Cat Cora Cooks "From The Hip"

Food TV personality, "Iron Chef" and cookbook author Cat Cora has put together a collection of super-easy recipes that can get whipped up any night of the week in her new book, "Cooking From the Hip: Fast, Easy, Phenomenal Meals."

Cora is the Food Network's only female Iron Chef champion; she is also the executive chef at Bon Appetit magazine. "Hip" is her second cookbook.

In her free time, Cora also founded the group "Chefs for Humanity,"which organized chefs and food providers to provide relief to families in her native Mississippi and Louisiana who were devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Cora's book has four sections -- Fast, Easy, Fun and Phenomenal. She wants the recipes in her book to be part of every home cook's nightly repertoire.

Cora's personal Web site can be found at www.catcoracooks.com.

RECIPES

Watermelon Gazpacho:

6 cups chopped, seeded watermelon; reserve juice
1 cup peeled, seeded, and diced cucumber
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
3 celery hearts, diced
1/2 small red onion, finely diced
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon lime juice (from 2 large limes)
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup crème fraiche (optional)

Puree the watermelon and any reserved juice in a blender or food processor until smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the cucumber, peppers, celery, onion, herbs, lime juice, vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. Pour the watermelon puree over the vegetables, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 1 hour.

Taste and season with more salt and black pepper or jalapeno, if it's not spicy enough. Serve very cold, topped with a spoonful of crème fraiche, if you like.

Asian Steak and Spinach Salad:

1/2 pound baby spinach
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon light or dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 sweet red onion, cut into 1/4-inch-thick-half-moons
1/2 pound grass-fed steak (sirloin, tenderloin, porterhouse, New York strip, or rib-eye)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1-2 tablespoons chopped unsalted peanuts, for garnish

Wash the spinach and spin dry or roll up the leaves in a clean dish towel. Place the spinach in a large salad bowl and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the garlic, lime juice, brown sugar, and soy sauce and set aside.

In a large cast-iron skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the onion and sauté for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Transfer the hot onion to the salad bowl on top of the spinach. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan. Sear the steak until medium-rare, about 3 minutes per side. (If you like your steak well-done, keep it in the pan for 1 more minute.) Remove the pan from the heat, immediately transfer the steak to a cutting board, and let it rest.

Let the skillet cool for a few minutes. Add the soy-lime mixture to the pn and turn the heat to medium-high. Deglaze the pan by stirring constantly and loosening any bits of steak that cling to the bottom. Reduce the heat to low to keep the sauce warm. Slice the meat as thin as possible, cutting against the grain. Arrange the meat slices over the onion and spinach. Drizzle with the warm sauce and sprinkle with the cilantro and peanuts. Serve immediately.


Lettuce "Gyros" Filled with Spicy Halibut

Halibut
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to sear the fish and oil the baking dish
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds halibut fillets (four 6-ounce center-cut fillets or six 4-ounce fillets)

Tomato Salad
5 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved (see page 12)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Lettuce Cups
1 head butter lettuce
1 head radicchio

Condiments
Pepperoncini, drained and chopped
Chopped scallions, for garnish

Preheat the grill to medium-hot or the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

For the Halibut: In a baking dish big enough to hold the fillets in a single layer, combine the 2 tablespoons olive oil, lime juice, chili powder, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Add the halibut fillets and turn to coat thoroughly with the marinade. Let the fillets marinate for 10 minutes to absorb the flavors while you make the tomato salad.
For the Tomato Salad: In a medium bowl, mix the tomatoes, onion, olives, oregano, parsley, olive oil, and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste and mix well. Set aside.

To Grill the Halibut: To prevent the fish from sticking, brush the fillets with a little olive oil before placing them on the grill. Cook the fillets until they begin to turn opaque on top, 3 to 6 minutes. (For halibut steaks, grill a few minutes longer, 5 to 7 minutes.) Using a long-handled spatula turn the fish carefully and grill on the second side for 3 to 6 minutes, until the fish is opaque throughout.

To Bake the Halibut: Pour 1 tablespoon olive oil into a large skillet over high heat and sear the fish for 1 minute on each side. Bake the fish in an oiled Pyrex baking dish in the oven until it is firm to the touch and flakes easily when separated with the tines of a fork, 10 to 12 minutes for fillets and 12 to 15 minutes for steaks. When the fish is done, remove it from the oven and let it rest in the pan while you set out the lettuce cups on a large serving platter.

Salmon and Scallop Skewers with Romesco Sauce

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
8 ounces salmon fillet (either 1 large piece or several smaller pieces), cut into 8 equal chunks
8 sea scallops
8 8-inch wooden skewers, soaked in cool water for at least 1 hour
1 red onion, cut into 1 1/4-inch chunks
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1 1/4-inch chunks
1 poblano chili, cut into 1 1/4-inch chunks

Romesco Sauce
1 red bell pepper, roasted (see page 242), peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, roasted (see page 241)
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped almonds (8 or 9 whole almonds)
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin oil
Pinch of kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit or preheat the grill.

In a baking dish, combine the olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and lime juice. Add the salmon and scallops to the dish and stir with a wooden spoon to coat all the pieces. Cover and refrigerate while you make the sauce.

For the Romesco Sauce: In a blender, combine the roasted pepper, tomatoes, almonds, garlic, vinegar, and olive oil, blending until smooth. (If you like, you can toss the whole almonds and garlic cloves into the blender, but I find that chopping them coarsely first prevents any large chunks from ending up struck under the blender blades.) Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

Remove the salmon and scallops from the marinade and discard the liquid. Pat dry each scallop and chunk of fish with paper towels. (If you don't dry each piece, they'll steam while cooking and have a soft exterior rather than a crisp one.)

Thread each skewer with 2 onion chunks, 1 salmon chunk, bell pepper and poblano chunks, and 1 scallop.

To Bake or Broil: Set the skewers on a baking sheet and place on the top rack of your oven. Bake or broil for 4 minutes, then rotate the baking sheet in the oven and give each skewer a half turn. Bake or broil for another 4 minutes, or until the salmon is firm to the touch and the scallops have begun to brown on the edges.

To Grill: These cook quickly, so it's best to set them to the side of the grill and not directly over a flame. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then turn. Turn the skewers gently so that the fish doesn't break and fall into the fire. When the salmon feels firm to the touch and the scallops show light grill marks, remove from the grill.

Arrange two skewers on each plate and spoon the sauce over them, or pile the skewers on a serving platter and serve the sauce in a bowl.


Lemonade Cookies

1 6-ounce can frozen lemonade concentrate
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar, plus extra to sprinkle over the cookies
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (optional)
2 large eggs
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit

Fill a large bowl with warm water and plop in the unopened can of lemonade to thaw while you mix the cookie dough.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with a hand mixer. Add the lemon zest, if desired. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue beating until the mixture is light and creamy, 4 to 5 minutes, then set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

Measure out 1/2 cup of the thawed lemonade and set the rest aside. Add about one third of the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. Stir, then add about one third of the 1/2 cup lemonade. Continue adding the flour and lemonade alternately, stirring after each addition, until the mixture shows no streaks of flour. Beat on the low speed with the mixer just until all the ingredients are combined.

Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of the dough 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake the cookies, checking them after 8 minutes. When the edges are just starting to brown, remove the cookies from the oven. (The centers will still look soft.) Using a pastry brush, immediately brush the top of each cookie very lightly with a little of the remaining lemonade concentrate, then lightly sprinkle with sugar. Transfer the cookies to a rack and allow them to cool completely.

Hazelnut Chocolate Crème Brulee

2-1/4 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
6 large egg yolks
5 tablespoons sugar, plus 1/4 cup for the topping
8 ounces gianduja chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Place eight 6-ounce ramekins in a shallow baking pan or a roasting pan.

Pour the cream into a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean down the center and, using the side of a small parting knife, scrape the vanilla seeds into the cream. Drop in the vanilla bean. Heat over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer slightly.
In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks, and the 5 tablespoons sugar with a hand mixer until the mixture is thick and light in color, 4 to 5 minutes.

When the cream has just begun to simmer, remove the vanilla bean and discard it. Take the cream off the heat and add the chocolate. Let the mixture stand for 30 seconds to melt the chocolate and then whisk until smooth. Slowly drizzle about 1/4 cup of the chocolate mixture into the eggs, beating on low speed. Continue adding the chocolate mixture slowly, stopping to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low hear for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until it thickens slightly.

Pour the custard into the ramekins, filling each about two-thirds full. (If making the custard beforehand, pour it into the ramekins, cover them, and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.) Place the baking pan with the ramekins into the oven and, using a small pitcher or measuring cup with a spout, pour enough hot water into the baking dish to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes (35 to 40 minutes if the custard was refrigerated), or until the custard is almost firm and jiggles just slightly when the ramekins are moved. Leaving the baking pan in the oven and using a wide metal spatula in one hand and a hot mitt on the other hand, gently lift the ramekins out of the hot water one at a time. Cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes, then transfer to the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

When you are ready to serve, sprinkle 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar evenly over each custard and, using a brulee torch, very carefully heat and melt the sugar until it caramelizes. Serve.

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