Friday, July 29, 2011

Cucumber Soup

Let me just start things out by saying the obvious- the Chicago Cubs are terrible. Again. As I write this post for a delicious summer amuse bouche, I listen to the super station WGN-720 rattle off another loss for the boys in blue. A team with a streak of 103 years or so of not being champs. It only took 103 games for the Northsiders to win 3 in a row this season. I think they've only won a handful of series this year for f's sake. It's so bad, Pirates are currently leading the division. Yes, that AA team from Pennsylvania. Things are still the same at Clark and Addison for the boys of summer. 13 games out of the division lead with no chance at the wild card, we're doing what we do every baseball season- waiting for next year.

Summer=baseball, and now also this soup. The antithesis of a soup like this in wintertime, the fresh herb and cool flavor of the cukes are a great way to start out a meal. You should understand that this will taste better eaten out of doors.

The mint is growing wildly in the garden due to three boat loads of rain lately. I mean the most rain in a 24 yr period since 1897 type shit. I have not found great luck with growing dill (or cilantro) in containers, so that unfortunately had to be store bought. But the mint, basil, peppers, etc. have been loving the wet and the heat so far in the Midwest summer 2011.

Cucumber Soup
4 servings

2 very large or 3 medium cucumber, seeds removed, chopped
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1 small shallot, diced
1 TB chopped fresh dill
1 TB chopped fresh mint
2 TB champagne vinaigrette
24 oz. plain yogurt, Greek-style (thick)
S&P to taste
mint garnish

Add all ingredients not named 'garnish' to a bowl suitable for your immersion blender, or your electric blender. Process until smooth, season to taste with S&P. Chill for at least 2 hours. Ladle into bowls, top with garnish, take yourself outdoors and enjoy. Like the Cubs, I will be looking forward to this next season as well.

Are the seedless cukes that much more spensive at your store? You can seed them easily- just chop in half, then in half again, then slide your knife along the cuke to remove the seeds.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze

Teenagers like to sleep in. Sometimes until Noon, if left undisturbed. I'm sure some days that's the state parents prefer. I was a fan of sleeping in for a while, but if there were chores to be done or some other reason to not sleep half the day, there was always a way to get me vertical. If my mother wanted me out of bed on the weekend, it was simple- make a batch of blueberry muffins. The odor crawling up the stairs to lure me out of sleep was irresistible. Of course I wanted to remain prone, to revel in one's laziness cocooned under the sheets, (especially in winter) but it's a futile attempt. The smell of those muffins and coffee, combined with the mental image of a nice slab of butter melting on a torn open muffin half, you gotta get up and get after that. If you love blueberry as much as I do (I have blueberry vinegar) you should whip these out.

Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze
6 scones

2 C AP flour
1 TB baking powder
1/2 ts kosher
2 TB white sugar
5 TB unsalted butter, frozen, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 C heavy cream
1 C fresh blueberries, washed

3 to 4 TB freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus zest of 1 lemon
2 C confectioners sugar

Fire up the heater to four honey. Sift the flour, baking powder, sugar, and kosher salt in a large bowl. Add the chilled butter cubes, and either cut in with two forks, a pastry blender, or my preferred method- the food processor. The mixture should resemble coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center of said large bowl, stir in the cream until just blended. Fold in the berries, being careful to not mash them, or the color will bleed into the dough. Turn out onto a lightly-floured surface and shape into a rough circle. Cut into 6 even pieces. Brush with a bit of the cream, or use an egg wash. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for about 25-30 minutes, or until nicely golden brown.

Add the glaze once the scones are out of the oven and cool to the touch-combine both ingredients, whisk until desired consistency, which is thick yet pourable. Adjust the amount of juice as necessary. Drizzle onto scones, sprinkle with sugar if desired.

I don't bake much, and I certainly don't make too many glazes. The recipe for this one called for way too much lemon juice, as you can see my glaze was too runny and not much stuck to the scones, so I have adjusted the amount shown so you won't have this problem.

These are best eaten within an hour, although they should last a day or so.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Oregano Lemon Grilled Shrimp

Yah sure there. Lots of recipes for the grill lately. It's summer, you were expecting different? The current streak of dinner off the grill is going strong at 6 days in a row. Even though we in Chicago are in day two (of three) of temps hovering around 100F, it's never too hot to grill. Or too cold, for that matter. Either way, it will take longer to preheat the grill than it will to actually cook these little fishies. Plenty of quality time lately with the new grill, we've been getting to know each other and I think this is serious. Definitely the one. We're so happy together, and rarely argue. It doesn't demand filet mignon (I would never grill that cut anyway) or lobsters; brats, corn, and grilled veggies are treated like super stars. Even, flavorful heat is a beautiful thing. Beautiful, tasty thing.

I like to buy bagged shrimp that are still in the shell, for the added flavor and protection. Defrosting in just enough water and removing the shell is a quick and easy task. If you are at a reputable fish monger and not the grocery store, always fresh is best.

Italian and seafood. They know their fish, not just pasta and meatballs. Classic flavors of fresh oregano, garlic and lemon. This dish is good for two with a starch, or on a po' boy, and does a very elegant job as an app for a few guests. That's app as in appetizer, or better known as what to eat during the first period of the game.

Oregano Lemon Grilled Shrimp
1 lb large shrimp, shelled, deveined (18-20)
1/2 C EVOO
1/4 C chopped fresh oregano leaves
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 large lemon- zest and juice
freshly cracked black pepper

Bring your protein to room temp. Combine the oil, garlic, oregano, lime juice and zest, and a bit of pepper in a large mixing bowl. Mix well and reserve 2 TB. Add the shrimps and coat well. Let sit for about 20 minutes, while you preheat the grill. Fire up your outdoor cooker to just under high, between medium-high and high. Grill for about 3 minutes per side, until just cooked through. Drizzle with the reserved extra-virgin olive oil mixture. Squeeze a bit of lemon over the shrimp, season with just a pinch of large flake salt (sea or kosher) and freshly cracked black pepper to taste. Garnish with a few small oregano leaves.

Hot off the grille, before being dressed up. Buon Appetito.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Tequila-Lime Grilled Chicken

I'm not a breast guy. They bore me. I know most of the world tends to focus on that part more than any other area, and it's a shame. Bland and usually lacking favor, there are other exciting parts than breasts. Like thighs.

The best bang for your buck can be found in the thighs, skin-on and with bone. For about a dollar a serving, no other part of the chicken yields so much flavor in the dark meat for the cost. You wanna pay how much for those 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts? $9? F that. I'm going dark meat, and I might not come back.

Grilled chicken usually sucks, let's be honest. Even if you marinate it, there's little time between raw, cooked just right, and tasting like your flip flop. This is why I prefer not only the thigh for its dark meat, but grilling a small piece of this protein with the bone in will help prevent the meat from drying out during cooking. This recipe will ensure your thighs are tasty with a tequila-lime marinade, shoot for at least 3-4 hours, overnight is best. Don't worry, the chicken will not end up tasting like a shot of tequila. Turn halfway through the marinate.

I don't drink tequila, but I keep a bottle around for my roasted red pepper tequila dip. Most of my friends don't like it. I know this guy who has a love-hate relationship with tequila. Literally. One afternoon while in Arizona, after many cervesas the night before, this dude decided he was gonna cross the border and hang out in Mexico for a while. After all, he was the back-up goalie and didn't really need to be sharp for the game that night. Great idea, right?! Well, after hitching a ride across the border and then all the way to Tucson (because they wouldn't let his drunk ass walk over with the bottle of tequila he was carrying) he somehow found his way back to our hotel, fell down on the floor of our room after pounding on the door for it to open, and proceeded to mumble incoherently, over and over and over again- 'I love tequila, I hate tequila, I love tequila, I hate tequila.' Once Coach recognized his condition, Dan wasn't allowed to dress that night, and even if he was, I don't think the pads would have made it on the right leg.

Here's another grilled chicken recipe that is super easy and delish. It's from everyone's favorite Southern family, the Deens. I love Paula of course, and Jamie is okay, but Bobby is kind of a douche.

Tequila-Lime Grilled Chicken
4 servings

1/2 C tekillya
1 C lime juice (about 6 limes, depending on size)
1/2 C orange juice
1 TB medium chili powder
1 large jalapeno, seeded, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 ts kosher
1 ts freshly cracked black pepper (not that ground shit)
8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (or your preference, cooking time will vary)

Combine everything but the chicken in a large bowl, whisk to incorporate. Add the chicken to this bowl or a baking dish, the marinade should just cover the chicken. Park in the fridge for at least 3-4 hours, overnight preferred.

About 30 min prior to grilling, remove the chicken from the marinade, remove any sticking pieces of garlic or pepper and then season with S&P. Fire up your outdoor cooker for two zones- one with direct medium-hot and an area with indirect medium heat. Grill first in the hot zone, skin side down, for three minutes, then flip. Grill for another three minutes, then transfer your bird to the indirect heat. Grill for about another 8 minutes, turning a few times, the actual time will depend on the heat of your grill and the size of your thighs. You want the internal temp at the thickest part to be 165F. Let rest for at least 5 minutes before you dive in.

Serve with salad, rice, coleslaw, or grilled corn. Or Cheetos.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Asparagus Pesto

Drinking local beers and crowded at the end of the wooden deck, it was unfortunate for the other guests at this lovely outdoor wedding that many of the passed trays of this appetizer never made it past us. Every app was delish, but we let some of the servers go by with other items. Every time the door creaked open, all of us in our secret asparagus pesto-hoarding group would turn our heads to see what was on the next plate out of the kitchen. If it was the pesto on toasted baguettes, the plate was surrounded and picked cleanly and quickly.

Sometimes you come up with you own ideas, and sometimes you simply try to copy others. This recipe is the latter. It's not really stealing- more like reengineering. And although asparagus pesto is certainly not unheard of, I wasn't gonna think of making it. It's why people share their recipes, after all, for others to make them or be inspired to do something similar.

Hell yes it's another pesto post. I might need to create a new category to keep up. We did a straight-up pesto before and then used the leftovers to dress up this once-lonely baked potato. And this pizza is in constant rotation, usually fighting for space with another favorite pie.

This pesto has only been used in it's basic form- put over a toasted baguette that's been lightly oiled with some good EVOO and rubbed while hot with a split clove of garlic. I bet tossing it with some pasta, a bit more parm-reg, or alongside some grilled chicken would be good use of any leftover.

My original batch had a full clove of garlic, which even though it wasn't a huge clove, was too much....too much garlic? I don't think I've actually said that before. So it's been cut back in the recipe below to just a pinch of the allium.

Asparagus Pesto
1.5 C

1 lb asparagus, washed and trimmed, cut into 2" pieces
1/2 medium clove garlic, minced
1/4 C pine nuts
1/4 C EVOO (may need an extra TB or so)
3/4 C parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated of course
freshly cracked black pepper
juice from 1/2 lemon (about a TB)

In a medium pot, get some boiled salted water going for the asparagus- you want to cook them a bit until they are tender but not mushy-about 8 minutes. Transfer to an ice bath to stop the cooking process, then drain, leaving about a TB or so of cooking water.

Add the asparagus, garlic, pine nuts, cheese, and lemon juice to your food processor with the metal blade. Season with just a touch of S&P. Add 2 TB of the oil, then pulse 4-6 times quickly to bring together. With the blade running, stream in the remaining oil until desired consistency is reached. You may need a bit more oil, you many want to thin it a tad with some of the reserved asp cooking water. Taste again for seasoning, then chill for at least an hour before serving. You can serve cold or bring to room temp, and it should be good for a couple days in the refrig.

Yeah, it's summer, and this dish is headed outside- so you get another tupperware photo. Practicality has been trumping prettiness lately.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Grilled, Bacon-wrapped Jalapeno Poppers

It's gonna be a quick one today- too little time these days due to the summer vacations- why not go where Mario Batali likes to chillax? I wish I had some morels growing in my driveway!

Got some hungry peeps gathered around the grill? Grill poppers wrapped with bacon. It's about as easy as you can get and still make it yourself. Sure, at some point in time I'm sure everyone from Applebee's to Chili's had these on their menu, but we'll forgive them. These will be homemade, which is always better, and of course a bit spicy...just be sure to get all the seeds and membranes scraped out of the middle-otherwise they will be very, very spicy. And don't stuff them with chorizo and pepper jack cheese, I almost injured a few people doing that.

An easy way to get out the hot stuff- cut one side open, scrape out the seeds and membranes, stuff away. Cream cheese or Cheddar, or some of each? If you are using cream cheese, feel free to add it to the bowl of your stand mixer and incorporate some garlic and onion powder.

Grilled Bacon-wrapped Jalapeno Poppers

20 medium to large jalapeno peppers
20 pieces of thin-sliced bacon
8 oz softened cream cheese or 1 C shredded cheddar
toothpicks, canola oil

Slice into the pepper lengthwise, then remove the seeds and membranes by scraping with something- be sure to get em all good but be careful not to destroy them. Stuff with cheese, then wrap with a piece of bacon. Secure with toothpicks or slide them onto a skewer. Oil up the grates, then grill over medium-high heat for about 8-12 minutes, until the bacon is crispy. Let chill for a few minutes, then enjoy the bacony, cheesy, grassy heat of the jalapeno.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Caramelized Onion Dip

"Why haven't I done this before?" is what I keep asking myself, as I reach for another triscuit. I love onions, probably to the point where it's unhealthy. It's true I could eat a raw one like an apple, no shitting you. Not only could I caramelize onions in my sleep, I have- using the slow cooker, overnight. Here we turn the versatile onion into a tangy dip. Oh, and about the slow-cooked onions? It's best to do them on the stove top. Too much moisture retention and not enough stirring.

Here's the situation- it's a summer party, outdoors- there's gonna be some veggies, chips, crackers, Usinger's smoked sausages, and something real tasty- good old fashioned (but no old fashioneds) aged Wisconsin cheddar cheese. This dip will get rave reviews, although the sausage and cheese probably deserve most of the accolades. The key? A red wine deglaze/reduction while browning the onions. Do red wine and cheddar get along? Does an elephant take large dumps?


If you don't have a splash of red wine handy, you could also use a few TB's of good balsamic vinegar.

Caramelized Onion Dip

1.5 C diced onion
1/2 ts kosher
1 C sour cream
3/4 C mayo
1/4 ts garlic powder
1/4 ts onion powder
3-4 TB red wine
1/4 ts pepper
1/4 ts kosher

Fire up a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add a couple glugs of EVOO when up to temp, then toss in the diced onions. Add a pinch of kosher and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn down the heat to low and brown for 20-25 minutes, stirring every 7 minutes. Once nice and brown, deglaze with a splash of wine, stir, then continue for another 10-12 minutes, until very browned and the moisture has evaporated. Let cool, then add everything together, season to taste. Will be best after a few hours in the fridge.

Look how nicely that fits in the beverage holder of a camping chair. Good thing there's another one for the beverage.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Shrimp, Arugula, Grape Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette

Salad. Sometimes you just want it. Need it, crave it, nothing else will satisfy your urge. A salad. Maybe it's after a weekend of eating nothing but steaks, brats, kielbasa, baby back ribs, pulled pork, and other highly caloric delicacies. Try and use champagne vinaigrette, it will really make a difference paired with the grapes. If you don't have any, it's a good excuse to buy some.

Super ass quick and easy- this recipe will take all of 13 minutes to make- you fire up the grill or saute pan while blending the dressing, cook up the shrimp, toast some nuts, then bring it all together. Dunn and Dunn.

I recommend you always keep a bag of shell-on, deveined, raw shrimps in the freezer, after a quick defrost in a small bowl of cold water, (which only takes 20 minutes) they can be used for no less than 675,893 recipes.

Shrimp, Arugula, Grape Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette*
2 servings as main dish

for the Dressing-
1/3 C seedless green grapes
1 TB Champagne vinegar (white wine will do, it just won't be as good)
1 ts EVOO
3/4 ts Dijon mustard
1 ts minced shallot
1/8 ts kosher salt
1/8 ts freshly cracked black pepper

Add all ingredients together and zap with a stick blender, or in a blender, or I think a food pro would work as well.

for the Salad-
3/4 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 C celery, diagonally cut
5 C baby arugula, or arugula trimmed, washed and dried
1 C seedless red grapes, halved
1 C seedless green grapes, halved
1/4 C fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
2 TB crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
2 TB coarsely chopped walnuts, lightly toasted

First make the dressing, then arrange in a large bowl the grapes, arugula, celery and basil. Cook your shrimp any way you'd like- saute for 2-3 minutes per side in butter or EVOO, grill over high heat for 2 minutes per side, or boil or broil or poach, just don't microwave them. Make sure to use high heat and cook em up quick, there's not much time between properly cooked and chewing rubber.

Toss the shrimp in with the arugula mix. Add the dressing and fold everything together nicely. Plate, then top with the walnuts and gorgonzola. Go outside. sit down, take your shoes off and enjoy this with a glass of vin blanc- may I recommend a Sauvignon Blanc from the usual favorite Marlborough region or Chile, perhaps a Pinot Gris from Oregon or how about a Roseeeeeeeee?? There's nothing wrong with that, you know. They are plenty of dry and semi-dry Roses well quaffable.

*All credit for this dish goes to Megan, mother of 1.5. Thanks!!