Sunday, July 22, 2012

Watermelon, Avocado Salad with Vidalia Onion Vinaigrette

Nine weeks into being a used home owner.  Eight weeks into being a new dad.  Life is moving at warp speed right now.  It seems like we just moved into this house last week, and brought our daughter home from the hospital two days ago in that state of cloud nine happiness, pure unfiltered joy, and an equal mix of confusion and fear about being a parent.  They say that first walk to the car with the new one is surreal, and I'm here to tell ya, they're right.  I got used to the car seat and base being in the backseat for weeks, no big deal...but now there's a kid in there!  I still think it's crazy shit, but it's awesome crazy shit.  I can now laugh about getting pooped on, and so can she.  At least she didn't ruin the shirt. 

Both home ownership and child rearing have presented their challenges, but nothing that we can't handle with love, hard work, lots of patience, and at times lack of sleep.  It's unreal how big she has become in only two months, and also amazing how far we've come in making this house our home.  A work in progress for years to come, house and child.  Some highlights so far are her stretching after waking up, which goes on for like 10 minutes and is so far to me the best thing on the planet.  And having a piece of land, somewhere to put my hands in the earth, treat it kindly and let it provide nice things like flowers and vegetables.  I even like mowing the lawn, there's a pair of old sneakers (gym shoes to some) reserved for the task.  Can't mow in flip-flops, you know.  Hell, can't technically wear's sort of an outside joke, which is the opposite of an inside joke.  Much thanks to the fam for donating the lawn mower, next item I need to acquire is a gas powered trimmer, cause cutting edges by hand with clippers is a pain in the ass.  Especially when it's been so alarmingly hot this summer.  My neighbors probably think I am crazy to trim with what is essentially a giant pair of scissors, or maybe they believe I just have OCD.  Personally, I reference it as OC-ness, I wouldn't necessarily call it a disorder at this point.  Why not just go buy a 'weed wacker'? I can easily drop money for quality food, good wine, or a new hockey twig, those are undoubtedly needs.  For now I'm okay with the old-fashioned way, I'll save those dollars for diapers.

Wait.  What? For really I haven't posted this recipe yet??  It's become such a fan favorite, it's almost revered as much as this dish, which is quintessential summer-in-a-bowl.  If you buy some champagne vinegar to make this recipe, which is totally necessary, you might think what in the hell am I gonna do with the rest of it?  This other yummy and summery salad is the hell what.  

Here is a slightly different take on the typical watermelon salad- it looks so gosh dang good I had to include two pictures, and I think I took about twelve.  Not only does it appear fantastic, the juicy watermelon is brought to new culinary heights with avocado, goat cheese, basil, and a sweet vidalia onion vinaigrette. 

Watermelon, Avocado Salad with Vidalia Onion Vinaigrette
two servings

1.5 TB minced vidalia onion
1.5 TB champagne vinegar
1.5 ts honey
pinch of sea or kosher salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1/3 C canola oil
2 2" thick slices of fresh, ripe seedless watermelon
1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted, spooned out of the peel
2 oz goat cheese
4 basil leaves, on the chiffonade

For the vinaigrette-
Add the onion, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper to a small bowl, let sit for 10 minutes to soften up the onion.  Slowly whisk in the oil to emulsify, or zap with your stick blender.  Set aside. 

For the salad-
Plate up a nice hunk of watermelon slice, season lightly with sea salt and pepper.  Thinly slice each avocado half, retaining the shape as you fan out on top of the melon.  Season lightly with S&P.  Crumble half of the goat cheese on each slice.  Distribute half of the basil chiffonade on each, then drizzle with the vinaigrette. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Grilled Tilapia with Mango Salsa

It's halfway through the baseball season, which means it is also halfway through summer.  The summer season always goes the quickest, doesn't it?  And come St. Patrick's Day, it feels as though winter has lasted for eight months. 

Have you grilled as much as you'd like in the first half of the season??  It's been super ass hot for most of the US, so maybe you've stayed indoors like a sissy.  Or, maybe you just need some good recipe ideas to get you cooking outside.  By now, you might be getting tired of the same old brats and burgers.  Have you grilled whole rainbow trout stuffed with oregano, garlic and lemon?  Yes, the wife was very excited to find her dinner staring at her. 

How about cedar-planked salmon?  That always smells (and tastes) so dang good.  And it won't look at you from the plate, if you prefer that sort of meal.

Don't have a plank of cedar handy?  You could make salmon tacos with a deliciously refreshing slaw.    

Maybe you'd like to try some swordfish?

Need to eat on the cheap? Tilapia is not expensive, and grills up quick and yummy.  Make sure you oil the grill grates thoroughly, so the filets don't stick...or maybe you got one of them fish grilling basket things.  An easy way to lubricate your cooking surface is by wetting a piece of paper towel with veggie or canola oil, and then use your tongs to rub the hot grill grates.  

If you like the heat, you can use a large jalapeno or more than one small guy.  Using the seeds and ribs of the pepper will also bring more warmth to the salsa.   The tilapia will need to marinate for about an hour, so plan ahead for this time.  After you put the salsa together and warm up the grill, dinner is on the table real quick. 

Grilled Tilapia with Mango Salsa
2 servings

1/3 C EVOO
1 TB lemon juice
1 TB minced fresh parsley
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 TB dried basil
1 ts freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 ts kosher salt
2 tilapia fillets, about 6 oz each

1 large mango, peeled, pitted and diced
1/2 medium red bell pepper, diced
2 TB minced red onion
1 TB chopped fresh cilantro
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2 TB lime juice
1 TB lemon juice
S&P to taste

3-4 basil leaves, chiffonade

For the marinade-
Whisk together the EVOO, lemon juice, parsley, garlic, basil, salt and pepper.  Pour into a resealable plastic bag, then carefully add the tilapia fillets.  Close the bag while pressing out the air, place in the fridge for sixty minutes.  If you desire, turn the bag after half an hour to ensure a good marinate. 

For the salsa-
Combine the mango, bell pepper, onion, cilantro, jalapeno pepper, and citrus juice in a small bowl.  Season to taste with S&P.  Place in the fridge while the fish is marinating.  Stir up before using. 

For the fish-
Remove from the marinade, let the excess drip off, warm up the grill.  With well-oiled grates, grill over medium-high direct heat for about 3-4 minutes per side, until cooked through, the fish will flake easily with a fork.  Place one fillet on each serving plate, top with the mango salsa, then add a bit of fresh basil.  Whole grain brown rice and grilled vidalia onion optional. 

As I post this lovely recipe, a much-needed thunderstorm just rolled through, moisture that we desperately have not seen lately.  The temp just dropped from 89 to 70 in 5 minutes.  My tomato plants are so happy I can hear them smiling.  That's right. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Hawaiian Pork Burgers

Finally, the heat wave has broken.  A week straight in the 90's topped off by 3 consecutive days in the 100's, it's difficult to enjoy any type of outdoor activity in those temps.  My man skillethead has all the details of how unusual this weather pattern is.  It's currently 78F with a pleasant, cooling wind off the lake.  I think I'll celebrate this welcome outdoor comfort by grilling up some thick, bone-in pork chops tonight.  It's so cool we might actually get back in the kitchen to make dinner this week- I got a sheet pan of halved, salted grape tomatoes that have been sitting in the sun since 7AM.  I'm thinking pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, capers, chili flake, basil right out the garden, and a generous grating of parmigiano reggiano.   

It might have been 103F outside yesterday, yet I was still happy to spend 6 hours with these St. Louis-style baby back ribs.  The rub and cooking style were the same as these ribs, yet this batch used a standard bbq sauce.  Rub em, rest em, grill em, smoke em, then sauce em up and broil-glaze em.  Finger-licking good!

I'd like to say this recipe was somehow inspired by the 4th of July and America's independence from those pesky Brits, but pineapple was on sale.  Freshly cut pineapple is sooooo good, and throwing a few slices on the grill is really delicious.  It's sort of like a ham-and-pineapple pizza, but with pork and bbq sauce as a burger. 

Hawaiian Pork Burgers
4 servings

1 lb ground pork
1/4 C green onion, minced (green part only)
1/2 ts ground ginger
1/8 ts ground allspice
1/2 ts kosher salt
1/4 ts freshly cracked black pepper
4 freshly cut pineapple rings, can substitute canned if needed
1/4 C of bbq sauce
thinly sliced red onion
burger buns

In a medium mixing bowl combine the pork, onion, ginger, allspice, salt and pepper.  Combine well, but gently as to not press to firmly, into 4 burger patties.  Smear a 1/2 TB of bbq sauce of each side, place in the fridge as you heat up the grill.  

Fire up the outdoor cooker to medium high.  Once heated, cook the burgers for 6 minutes on the first side and about 4 minutes on the second, until the internal temp reaches 160F.  While the burgers rest for a few minutes, grill the pineapple rings for 2 minutes on each side, until you have nice grill marks.  Toast your buns if you like em like that.  Assemble the burger on the bottom bun, top with some very thinly sliced red onion, maybe a bit of the bbq sauce, then a slice of pineapple.  Eats well with corn on the cob (picked that morning!) and baked beans. 

It's shit like this that make ordinary hillbillies millionaires, similar to becoming rich off making duck calls.  My jealousy for the inventor of the DOUBLEUP is respectful, I wish I had a couple but I didn't buy any.  I'll go online and make by embarrassing purchases like everyone else. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

San Marzano Pizza Sauce

I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it again and again.  Using high-quality ingredients usually provides tasty food, granted you don't muck it up too much.  This pizza sauce recipe is so easy, and the taste is amazing and all you want in a red pizza sauce- a mouthful of tomato, garlic, and oregano. 

San Marzano tomatoes, if you've never heard of them, are like the Cadillac of tomatoes.  Scratch that, they're like the Ferrari of tomatoes, since that's Italian and I doubt Detroit has good tomatoes.  Given the choice, I'd rather take a Ferrari out for a few laps than a Caddy.  They are pricier than your normal canned tomaters, but very worth it for a recipe like this- when you have few ingredients and want deliciousness.  Even the dried oregano in the sauce was from last fall's harvest, grinding the dessicated leaves with a mortar and pestle, the aroma reached halfway across the house.

San Marzano Pizza Sauce
about 3 C

2 TB good EVOO
5 medium garlic cloves, minced
28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, San Marzano preferred
1/2 ts kosher salt
1/4 ts freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 ts dried oregano

In a medium saucepan, warm up the oil over medium heat.  When hot but not smoking, add in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.  Add the tomatoes, reserving the juice, and smash up with a spoon, potato masher, or similar blunt object.  Add the juice, the salt, pepper, and oregano, and bring just to a boil.  Turn down heat to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Let cool a bit before adding on top of an uncooked pie dough.  Freeze leftover sauce in freezer bags, this recipes yields enough for about 3 pies. 

This margherita pizza was inspired by the simple sauce.  Here's a recipe for the dough, or see the pizza link above right.  Good quality mozzarella was bubbling on top of this sauce, then some fresh basil leaves just plucked out of the garden.  That's it.  Simple, easy, and yummy, from just a handful of ingredients.  That's eating well.