Albuquerque Butter

This compound butter goes great with steak, roasted corn, fish, you name it.

  • 1 stick / 8 T unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 - 2 t salt, to taste
  • 3/4 t cumin
  • 1/2 t oregano
  • 1/4 t cayenne pepper, more to taste
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 2 scallions, green and white parts, chopped fine
Combine all ingredients. Roll into log wrapped in plastic wrap if you desire slices for presenation, or put into ramekin. Re-refrigerate.

Keeps 1-2 weeks.

Grilled Tuna & Scallops / Marinated Zucchini

A quick Friday night summer menu:

Note the links above: Gourmet recipes are available on

This looked so appealing, and ended up being the biggest disappointment of the season for several reasons. First - despite cutting down on the sugar in the shiso glaze, the Tuna was sickly sweet. The marinade called for mayonaise to be whisked in - which not surprisingly broke, so I had little globules of mayo on the fish. And third, my local HEB pushed off some bad Tuna at $16.99 a pound, and I got sick about an hour after eating. Fortunately Ms. Finn and Nora were OK - I am the canary in to coal mine when it comes to food borne bacteria.

Positive #1: I bought a few sea scallops to alternate with the tuna on skewers, and they were better than the tuna, despite getting the same glaze.

Positive #2: Marinated Zucchini were awesome. The marinade from Gourmet was just OK, but the choice of using thinly sliced zucchini is awesome. They're not cooked, so they hold shape and texture, and they stand up better to the marinade than cucumbers. Totally awesome. I made them again a few days later with a simpler pickling liquid (3/4 rice wine vinegar, 1/3 C sugar, pinch of salt, roasted dried red pepper to taste). Even more awesome.

Another negative - snow peas turn grey in an acidic marinate. By the time the dish was served they were already turning, and they were sickly the next day. Poor choice for this dish, Gourmet.

And now you see the first appearance of one of my standbys: Albuquerque Butter. The first version I made from from Sheila Lukins and Julie Rosso's classic cookbook The New Basics. But I've since adapted my own version. While it is good for corn on the cob, it's even better melted onto steak. An all around star of the compound butter world.

Pasta Salad with Tomato, Olive and Herbs

From Cooks Illustrated - May / June 2008

I wasn't expecting too much from this recipe, just a simple fill in for a summer grilled dinner. In fact, 10 days later I can no longer remember the dinner. Maybe it was steak, but it I'm not sure. But the real reason for the memory lapse is because THIS dish came up by surprise and wowed me and Ms. Finn.

As with most CI recipes, this one was developed with extensive "scientific" experimentation in the kitchen. The secret to success is mostly in well chosen proportions and one sleeper ingredient - fresh toasted bread crumbs.

Oh.....I just remembered - it was grilled ground lamb patties on skewers - from the June Gourmet. Good idea, not enough seasoning. Quite bland, enough so that the kids liked them after all. And it was a little tricky to get the logs of ground lamb to stay wholly formed while on the grill. Close - but not enough make it again.

Back to the pasta. Fresh bread crumbs toasted in oil with garlic were added to a pretty pedestrian pasta salad with tomato, olives and more garlic. The recommended pasta was farfalle or other mid-sized tubes which is a good match for olive quarters and tomato cubes. The quatity of olives was excessive - 1C for a pound of pasta (or was it, incredibly, a half pound - dear lord). So I cut that back.

The additional mouth feel of the bread crumbs tied together the core ingredients. Seasoning was spot on. This is a keeper. In fact, I can't wait to go back and check the recipe for variations. I hope they published some!!

Italian Enchildas

Well, not really. A couple Italian dishes AND enchiladas is more accurate. It's been a while since we've enjoyed a nice weeknight dinner, and last night I was finally able to try out an enchilada recipe from Cooks Illustrated that caught my attention last week.

The menu:

  • Grilled Asparagus wrapped in prosciutto - Gourmet, June 2008
  • Chicken Enchiladas Verde (or Suiza) - Cooks Illustrated, June/July 2008
  • Straciatella Tortoni "cake" - or more accurately: Frozen Amaretto Chocolate Tortoni - Gourmet, June 2008
Grilled asparagus was a huge hit, especially with my daughters (age 5 & 13). Great combination that we'll return to frequently. Be sure to skewer 3-6 spears to simplify grilling, and use the smalled diameter skewers. Four 6" skewers are all you need, not the 12" indicated.

Overall, this is a simple, no fuss recipe - but it could easily be over cooked or even burnt if the grill temperature and cooking times are not carefully monitored. But even more importantly, the quality, thickness and saltiness of the prosciutto is critical to this dish. I used $13/lb grocery store caliber (Boars Head) - and the saltiness was almost unbearable. Maybe using half slices would have helped. But higher quality prosciutto would be a waste, and thinner slices would come close to burning or melting on the grill. So fine tune the prosciutto to get this dish just right.

OK - while pulling down the photo online, I see the recipe called for Pancetta, not Prosciutto. Well then. Though I feel stupid about that oversight, most of the comments above still apply. It just that you'll have to use pancetta sliced thinner than normal instead of prosciutto sliced thicker than normal.

The enchiladas were great. Though the recipe seemed to take along time to build, it really wasn't. Rather, I had three fairly labor intensive dished going at once. Key steps in this recipe were
  • Poaching chicken in stock infused with sauteed onion, garlic and cumin (I used both boneless breasts and thighs)
  • Simple roasted tomatillo's and poblanos combined with poaching liquid to make the salsa verde
  • Plenty of chopped cilantro mixed into the chicken and cheese filling
  • Minimal use of cheese - just enough to hold each enchilada together
I'd make this again, and we'll try to get the kids to try the leftovers tonight. I used less cheese than called for, which was a good approach, and added thighs for additional flavor. Next time I'd use the leftover poaching liquid as a simple soup to accompany this dish. Definitely a winner.

The dessert was fine of course. Well, much better than fine. It was awesome - light, not too rich, multiple textures. No guilt, plenty of pleasure.

Reviews on indicated that shaving chocolate peelings was too labor intensive, and it is. However, the texture of a peeling vs. grated chocolate is a key attraction in a dish as light and simple as this.

Adding ground toasted almonds to crushed amaretti cookies and butter was a great step above other simple amaretti crusts I've made. There was a definite taste of fresh almonds present.

In fact, this dish is a variation on the amaretti / coffee ice cream cake I've been making for 15 years, also from a Gourmet recipe. It is simplified in that it is just the cream filling with meringue, and not the additional ice cream layer. Definitely a simple and effective summer dessert.

Ignore the step of creating meringue with a double boiler - I suspect it's just fear of raw egg on the part of the editors. The crust quantity can be reduced a bit - as it created too thick a crust layer for the height and size of each serving. But overall, a solid, simple dessert.
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