I made a lot of my tuition money for college by cooking at a fairly upscale seafood restaurant. The food was very good there overall. I started as a prep cook and ended up working just about all of the kitchen positions, cooking on the line, making all the sauces and chowders, cutting expensive fish we got flown in and even working the oyster bar for a year or so.
I'd always enjoyed cooking since I was a teen (I started out with pizza). But cooking in college I managed to learn enough to get me started with a pretty good array of dishes that I'm comfortable cooking and improvising with. I rarely stick to a single recipe these days for any given dish. Most dishes that I cook, if I don't already have basic strategy in mind from memory, I research by looking up several recipes from various sources and get a feel for the basic ingredients, cooking strategies and some of the common variations. I then get started and just follow my intuition where it takes me. Usually it works out pretty well. Occasionally it goes south, but I always learn from those.
The three cuisines that I most frequently draw from in my cooking are Mexican, Italian and Asian (primarily Chinese, but lots of others as well). Lately we've been eating a lot of fresh guacamole and salsas. We've been having variations on these quesadillas once in a while lately.
Here is a nice summer time recipe for some quesadillas and homemade pico de gallo tossed with avocado to go along with it:
flour tortillas (burrito size)
1 chicken breast
1 1/2 cups jack or mozzarella cheese
2 tsp olive oil (more if you sautee the chicken above)
1 or 2 cloves garlic (more if you sautee the chicken above.
1 jar Mexican green salsa (tomatillo based). You can find this in ethnic sections of many grocery stores. If not any mexican market will have it or in a pinch you could substitute pureed salsa.
1 small avocado
1 medium tomato (deseeded)
2 green onions chopped finely
2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
1/2 bermuda red onion minced
freshly ground pepper to taste
salt to taste
To prep the chicken, since it is summer the easiest way would be to grill with some garlic power and light salt and pepper. Alternatively you can also dice the chicken breasts and saute them with fresh garlic, olive oil and a little salt pepper. Poaching also works fine. If you grill or poach them, let them cool before dicing, and set aside.
Pico de gallo
Deseed the tomato. Cut off both ends of the tomato and set them aside to dice after deseeding the main part. Cut the remaining part of the tomato in half ("along the equator"). Use your finger to dislodge the seeds and pulp from inside the tomato. Check it with your fingers from the top and bottom. The pulp can be used in a spagetti sauce or just discarded. Dice the tomato, and the red onion. Other kinds of onions can be substituted, but the red ones look particulary good in this pico de gallo. Chop the green onions and cilantro finely. Set aside a couple teaspoons of each. Make sure to rinse the cilantro in particular because it is often gritty. This is a good idea with all your produce of course. If you want hot pico de gallo, leave the seeds and the veins in the jalepeño. Other wise use a spoon to scrape out the seeds and the veins (the white stuff). Mince the jalepeños finely. You may want to use latex gloves. Other wise be careful not to rub your face (or other sensitive areas ;0) ) until your hands are washed afterward. Mince the garlic and add. Juice half the lime into a separate cup to ensure you don't get seeds into your gallo, then add to the other ingredients. Add the olive oil. Salt lightly and add fresh ground pepper to taste. Mix the ingredients well. Add the diced avocado last and toss. Adding it after the mixing the other ingredients prevents it from getting mashed up...much prettier. Taste again and add salt and pepper or more jalepeños if necessary
Note: To judge the heat of your jalepeños let the pico de gallo sit for a half hour. Like salt, it is best to start a bit low on peppers and add more if you want it hotter. It is very hard to adjust if you get to much of salt or jalepeños. The perceived heat increases over the half hour.
Putting Together and Cooking
Place tortillas on a large cookie sheet. Half of the tortilla can be hanging off for this part if you are short on space. Place a couple tablespoons of the greens salsa on half the tortilla and spread around. Add enough of the cheese to cover the green salsa (just a bit more than you would on a pizza). Don't get too close to the edges or the cheese will melt out of the tortilla. Sprinkle the cooked chicken on the cheese and sprinke a bit of the green onions and cilantro over all the ingredients. Fold the tortilla over the ingredents. Bake or broil at 500. If you broil, turn the quesadilla over as soon as the cheese is half melted. When mostly melted remove, place on a cutting board and cut into 4 pieces like a pizza. It will continue to melt for a couple minutes. Serve with the Pico de gallo and avocado in a mound on the other half of the plate or in a ramekin (little glass or metal cup). You may also serve with a dollop of sour cream.
If you have pico de gallo in a restaurant that isn't all that good, you'll now know some of the secret ingredients that might be missing. Common culprits are olive oil, lime juice, fresh garlic, low on the cilantro or under seasoned.
In a pinch you can just use store bought salsa and guacamole (preferably good ones from a nice grocery store). Later I'll have to toss in one of my authentic guac recipes. That is even easier than the pico and is always a hit. I never have leftovers after social gatherings.
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