Friday, July 1, 2011

Feast Like You're on Vacation: Appetizers

In part two of this four part series, I'm sharing recipes for delicious appetizers.  Sorry it took so long, I guess I was just too busy enjoying the fabulous drinks from the first Feast Like You're On Vacation post!  These appetizers aren't fancy and they shouldn't really be classified as authentic, but they are definitely tasty!  They remind me of better days when I was sunning myself on vacation, enjoying great food and the company of my wonderful family.  If you're looking for a little taste of vacation, these appetizers aren't a bad place to start.  After you've had drinks of course!

Tostones: Fried Green Plantains (printable recipe)
I have had tostones on numerous occasions while vacationing in South Florida and eating at Cuban restaurants.  If you've never eaten tostones or plantains, they are starchy and have a flavor that is reminiscent of a potato.  If you have had them, maybe you know of a better way to describe them besides delicious.  They are popular in the Caribbean and all across Central and South America.  They're also pretty easy to make, as long as you don't mind a little frying.  What makes something fried taste even better?  Frying it again.  That's right, tostones are fried twice, and worth every calorie!

3 green plantains
Corn oil
Kosher salt

Peel plantains and slice into approximately 1 1/2 inch slices.  Fill a large skillet about 1/3 full with corn oil, and set over medium heat.  Heat the oil until it reaches around 300 degrees.  Fry the plantains in batches for about 4-5 minutes, turning once, or until they begin to soften, but don't get brown.  Remove from pan and drain briefly on paper towels.

Use a plantain press (or you can do what I did and put each plantain piece in between two pieces of parchment paper, and press with the bottom of a small plate), and smash the plantains to about half their thickness.

Bring the oil back up to temperature, this time set over medium-high heat, or about 375 degrees.  Fry each side of the plantain again, until it is golden brown.  This will take about 4 more minutes, but don't quote me on that.

Transfer the tostones to paper towel and immediately sprinkle with sea salt to taste.  Let cool slightly and serve with one of the great dips below.

From left:  Fresh Tomato Salsa, Guacamole ala Rocco, Mango Salsa

Guacamole ala Rocco (printable recipe)
I hate avocados, or so I thought.  That all changed with one stop at Rocco's Tacos in West Palm Beach, Fla.  My brother ordered the house-made guacamole, and with one bite, I was hooked.  Once we got home from vacation, we wanted guacamole every day!  After a little searching online, I found a video of this wonderful guacamole being made.  There was one major ingredient missing though.  As the video stated, I needed half a demitasse spoonful of Rocco Spice.  What is Rocco Spice you ask?  It's a blend of 27 different spices that you have to buy at Rocco's Tacos.  Thanks, that helps me a lot all the way over here in Wisconsin.  So I went to my pantry and grabbed every "Mexican" spice I could find, ultimately coming up with the perfect plan and the best guacamole I've ever had (next to Rocco's of course).

2 ripe avocados
Juice of half a lime
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. adobo seasoning
1/8 tsp. cumin
1 Tblsp. tomato, chopped
1 Tblsp. cilantro, chopped
1 Tblsp. onion, chopped
1 Tblsp. roasted poblano pepper, finely chopped
1 Tblsp. jalapeno, finely chopped

Cut avocados in half and remove pit.  Scoop out avocado and place in medium bowl.  Squeeze lime over avocado and sprinkle with salt.  Mash avocados until desired consistency.  If you want your guacamole like they serve it at Rocco's, it will should be pretty smooth, with just a few small pieces of avocado.

Add remaining ingredients and stir until well combined.  Serve immediately.

Mango Salsa (printable recipe)
1 mango, chopped
1/2 c. english cucumber, seeded and chopped
1 Tblsp. jalapeno, finely minced
1/3 c. red onion, chopped
1 Tblsp. lime juice
1/3 c. cilantro, chopped

Combine all ingredients in medium bowl.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cover and refrigerate for 30 mins. to let flavors combine.  Serve with tortilla chips, or use as a topping for fish, chicken or anything else you can think of.

Fresh Tomato Salsa (printable recipe)
1 lb. tomatoes (about 4 regular-sized or 8 plum)
1/2 lg. onion
1 jalapeno, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 c. cilantro

Place tomatoes and onion in food processor and pulse a few times until they are in a large dice.  Add jalapeno, garlic and cilantro.  Pulse until the mixture gets the consistency you desire.  For restaurant style salsa, I let it go until it is pretty finely chopped.  Remove from food processor and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Alternately, you could chop everything finely and just stir it together.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to let flavors combine.

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