Sunday, April 17, 2011

Melissa's Produce- Coconut and Tour

If you couldn't play hooky last month and join the OC Bites "Taste Of The Seasons" Melissa's  produce tour and lunch, you missed a delightful day. Melissa's 280,000 square foot mammoth facility in Los Angeles is for me, a foodie theme park. Seriously... for fresh fruit and vegetable lovers, "Melissa's World" (that's what it would be called if it was a theme park) is the happiest place on earth.

At Melissa's we were treated to a great lunch prepared by talented Chef Tom Fraker and Chef Ida Rodriguez. The food was prepared in the beautiful, well equipped test kitchen from recipes in the Melissa's Great Book Of Produce and Everyday Cooking, by Cathy Thomas.

Next came an informative fruit and vegetable talk by brilliant produce guru Robert Schueller. During the questions and answer portion Robert awarded me a fresh coconut. We all got lovely hair nets to wear for the Melissa VIP tour through the immaculate warehouse.

The care that Melissa's takes to bring unique, fresh and organic produce to consumers is impressive, but what impressed me most was the company. Melissa's Produce is well run, organized, clean, speedy, with an unparalleled attention to quality. Best of all, Melissa's people are good people they make you feel like family.

Now about that coconut ...

Without reading directions, or any previous experience, this seemed to be the best way to get into the coconut. I screwed in the corkscrew wine opener to create a hole and poured off the liquid which yielded 2 cups by the way of thin opaque  coconut water.

Next I tapped a 10" chef knife into the top and turned it to crack the shell.

I made that sound easier then it was. The coconut opening stunt was preformed on a sturdy butcher block, accompanied by serious curse words.

Don't ever let your kids do this...
Be cautious about  doing it yourself!
Honestly, I can't believe I didn't cut off my arm.

When you get inside you find gold. Just kidding.

It's not gold but thin coconut meat that resembles custard but isn't.

The soft interior is silky, delicate and mild.
There isn't much only about 1/4 cup.

But what do you do with 1/4 cup of fresh coconut?

You get out the blender.
You ice glasses.
You send your husband to the store for rum.
Melissa's star fruit is nice too.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Quick Penne with Spicy Shrimp!

Cooking healthy, fast and easy meals for your family is a challenge. Creating a dish when your allergic to it is even more challenging. I know this because sadly, I am one of many people with an allergy to shellfish. Just because I cant eat it doesn't stop me from from cooking shrimp for others (although it's kinda like sculpting while wearing a blind fold) I chose shrimp for my cooking class because it's perfect for getting a healthy meal on the table in record time.

It's smart to keep a bag of shrimp on hand for quick meals. If it's purchased frozen and kept frozen shrimp can be stored a few months but should be used before four. The 40-50 size (count per pound) is a perfect size for this dish, purchase it uncooked, peeled and deveined.

Pasta is another ingredient it's good to have on hand for homemade fast food. I used penne in this recipe, but farfalle is also a nice choice. I like low fat sour cream instead of heavy cream to lighten the recipe up a bit and frozen peas are an easy vegetable addition. If you don't cook with alcohol, flat cream soda is a good replacement for Sherry.

This is the third recipe in the "Meals In Minutes" series from a cooking class I taught at the Yorba Linda Library last month. I hope you enjoy, Quick Penne with Spicy Shrimp, Peas and Garlic it's simple and delicious (so I hear). My family, thankfully helped me test it and class attendees liked it too.

Quick Penne with Spicy Shrimp, Peas and Garlic

2 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces penne pasta
1 pound shrimp
1 each shallot, chopped
4 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup sherry
1 cup chicken broth
8 ounces sour cream, low fat
½ cup peas
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fresh Italian parsley chopped

Cook pasta in boiling salted water about seven minutes, until al dente. Drain and set aside.
Over high heat in a large skillet (12-14 inches) add 2 tablespoons olive oil , shallot and garlic. Cook until shallot is translucent.
About 30 seconds add shrimp and chili pepper, cook about 2 to 3 minutes until they start to turn pink, then remove shrimp.
Carefully pour in sherry, whisking up any bits on bottom of the pan. When sherry is reduced by half, add chicken broth and bring to simmer and whisk in sour cream and parmesan cheese until incorporated. 
Stir in shrimp, peas, pasta, salt and pepper to taste. Cover and let set for 3 to 5 minutes. Before serving stir in parsley.
Serves 4-6

Monday, April 4, 2011

Tom Cruise You Missed My Cannellini Bean Salad

I 'm not normally star struck, but when I heard Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were on the guest list for Jennifer's wedding, I have to say, I was a little excited. Not just about the slight chance that movie stars might make it to the celebration, but some of the dishes planned were new to me and deliciously exciting as well.

Jennifer is my friend Rita's daughter, she comes from a beautiful family with great taste in food and chose a rustic Italian menu for her October 19,1997 reception. Jennifer worked for Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, when the day came and they couldn't make it, I was a sorry but glad too. Catering Jennifer's wedding, I had been officially introduced to cannellini beans and thanks to her suggestion, I am a huge fan of the resulting Tuscan style salad.

Cannellini beans are very popular in many types of Italian cuisine, especially Tuscan dishes.They are creamy, silky, tender, and have a traditional kidney shape. The cooked beans have a slightly buttery nutty taste and mild earthiness, they have a relatively thin skin and tender, creamy flesh. They hold their shape well and are one of the best white beans for salads and ragouts.

Cannellini beans are large white beans, about 1/2" long, with a firm texture and skin. Simple preparation is all that is required.  A staple of minestrones, fagioli's, and salads, cannellini beans have many health benefits: low in fat, high in protein, high in fiber, minerals, B vitamins. Cannellini are versatile, affordable and enhance many dishes. They have a long shelf life, for a quick meal keep a can on hand for a quick meal.

I used my favorite cannellini bean recipe and added a lemon herb chicken breast for the cooking class I taught on March 26. It's a great dish, quick, easy and delicious. Tom, Nicole, I bet your sorry you missed it!

Easy Lemon Herb Chicken 
and Cannellini Bean Salad
(makes 4 servings)
4 each chicken breast, 4 ounces each
2 teaspoons dry Italian herb blend
4 ounces spring mix lettuce
1 can cannellini beans
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
4 leaf basil, chiffonade
1 small roma tomato, diced
2 small lemon, juiced
3 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 clove garlic
salt and pepper

1. Season chicken breast with the juice of one lemon, salt, pepper and one tablespoon dry Italian herb blend and 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
2. Grill chicken over medium heat, four to five minutes per side or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl combine thinly sliced red onions with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. 
4. Crush and add garlic, beans, tomatoes and basil.
5. Toss to coat-fold in feta cheese.
6. Slice chicken, serve over bean salad and spring mix lettuce.

If cooking cannellini beans from dry
Soak the cannellini beans overnight, then boil them for at least 10 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer about 1-2 hours or until tender. Boiling removes toxins that can cause gastric discomfort. Salt should be added at the end of cooking as it can toughen beans.
A special thank you to The Friends Of Yorba Linda Library for sponsering
Meals In Minutes, Saturday March 26, 2011 at 2:00 pm in the Multi-Purpose Room
18181 Imperial Hwy. Yorba Linda CA. 92886