In my soul, I’m a from-scratch cook, but in reality, I now take some judicious shortcuts when I need to or want to. One such was yesterday when, following a work morning, a Pilates class and a much-needed massage, I had to prepare something to bring to a potluck. The AllRecipes website produced a promising one for a Margarita Cake. The Safeway that I went to didn’t have a couple of the necessary ingredients, so I punted. In fact, my punt was more like a big base hit, because I ended up changing the recipe so much that it bore only faint resemblance to the original. It was a success. A couple of the potluck attendees said they had two pieces. Another admitted to three. I didn’t take any pictures because I didn’t think I’d be posting the recipe, but due to several requests, here it is:
1 box Krusteaz Meyer Lemon Pound Cake Mix (16.5 ounces)
1 1-ounce package of Jell-O Sugar Free vanilla pudding
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
Juice of 3 fresh limes
1/4 cup tequila
2 Tbsp. Triple Sec
Glaze (see below)
Grated lime zest to taste (grate on microplane)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees (or 325 degrees if using a convection oven, as I did). Butter and flour a 9- or 10-inch Bundt pan
1. In a large bowl or in the bowl of a standing mixer (my choice) combine cake mix, pudding mix, eggs and all wet ingredients.
2. Pour batter into the prepared Bundt pan.
3. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes in a regular oven and 35 minutes for convection until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
4. Cool on rack for 10 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan, pour glaze over it while it is still warm and sprinkle with a bit of lime zest.
I used the glaze packet from the cake mix box. Otherwise:
in a small bowl, combine 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, 1 Tbsp. tequila, 2 Tbsp. Triple Sec and 2 Tbsp. lime juice. Either way, sprinkle with lime zest to taste.
When we had dinner guests recently, I prepared a chicken recipe using wonderful, moist breasts from Wisdom Farm purchased at the Boulder County Farmers’ Market. They are enormous and fortunately divide easily into a large and a smaller piece. I used the large pieces and put the smaller ones aside. I cut those into chunks the next evening and made this tortilla soup, modified significantly from Bayless’s Mexican Everyday cookbook.
1 large dried chilhuacle negro chile, stemmed and seeded
15-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1/2 large yellow onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 quart chicken stock
Salt to taste
1 lb. boneless chicken, cut into chunks
1 ripe avocado, cubed
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
broken tortilla chips
Quickly toast the chile an inch or so over an open flame. (If you have an electric range, Bayless suggests toasting in a dry pan over medium heat. pressing it flat, flipping it and pressing again.)
Break the chile into pieces and put them, along with the tomatoes, into a blender and puree until smooth.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until golden. Scoop onion and garlic out with a slotted spoon and add to blender. set aside.
Return pan to medium-high heat, add the tomato mixture and cook until it is thickened (about 6 minutes). Add the stock and the chicken. Reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes. Add salt to taste.
Ladle into bowls and serve with avocado, cheese and chips. Squeeze lime onto each portion. Serves 4 to 6.
Rocky Ford melons have been grown and sold in Colorado since 1887 — that’s 110 years of sweet summer goodness. The herbs on my deck are flavorful too right now. Here’s an embarrassingly easy, satisfyingly flexible recipe that captures these flavors of the season.
Cantaloupe and Herb Salad
1 large cantaloupe, cut into approx. 3/4-inch chunks
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice (juice from 1/2 lime)
Chopped mint and cilantro, totaling approx. 1/3 cup
Sugar to taste (I used about 2 Tbsp.)
I have always liked blue corn chips, and I first tasted blue corn pancakes at the historic and funky El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, NM, on a long-ago road trip. I’ve been unsuccessfully looking for them on menus ever since. Fast-forward to this past week, when my husband bought two pounds of Gold Mine Organic blue masa harina. It would take more years than I have left to use it all in tamales, so I decided to adapt a pancake recipe. I used as a base a Food.com recipe for Masa Harina Pancakes, conveniently portioned for two. Here’s what resulted,
Blue Corn Pancakes
1⁄2 cup masa harina
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg 1⁄2 cup milk
1 tablespoon canola oil
Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
Mix wet ingredients in a small bowl. Combine with dry ingredients and mix until smooth (masa harina will not be lumpy as wheat flour would be).
Heat griddle on medium with a little oil . When it is hot, ladle on about 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake. Cook until nicely browned and firm, about two minutes each side.
These pancakes are very light and have a little crunch to them. I served them with a little fruit on the plate and bacon and maple syrup on the side, I still have a lot of blue corn masa left, so I imagine I’ll be making them again.
Sometimes I follow recipes — faithfully or loosely. Sometimes, I just freelance a dish. That’s what I did when I wanted pasta sometime, had just bought organic baby spinach and rooted around for ingredients that I thought would go well. I used no recipe, and didn’t even measure what I used. So here is a very rough guide to making a quick, tasty dish. The pattern is simple, so it can be made with different kinds of pasta, with other leafy vegetables, with fresh or rehydrated sun-dried tomatoes, etc., etc.
Bring salted water to a boil. Add about 3 ounces of mini-penne. Coarsely chop about 3 tablespoons of sun-dried tomatoes in oil. Peel and mince one clove of fresh garlic, and sauté in about 1 tablespoon olive oil for a minute or two. Add crushed red pepper flakes. Rinse about 5 ounces fresh baby spinach and add to garlic/pepper. Add sun-dried tomatoes and continue cooking for about 2 minutes, adding a little water to cook the spinach. When pasta is al dente, drain. Put into a serving bowl, top with spinach/tomato mixture. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan.
Cold soup that’s simple to make and pretty (green) to serve.
Just Spices, a new California company that makes organic spice blends, has shared its simple recipe for Cucumber Gazpacho that comes out shamrock green. Note that the soup is shamrock green, not Kelly green.
The brand is only available by on-line order, and since there’s no time to order for a March 17 delivery, make it in summer, which is peak gazpacho season anyway. Or freelance making your own from your spice rack. The company says its vegetable broth blend “includes fresh herbs like lovage leaves, chopped parsley, crispy onions, exotic nutmeg, soft celery seeds, crushed sea salt, and wild garlic. For extra flavor we threw in a blend of some tasty tomatoes and ripe carrots. Lastly, the Tellicherry pepper and brown cane sugar contrast each other nicely, balancing a sharp taste with some cool sweetness.”
1 avocado, peeled
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
2 teaspoons Just Spices Vegetable Broth Seasoning
Cut vegetables into small pieces. Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until the mixture is smooth. Garnish with thin cucumber slices or chopped chile.
The recipe did not mention this, but I would suggest tasting a small bit of the cucumber peel before committing two whole cucumbers to the soup, as peels are sometimes bitter. If so, remove the entire peel, of course. Also, seedless English cucumbers would be suitable.
I’m one who thinks of Valentine’s Day as a “Hallmark holiday,” so we usually eat at home. We set a nice table with flowery dishes with hearts as part of the rim pattern, cloth napkins, a split of good champagne and something really good to eat — and roses.
Sprouts was selling gorgeous and sustainable jumbo shrimp, so I adapted a Crab Louie recipe from Food & Wine and came up with this spin on an old-school classic:
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3/4 pound asparagus
1 head Romaine hearts, cut crosswise 1/2-inch thick
2 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 hard-cooked eggs, cut into wedges
1/2 pound jump shrimp, steamed and peeled
In a bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the ketchup, relish, lemon juice, garlic, Tabasco, paprika, chili powder and salt and pepper. Let stand at room while preparing the other ingredients.
Steam asparagus until just tender, 3 minutes or so. Drain and cool.
Arrange the romaine, tomatoes, eggs and asparagus on a platter. Top with shrimp and serve, with the dressing on the side.
Claire Walter's Colorado-oriented but not Colorado-exclusive blog about restaurants, food and wine events, recipes and related news. For address of any restaurant, click on the Zomato icon at the end of the post.