicken and dumplings.

We tried rationalizing blowing off the reservation:

- Hungry Mother was always booked and would have no problem seating someone in our place.

- It was a Saturday and we were tired from all the nothing we did today.

- Who wants to put on pants?

Ten minutes later I was lying down on our bed and zipping up my skinny jeans. Roo threw on a sweater and looked for his keys.  For two people who had worked in the food industry before, we just couldn’t be those people that didn’t show.

It was about thirty minutes to get to Kendall Square, and even though we were thankful that the restaurant promotes using a nearby parking garage, we had no idea where we were supposed to go from there.

I called the restaurant as we walked out of the garage and within two rings the maître d’ picked up and asked me where I thought I was.

“Uhhh, near the parking garage?”

“Are you in a black jacket with black hair?  And there’s a tall man walking next to you?”

I looked up at Roo. “Uh, yeah. Um, where are you?”

“We’re right across the street from where you are.  In the red house.”

“You can see me?”

He laughed. “Yes, I know it sounds strange, but I can see you through the window.”

“Thanks. I guess we’ll see you soon.”

When we arrived, the same man greeted me by my first name without even asking (“Nice touch,” Roo commented) and we were seated in a lovely little space that felt like home (even though it was technically a house).

I loved the novelty of the Ball jars used as water glasses, although our table was rickety, so picking up and putting down our jar to take a drink was a risky task.

I wasn’t a fan of the fried oysters (we had had another version of it at Bergamot a month earlier, and they were amazing) as they were too salty and the cornmeal dredge that was applied was way too thick.

Roo lucked out with his ham and biscuits order.  The ham was made in house, and despite the biscuits being the size of thimbles, it was a delicious bite.

But what I loved the most was the cornmeal crusted catfish.  I absolutely loved the texture of the cornmeal.  I never fried fish in our apartment because I never had a craving for something dusted with flour and fried.  However, this cornmeal crust seemed fun to me (sure, texture can be fun), and when I scooped it together with the andouille sausage and red rice, it made me think of trying it with something bright. (Maybe a mango salsa?)

With new hopes of spring-like weather today, it just felt right to give the cornmeal catfish and mango salsa a try.  Something a little fatty to take the chill off from the March winds that refuse to leave our front porch door alone, along with bright juicy mango, it may help convince us that beach season will eventually, come.

Adapted, only a little, from Hungry Mother

Ingredients

1 egg

1 cup milk (I used 1%)

2 half pound catfish filets

1 cup cornmeal

1/8 cup all purpose flour

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon cayenne (I love the heat, if you don’t, use 1/2)

5 tbsp olive oil

Equipment

Heavy frying pan

Spatula

Whisk

Large sized bowl

Large plate

Place the oven rack to the middle position in the oven and preheat to 450F.

Whisk egg and milk together in large sized bowl until homogeneous.  Place catfish filets into bowl and let soak while you prepare the dry ingredients/wait for you oven to preheat.

Add cornmeal, flour, salt and cayenne to the plate.   Mix together until combined (I used my hands.  Make sure you wash them after and not put your fingers in your eyes).

Once the oven has reached 450F, pour olive oil into the frying pan over high heat.  Pick up the catfish from the milk mixture (again, I used my hands) and dredge the catfish with the cornmeal mixture, one side (and one filet) at a time.  Once both filets have been covered with the cornmeal mixture, and the oil in the pan starts to shimmer, place the filets into the pan.

Fry the catfish until the cornmeal crust gets brown.  You can peek underneath to see how brown the fish is getting.  Once the desired browning has been reached, place the catfish in the oven (do not flip yet) for about four minutes.  I typically let the fish go for five minutes our filets tend to be thick.  Remove the pan from the oven, and flip the fish over.  Cook the fish for 2 – 3 minutes more.  Remove from the frying pan and serve.

Almond Yogurt Cake with Strawberries

I’ve been hesitant about posting this recipe because I’m convinced that this is the world’s ugliest cake to photograph.  It’s one of my favorites, and although I’ve taken pictures of it many times, there’s just something about baked strawberries that’s incredibly unappealing in photos.  Gray, floppy, dimpled; do you need any more descriptive words to get the gist of how ugly they are?

But the cake.  The cake is delicious.  I can’t stop myself from scraping up bits of the batter with the spatula, and then “accidentally” spilling some on my hand while transferring it into the pan.  I think I have a problem. And it doesn’t stop with the batter.

Out of the oven, the time when all bakers unite and say “wait till it has cooled,” I immediately grab whatever object I can find and dig into the jammy pockets of strawberries nestled amongst a nutty crumb.

If you love cakes that aren’t too sweet, have a bit of texture from the ground almonds, and think the concept of strawberries making their own jam within the batter is genius, then make this.  Make this now.

And invite me over because we’re almost out over here.

Adapted from Orangette

Ingredients

1/2 cup plain yogurt (I use Chobani 2%)

3/4 cup sugar (I used raw and I also don’t like very sweet cakes, but if you do, use 1 cup)

3 eggs

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour (if you don’t have any on hand, you can use 1 cup AP flour, but I like the nuttiness whole wheat gives the cake)

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup ground almonds (you can start with whole almonds and grind them down in a food processor)

1/2 cup olive oil

Three handfuls of frozen strawberries (don’t like too many jammy pockets? – sure, it’s a word! – use strawberries sparingly)

Equipment

Food processor

Large sized bowl

Medium sized bowl

Whisk

Spatula

9″ cake pan (you can use an 8″.  9″ is all I have!)

Parchment paper (if you’re lazy like me, otherwise butter and flour to grease your pan)

Place the oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F.

Whisk the eggs, yogurt and sugar together until combined in a large sized bowl.  In a medium sized bowl, combine the all purpose flour, wheat flour, and baking soda.  If you already have ground almonds, add them to the medium sized bowl.  If not, add the whole almonds (or slivers, whatever you have on hand that equals to half a cup) to the food processor.  Pulse (at one-two second intervals) until a coarse ground results.  Be careful to not go overboard as you do not want an almond-oily-mess (ie almond butter).  Add the ground almonds to the medium sized bowl and stir to combine.  Add all the contents of the medium sized bowl to the large sized bowl in two increments.  Stir until combined (this is where the spatula is useful for stirring vs. the whisk getting “clumpies” stuck in it).  Add oil to to large sized bowl.  It’s going to look horrible at first, but keep stirring with your spatula and it’ll all come together.

Grab the cake pan.  Line it with parchment paper (if you’re lazy like me), or butter and flour it to prevent the batter from sticking to the pan.  Add 3/4 of the cake batter to the pan.  Add the handfuls of strawberries to the cake batter, in a pattern that ensures at least on jammy bite is experienced in a slice.  (That sentence makes me sound like a creepy leprechaun, but I’m going to go with it.)  I like to spread them so they make a circle.  Pour the rest of the batter over the strawberries.

Put the cake into your preheated oven and bake for 40 – 50 minutes.  My oven with the 9″ pan bakes the cake to perfection at 40 minutes, however I always check the cake around 35 minutes with a knife.  When inserting a “cake tester” it should come out clean if the cake is done.  If the cake isn’t done around 40 minutes and it’s getting a bit too brown, you can tent tin foil over the pan.

I love this cake.  I love this cake batter.  Basically any excuse I can make to bake this cake so I can eat it for breakfast, and then throughout the day, I use.