Archive for June, 2009

Grilled Lobster Tacos with Mango and Avocado Salsa

avocado mango salsa

Growing up in San Diego really fed my love for Baja Mexican food. In addition to the extraordinary taco shops up and down Highway 1 –- Juanitas, Robertos, Albertos –- Mexican food was an integral part of daily life in the area. Many people had mothers and grandmothers who made superb homemade tamales (especially at Christmas), others had fathers or brothers who would fish (yes, they were pretty much always the men in the family) and then bring home their catch for homemade fish tacos. In my family, the fish was caught by my brother-in-law Joe. I always loved when he would come home and toss the freshly caught rock cod or halibut on the grill while we all rounded up some tortillas and salsa.

Even better than the fish catch, however, was the lobster he would bring home from his diving stints during the short lobster season. Sitting out on the back patio with a plateful of just-caught and grilled to perfection lobster, drinking a cold cerveza and hanging out with my family is my idea of heaven. So last week, once the sun had broken through the June gloom, school was out, and summer was all around us, I just couldn’t pass up the lobster tails I saw on sale for $7.99 each. Sure, they weren’t caught that morning by Joe, but I figured they would make great tacos nonetheless. Plus west coast lobster is considered a “best choice” on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list, so I knew we could eat it guilt free.

lobsters on the grill

As I had three ripe mangos sitting on my counter with three ripe avocados by their sides, I decided to veer from the normal salsa fresca we usually serve with our tacos. The mango and avocado salsa I whipped up went nicely with the lobster. Tossed with lime juice and diced jalapeno peppers, the salsa was sweet and slightly tangy with the perfect amount of heat. I decided to then top everything off with a blended sauce made from sour cream and avocado, which melded all the flavors together perfectly.

Sitting on our back patio, I knew summer had really arrived. The only thing missing was my family in San Diego. Guess I’ll have to make this again when we visit them in August.

Note: This dish could easily be made with shrimp. And, of course, grilled fish is not only an acceptable alternative, but a fantastic one.

Grilled Lobster Tacos

Makes: 6 – 8 tacos

Ingredients:
2 medium-sized lobster tails
3 limes
2 Tbsp olive oil
6 – 8 corn tortillas

Preparation:
1. Drizzle juice from two limes plus the olive oil over lobster tails, coating them evenly. Let marinate for 15-20 minutes.
2. Heat grill.
3. On maximum heat, lay lobsters with the heavier part of the shell on the bottom and grill for 5-7 minutes or until the meat becomes pinkish and opaque.
4. Remove lobsters from the grill and set on a plate to cook for a couple of minutes.
5. Cut through a line down the thinner side of the shell and gently pull the meat from the shell. Set meat on a separate plate. Do the same for the other lobster.
6. Cut meat into ½-inch chunks and squeeze the last lime the lobster chunks. Add salt and pepper to taste.
7. Heat corn tortillas on the grill (about 30 seconds on each side).
8. Lay about ¼-cup lobster meat on each tortilla. Top with Mango Avocado Salsa and Avocado Crema. Serve.

cutting a mango

Mango Avocado Salsa

Makes: 3 cups salsa

Ingredients:
3 small or 2 medium mangos
2 medium or 3 small avocados
½ to 1 whole jalapeno (depending on how hot you’d like the salsa). Remove stems, membranes and seeds.
2 limes
Salt to taste

Preparation:
1. Remove meat from mangos and avocados and cut into ¼-inch chunks. Place in a bowl.
2. Dice jalapenos into small pieces and add to the fruit.
3. Squeeze lime juice on top.
4. Add salt to taste.
5. Serve on top of tacos or with corn chips.

Avocado Crema

Makes: 1 cup

Ingredients:
1/2 an avocado
1/2 cup sour cream
salt to taste

Preparation:
1. Place avocado and sour cream in a small chopper or blender and mix until thoroughly combined and smooth.
2. Add salt to taste
3. Add as a topping to lobster or fish tacos.

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Fresh Peach Ice Pops and Creamsicles

ice pop and creamsicle
I love all summer fruits, but peaches are close to the top of my list of favorites. There’s nothing tastier than eating a plump fresh peach, juices bursting. But after eating my fill of peaches, I crave more. I still want all that sweet and fragrant peachiness, but in another format. This is where peach pies and tarts come in, not to mention grilled peaches and peach jam. My new favorite peach recipes, however, may be the simplest of them all: peach ice pops and creamsicles.

If you have a blender and some ice pop molds, making homemade peach ice pops and creamsicles is a breeze. And if you don’t have ice pop molds, you can use short plastic cups and popsicle sticks. The only hard thing about making these frozen treats is waiting for them to freeze before you can eat them.

Preparing homemade fruit pops is also fun. My kids enjoy making them with me and, better yet, they love to eat them. So, instead of grabbing some high-fructose Big Sticks or Rocket Pops (although I must admit I do love both of those), my children are licking pops made of real peaches, with all of their vitamins and nutrients, and having a ball doing it. Best of all, they’re not just fun and good for kids, they taste delicious.

As with anything homemade, you get to decide how the final product turns out. If you want popsicles with fruit chunks, just puree the fruit until you have a smoothly flowing texture that retains some small chunks of peach to bite into later. If you like smooth ice pops, puree the mixture until you get a velvety consistency. And, if you’re in a tart and fruity mood (and who doesn’t feel like that sometimes), you can make non-dairy ice pops, but if you’re feeling a bit decadent and want a treat with more of an ice-cream flavor, the creamsicles really hit the spot.

As much as I love peaches, however, I don’t limit myself to using just this one fruit for homemade pops. Stone fruits — such as nectarines, apricots and plums — work well with the recipes below, but you could also try using raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, or whatever you’d like. Just use a little less juice or heavy cream when using berries as they have a more water consistency.

So if you’re looking for something to do with your summer fruit, I highly recommend making homemade fruit pops and creamsicles. They’re easy and fun to make, and are a great way to indulge in a delicious, and low calorie, summer dessert.

Note: To remove the popsicle from the mold, just dip the mold into a cup of warm water for about ten seconds. The mold should then release the pop.

pouring mix into molds

Fresh Peach Ice Pops

Makes: 6 ice pops

Ingredients:
2 large peaches peeled
1/2 cup simple syrup
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup peach nectar, mango juice or orange juice

Preparation:
1. Cut peach meat off the pit and place in a blender along with all the other ingredients.
2. Blend to desired consistency
3. Pour mixture into popsicle molds.
4. Freeze until frozen through.

creamsicle with peaches

Peach Creamsicles

Makes: 6 ice pops

Ingredients:
2 large peaches peeled
1/2 cup simple syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream, half and half, or whole milk
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Preparation:
1. Cut peach meat off the pit and place in a blender along with all the other ingredients.
2. Blend to desired consistency
3. Pour mixture into popsicle molds.
4. Freeze until frozen through.

Note: Although I like to peel my peaches before making ice pops and creamsicles, this step is optional. If you don’t mind the peel, feel free to leave it in.

Simple Syrup

Makes: 3/4 to 1 cup syrup

Ingredients:
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup water

Preparation:
1. Place sugar and water in a medium sauce pan
2. Bring mixture to a slow boil and stir until sugar dissolves.
3. Cool.

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Kicking the Kids’ Menu Habit

fun with chow fun

I love to eat out. In addition to enjoying a vacation from cooking and doing the dishes, I get excited about trying new foods and discovering fresh ways to prepare old favorites. I was recently at Range where they had a cream of escarole soup. I’ve been eating escarole all my life but never thought to blend it with cream for a soup. What a great idea.

But eating out as a family is not always a satisfying experience, and can sometimes be downright stressful. In addition to the obvious issues of trying to enjoy a meal while a toddler sits on your lap and bangs a fork on your plate, there is the basic problem of small picky eaters raining on your dining parade. I’ve found that even the best little eaters can clam up, so to speak, when eating out. The child who enjoyed roasted pork with green beans the night before at home may insist she only likes grilled cheese when dining out. This can be frustrating, but you shouldn’t lose hope as there are some great ways to help your children become adventurous eaters in restaurants.

childrens menu

It seems that the idea of the limited and inexpensive kid menu has been adopted by not only by the chains, but also small independent places and even some high-end restaurants. And although some of these places offer decent dining options for children, most kid menus are limited to chicken fingers, mac and cheese (from a box), grilled cheese, and frozen pizza. It’s tempting to order one of these options when the price of an entrée is often two to three times more than that slice of kid pizza the boy at the next table is eating. So although my frugal side finds the price of these meals alluring, I try to resist. I am not advocating purchasing $20 entrées for your kids (unless you don’t mind paying that much and your kids will eat them). Rather I suggest exploring some other ways to get your children to eat “real” food when dining out.

chicken fingers

As with getting your kids to eat vegetables, helping your children to become adventurous diners takes a little work, but is really worth the trouble. Here are some things I have done in the past that have worked well for my family. If you have your own tips, please let me know about them as I’m always looking for good ideas.

1. Try a neighborhood family-friendly restaurant for your child’s first (and second) venture away from the kids’ menu. Italian, Mexican, and Chinese restaurants are great places to begin. If in a Chinese restaurant, start with the chow mein or chow fun. Your kids will most likely enjoy the familiarity of eating egg noodles, while also getting to try different sauces and flavors. Mexican places have a variety of kid-friendly bean, chicken and cheese dishes, and Italian restaurants have, of course, pizzas and pastas (although of a much higher caliber than what you usually get off a kids’ menu) in addition to everything else.

2. Make an effort to try something new yourself and tell your kids about it. Too often kids feel they are in the spotlight, having to try new things while we sit and watch them. So take your own culinary leap and tell your kids what you think about it.

3. If you’re on a budget (and who isn’t?) and are forced to choose between the cheaper kids fare or an expensive adult menu, ask your server if you can order the kid’s pasta but with some vegetables mixed in. Most restaurants are happy to oblige and this will give your child some other flavors to try while keeping the dining bill under control.

4. If your child is interested in trying something new, but is concerned about a topping or sauce that comes with it, ask for the questionable item to be placed on the side. Your child can then try the sauce or topping on his own terms.

5. Help your child make her own decisions. Look over the menu with her and discuss realistic options. Too often, kids’ menus are printed onto coloring sheets, which are then set before your children and immediately colored over. This means they often don’t even have the opportunity to explore the bigger menu. To give your children more choices, show them the main menu and see if there’s anything on it that interests them. They don’t have to be able to read to discuss what sounds good.

6. Let your child help you choose your own entrée and then share it with him. Often entrées are enormous and can easily be shared with a child. And, even if the entrées aren’t large where you’re dining, you can usually get a salad or appetizer to help fill you up. Give your child two or three choices and then ask for a second plate so you can divvy up the dinner. You can then discuss what you both think about the meal as you eat it together.

7. Try going to a restaurant where your children can see the prepared food and pick it out themselves. Dim sum is a great way to do this as most kids think it’s fun to choose plates from the carts brought around to each table. My kids also love sitting at the bar in sushi restaurants. They like to point at the sea weed, fish eggs, and cooked fish (I don’t allow them to eat raw fish), and then order themselves.

8. Let your child talk to the server. If he has questions about a dish, let him do the asking. If he is curious about something, let him speak up. Too often we try to speak for our kids and then get it wrong. This also helps teach your children that they have a voice when it comes to food — and, more importantly, life — which can help them feel empowered to make their own choices.

9. Let your kids try something exotic when eating out. This can range from encouraging them to use chop sticks to taking them to an Ethiopian restaurant where they get to eat with their hands. Most kids will be so focused on how they’re eating the food that they won’t be as nervous about what they’re eating.

10. Try to eat on the earlier side. Your kids will most likely be more alert and happier, you’ll have an emptier restaurant to dine in, and you’ll probably get a better table and service too.

11. Have fun with your kids. If you’re going to be stressed out taking them to a certain restaurant, choose another place. A family night out should be fun for both the parents and the kids.

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