Sunday, December 29, 2013

Crabcakes with Lemon-Caper Aioli

Many people that enjoy eating well spend a good bit of money around the holidays, whether it be at a nice restaurant for New Year's Eve or shelling out some coin to cook some lobsters or a prime rib at home.  This year we went extravagant on making these crabcakes, splurging on good jumbo lump meat.  You can find high-quality canned crabmeat at your fishmonger or a decent grocery store.  The jumbo lump variety will probably be around $18-$20 per pound, if you don't want to spend that much claw meat is about $5 per lb cheaper.  I doubled the recipe and used a pound of each, freezing half of the cakes for a second round of holiday eating.  These cakes are the real deal, all crab, just enough bread crumb to hold them together.  You can make them as described below for a tasty main dish or form golf ball size cakes for little appetizers.  The lil guys would cook up in 2-3 minutes per side. 

The lemon-caper aioli brings a briny and bright touch to complement the rich crab.   

These are very easy and quick to make, and if you're looking to serve up something fancy to your guests and want a do-ahead meal, this is a good option.  From the fridge to the plate in less than 10 minutes with little work.

Two important notes- don't press down while cooking, and don't agitate them while browning- let them develop a crust by letting them be.   

Crabcakes with Lemon-Caper Aioli
four servings

1/2 C mayo
1 TB fresh lemon juice
1/2 ts lemon zest
1.5 TB capers, drained and chopped
1 medium garlic clove, minced
2 TB extra-virgin olive oil

1 lb jumbo lump crabmeat
4 scallions, green part only, minced
1 TB fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped (never cook with the curly variety)
1/4 C Hellmans or your preferred mayo
2-4 TB fresh breadcrumbs, homemade preferred
1.5 ts Old Bay seasoning
freshly cracked black pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 C AP flour
1/4 C veggie oil
scallion or chive, for garnish

for the aioli-
Combine the mayo through garlic in a small bowl, mix well.  Season to taste with S&P.  Slowly add the olive oil while whisking to emulsify.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, will last a few days. 

for the cakes-
Empty the crab into a bowl and pick over for any shell fragments. 

Place a sheet of parchment paper over a sheet pan. 

In a large bowl, mix the crab, scallion, parsley, mayo, 2 TB bread crumbs, Old Bay, and a pinch of fresh black pepper.  Mix thoroughly yet gently and then fold in the egg.  Test a golf ball size or so to see if it stays together and will hold shape, if not it may need another 1-2 TB of breadcrumbs. 

Make four cakes slightly thicker than a hockey puck, about 3" in diameter and 1.5" thick.  Stash in the fridge for at least 60 minutes, up to 24 hours, covered with plastic wrap. 

 When ready to cook, heat up the oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat.  Place the flour in a shallow dish or plate and add the cakes one at a time, coating well and shaking off any excess.  When the oil is shimmering hot, fry on one side for 4-5 minutes, until a brown crust forms.  Do not move while browning or shake the pan.  Cook on the flipside for 3-4 minutes until nicely browned.  Plate em up and serve topped with the aioli and a touch of scallion or chive for garnish.  Side of risotto with a generous amount of parmigiano reggiano optional but recommended.  A crisp, dry white such as Pinot Gris would wash this down properly.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Spinach, Mushroom, Artichoke and Feta Stuffed Chicken Breasts

We never rarely eat chicken at home.  Beer can chicken during the summer is probably 90% of our dining on home-cooked poultry.  Although we did have this chili not too long ago (a great alternative to the usual chili) and we like to put cooked chicken on a pizza.  And when the wife is away, baking chicken wings is my go-to meal when cooking for one. Seeking a change-up in our meal plan, I thought stuffing chicken breasts with spinach, mushrooms, and feta would be damn tasty.  Then I decided artichokes should join the party.  Since chicken breasts can be quite boring, this Mediterranean stuffing sure did transform plain chicken into a tasty meal.  Serve with some brown rice and a green salad, that's dinner.

It was hard to tell while the chicken was packaged, but after getting home and pulling out my breasts, I realized I had some massive portions of meat.  Like Dolly Parton of poultry size.  Depending on how big your breasts are, you could have enough stuffing for 4-6 pieces.  Any leftover stuffing should be tossed, as you're most likely handling that and raw chicken with the same hands. 

Don't buy those feta crumbles, that's not good eating.  Spend a couple more bucks for a real imported block and dice it yourself.  There will be some leftover to make this or this

When cooking the mushrooms, try to spread them out as much as possible in your skillet so they saute, not steam.  Work in batches if necessary.

If you don't have a cast iron skillet, you need to get one.  They are cheap and are the best utensil for searing meats like this chicken or burgers, steaks, etc.  Did I mention frying bacon?  Lodge is a good affordable brand. 

A food thermometer is important for roasting or grilling meats so you don't overcook your animals or even worse, serve people food that isn't cooked properly.  Steaks and such you can judge by the firmness, but for pork and chicken I always use the thermometer.  Cease the cooking when the temp reaches 5°F of the 'done' temp, it will reach that mark while resting.  For chicken, that's out of the oven at 160°F.  And with this recipe, the middle of the chicken is stuffed, so you want to probe in the thickest part of the breast that is all meat.     

Spinach, Mushroom, Artichoke and Feta Stuffed Chicken Breasts
4 large or 6 medium chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
1 small onion, diced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
8 oz cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 bunch spinach, trimmed of stems
6 oz artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 C diced feta cheese
2/3 C AP flour
2 large eggs
1-2 C fresh bread crumbs

In a large skillet, saute the onion in a bit of EVOO over medium heat until softened, about 4-5 minutes.  Season with a pinch of S&P while cooking.  Add in the minced garlic and cook for another sixty seconds.  Remove to a large bowl and let cool.

Return the skillet to medium heat and add the mushrooms, in as much of a single layer as possible.  Once they have lost some moisture after 3 minutes or so, add in a bit of EVOO and stir.  Cook until just browned, stirring often, another 4-5 minutes.  Add to the large bowl with the onion. 

Wash your spinach and leave dripping wet.  Add to the skillet and cover for a minute, then stir with tongs until it is wilted.  Remove to a work surface layered with a few paper towels.  Squeeze out as much moisture as you can, then chop finely and add to the bowl with onion and mushroom.  Add in the chopped artichoke and feta as well once everything has cooled.  Season with freshly cracked black pepper and stir it up.  

Fire up the oven to 350°F.

Assemble your breading station- one pan with AP flour (season with S&P if desired), one pan with bread crumbs, and one shallow bowl with the eggs, beaten lightly.

On a work surface appropriate to handle raw chicken, make a pocket in the middle of each breast with a sharp knife.  Slice carefully so you don't halve the breast.  Stuff each with as much filling as you can, packing it in with your finger or a spoon.  Close each breast with 3-4 toothpicks.

Get a couple TB of canola or vegetable heating up in a cast iron skillet over medium high heat.  While heating, begin the breading.

Breading station-

Roll each stuffed chicken breast in the pan with the flour with your right hand.  Your leftie is for the egg and bread crumb.  Roll in the egg and let excess drip off, then coat in the bread crumbs turning a couple times.  Place on a sheet pan or plate.  

Once your oven is up to temp and your oil is rippling, turn that fan on and get to the frying.  Gently place in the skillet, the closed sides towards the middle.

Cook until nicely browned, about 3-4 minutes.  Watch carefully so you don't burn the bread crumbs.  Flip onto the other side and place in the oven.  Cook until temp reaches 160°F in the thickest part of the meat, about 12-15 minutes.  Let rest for 5-10 minutes, remove the toothpicks, then slice into medallions. 

 This little end of the chicky got toasted a little too much in the pan, so that went to the chef. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Cauliflower and Brussels Sprout Gratin

The final months of 2013 have been flying by.  I'm pretty sure September didn't even exist this year.  10 days till Christmas??  When the hell did this happen?  Thankfully, my better half did most of my shopping for me, so I don't have to worry about the push to find gifts this year.  Do you have any kitchen gadetry on your list?  I never remove a gift certificate from D'artagnan or tasty pig parts from Nueske's from my list.  If Santa thinks I've been good this year I hope to get one of these high-end thermometers.  It's also time to think about what kind of beast to roast this holiday season. 

Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.  I hope you've grown to appreciate these yummy veggies.  Healthy for you and quite inexpensive.  They are tasty simply roasted in the oven with a bit of extra-virgin olive oil and salt and pepper.  This recipe however, steps it up.  This is a decadent side dish, perhaps for your holiday meal.  Vegetables swimming in bacon, butter, and cheese?  Okay. 

If you've never prepped Brussels sprouts, it's easy.  Trim off the end with a paring knife, then quarter them lengthwise.  The outer couple leaves will come off, and that's great- you don't want those. 

Making your own fresh bread crumbs is very worth the effort.  Take a day or two old baguette, cut into pieces that will fit in your food pro and process until you have crumbs.  So much better than buying them in a can. 

What else do you need to make this lovely dish?  Some quality cheese.  Real deal parmigiano reggiano and Gruyere.  The latter is expensive, but it's worth the splurge.  You'll have some leftover to make this classic soup this winter.     

If you don't have a strong love affair with onion like I do, you can omit that in this recipe- just make a roux without them. 

After you saute the pancetta, if there's not enough fat reserved, borrow some from your little tub of saved bacon fat in the fridge.  If you don't have one of those, make some damn bacon and save the fat in a little tub and place it in the fridge. 

More Brussels sprouts.  A very similar dish with just cauliflower. 

Cauliflower and Brussels Sprout Gratin
4-6 servings as side

2 oz pancetta, diced
3/4 medium head of cauliflower, trimmed into florets
3/4 lb brussels sprout, trimmed and quartered lengthwise
3 TB unsalted butter
1 TB pancetta or bacon fat
1 small onion, diced
3 TB AP flour
2 C hot milk
4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved lengthwise
1/4 ts fresh nutmeg
3/4 C Gruyere cheese, freshly grated
1/2 C parmigiano reggiano cheese, freshly grated
1/4 C bread crumbs, freshly made from 1-2 day old baguette

Fire up the oven to three hundred and seventy five degrees Fahrenheit.

In a small skillet, render the fat from the pancetta and cook until crisp, stirring often.  Set aside and reserve 1 TB of the fat.  

Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.  (That's cold water with a full tray of ice cubes)

Warm the milk and garlic cloves in a small saucepan over low heat. 

Boil the cauliflower florets in lightly salted water for 4-5 minutes, until they are tender yet still firm.  Remove with a strainer or slotted spoon to the ice bath.

Boil the Brussels sprouts for about 3 minutes, until tender yet firm.  Quickly end the cooking process by placing them into the ice bath.

In a large skillet, melt the butter and bacon fat over medium high heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 4-5 minutes.  Sprinkle in the flour and whisk for about 2 minutes, until the flour is cooked a bit and darkened to a caramel color.

Remove the garlic cloves from the milk and slowly add to the roux, whisking as you go.  Cook for a couple minutes while whisking until you have a slightly thickened sauce. 

Remove from the heat and stir in the Gruyere.  Season with the nutmeg, a touch of freshly cracked black pepper and kosher salt. 

Pour 1/3 of the sauce into a gratin dish.  Drain the vegetables well and spread them evenly in the dish.  Pour the rest of the sauce over.  Layer the breadcrumbs.  Cover with the parmigiano reggiano.  Lastly, top with the bacon bits (pancetta). 

Bake for 30 minutes uncovered, until nicely golden brown and smelling all delicious. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Guinness & Cheddar Soup

Awwwwww yeah.  Beer Cheese soup season!  Sure it's got some calories to it, but when your diet consists of eating whatever you want as long as you make it, then meals like this are welcome.  It's holiday season, don't fight it.  Or, do those little things Woman's magazine encourages like always take the stairs, park far away at the shopping mall, don't eat half a rack of Christmas cookies in one sitting.  Speaking of which, I need to find some cookie recipes. 

This recipe is a slight variation on the Cheddar Ale Soup, with a touch less cheese and of course the addition of the lovely black stuff.  Even if you don't like Guinness (God help you) the flavors reached in this soup are so very tasty.  As I always preach, quality ingredients are key to good flavor.  Get a good brick of sharp cheddar and shred it yourself, don't just reach for that bag of pre-shredded crap from Kraft.

Next to quality ingredients, having the right tools helps tremendously.  If you don't have a stick blender, there's still time to let Santa know.  Blending soups right in the pot is so much better than trying not to make a mess pouring hot liquid into a blender. 

Guinness & Cheddar Soup
4 servings

2 TB unsalted butter
2 medium carrot, diced
2 celery, diced
1 large or 2 small onion, diced
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
4 TB AP flour
18 oz Guinness (or similar stout)
2 C low-sodium chicken stock
1.5 C milk (I used 2%)
1.5 ts Worcestershire sauce
1 ts mustard powder
8 oz extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 ts cayenne pepper, optional
splash Guinness

In a medium pot, combine the chicken stock, milk, Worcestershire, and mustard powder.  Stir and keep warm over low heat. 

In a large cast-iron dutch oven or large pot, melt the butter and then add the EVOO over medium-high heat.  Once nice and hot add in the carrot, celery, and onion.  Season with a pinch of S&P.  Cook, stirring here and there, until softened and just starting to color, 6 minutes or so.  Add in the garlic and stir until fragrant, thirty seconds.  Sprinkle the flour over the veg and stir often for 3 minutes.  Introduce a third of the Guinness, stir well to deglaze the pan and get then whisk to get the roux started.  Add the rest of the beer slowly while whisking to smooth out the mixture.  Once your beer-flour-veg combo is combined well, add in the warm stock and milk.  Stir and bring just to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium-low, simmer for about 10 minutes until thickened slightly. 

Blend with a stick blender or in a blender until all veg has been liquified.  Taste and add more S&P if needed. 

Return back to the cooking vessel and over very low heat, add in the cheese a couple handfuls at a time, stirring and melting each addition. 

Ladle into soup crocks or bowls.  If desired sprinkle with a bit of cayenne pepper.  Top with the last little bit of Guinness in your can or bottle, a 'foam' if you will.  Sure the term is popular, but this is not some trick of molecular gastronomy.  It's beer.  Serve with some crusty bread and a pint.  Slainte. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Mortadella and Pistachio Pesto Pizza

It's no secret my favorite way to consume meals is via sandwich.  I love me a good sammy, and of course the classic BLT is numero uno.  In my top five favorites of all time is the Monster from Hero's Submarine Sandwich Shop.  This place is my go to sub shop in Chicago, and there are plenty of good ones to choose from.  The Monster is my usual, piled into a local Turano hero roll is swiss, provolone, mortadella, salami, ham, pepperoni, lettuce, tomato, pickle, extra onion, oregano and oil.  It's so damn tasty- especially the mortadella.  If you're not familiar, mortadella is basically sliced pork sausage that is heat-cured and seasoned.  The wife doesn't love it, so her half of the pistachio pesto pizza had slices of salami. 

Pesto (especially on a pizza) is such a versatile food.  It can be made from so many different ingredients, substituting various herbs and nuts.  The classic pesto calls for pine nuts, but since they are on par with gold in terms of cost per ounce, I mostly use toasted walnuts.  But for this version, we're using the always delicious pistachio.  Have you had this yet?

Are you ready for the big T-Day?  You know, the holiday that puts gorging on food the highlight (besides, you know, being thankful for stuff) of the occasion?  How are you going to cook the bird this year if going with the conventional protein?  Anything new or daring or sticking to the familiar?  Need help

This year, the main turkey (the secondary, usual grocery store-variety brined and grilled bird will be for leftovers) will have lived a happy life running around outdoors on a local farm, eating insects and enjoying the outdoors and growing to become a delicious feast for my Thanksgiving dinner table.  The Hoka turkey is advertised to be much more flavorful than a mass-produced bird due to its lifestyle, so this year we are going basic- turkey, a little canola oil, salt and pepper.  I'll refrain from the usual cavity flavors of onion, celery, lemon, rosemary and thyme.  We won't make a compound butter of sage, thyme, garlic, and gently place that between the skin and the breast.  It's all about the pure turkey flavor this year, no helpers. 

What dish do you look forward to the most?  For me, it's the stuffing.  Closely followed by leftover cold turkey sammiches with mayo and lots of black pepper. 

The garden is a tad cold for basil this time of year, so instead of spending $4 on a tiny ass portion of basil in plastic box from Mexico I prefer to buy the pureed basil in the tube.  It tastes pretty good for processed food, and is super easy for making pesto in winter. 

I just found my preferred grocer carries bags of shelled, roasted and salted pistachios.  Exactly the amount I need for this recipe.  And at $6.50 a bag, it's cheaper than paying $8 per lb including shells, so that's an easy decision. 

Mortadella and Pistachio Pesto Pizza

1 pizza crust (recipe here)

for the pesto-
4 TB basil puree or 1.5 C fresh basil leaves
1/2 C fresh Italian parsley
1.5 C shelled pistachios, roasted and salted
3 medium cloves garlic
1 ts lemon zest
pinch freshly cracked black pepper
~2/3 C EVOO
3/4 C good parmigiano reggiano

for the pizza-
1 pizza crust (recipe here)
3 oz thinly sliced mortadella, sliced into 1/2" ribbons
8 oz ball fresh mozzarella, 1/4" slices

Preheat your oven with a pizza stone to 500°F for at least 30-45 minutes, 60 is preferred.  Now that it's winter, there's no problem in heating up the kitchen. 

In the bowl of your food processor, add the basil, parsley, pistachio, garlic, lemon zest, and pepper.  Pulse a dozen times or so to break up the nuts and get everything loving each other.  Flip the switch to on and add the oil in a steady stream until you reach your desired consistency, about 2/3 C.  Add the king of cheeses, parm-reg, and pulse a couple times to mix. 

Stretch or roll out your dough on a clean work surface and once into something that resembles a pie shape, place onto your pizza peel sprinkled with corn meal or flour for release purposes.  Evenly spread the pesto on the dough, there may be a few TB leftover which will be repurposed with love.  Add the slices of mozzarella and then top with your mortadella. 

Slide the pizza off your peel onto the pizza stone and bake for about 10 minutes, until the crust is nicely browned and the cheese is bubbly and delicious.  Let sit for 5 minutes until you can't stand it anymore, then slice and enjoy.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Butternut Squash Risotto

I eat the hell out of butternut squash this time of year, come mid November I will be tired of them and that is a good thing.  Every fall you should at least make bs soup.  We even put that shit on our pizza pies.  Butternut squash is tasty, healthy, and tres cheap.  The only intimidating thing might be how to approach the slaughter.  A good sharp knife is key.  Santa (thanks Mom!) brought me this big ass cleaver which gets most use breaking down giant veg like squash.  Once you peel it and scoop out the seeds and soft flesh, it's just a matter of slicin and dicin.

We often have risotto when there is some leftover white wine from a fish entree, you definitely need wine in this recipe to max flavor compounds.  Most every time I cook with wine I think of that quote by somebody, "I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food."

The recipe below is for a double batch of risotto, as freezing leftovers for lunch is way better than shelling out $6 at Subway.  And the guy at my Subway sing-talks your order and checkout, which is kind of annoying. 

A risotto myth is that you have to stand there and stir constantly for 30 minutes.  You could do that if you wanted, but its certainly not necessary.  The arborio rice likes to swell gradually, which is why you add the stock in increments.  The stirring part comes just before and just after each addition.  While the lovely liquid is being absorbed, it doesn't need constant stirring.  Just don't walk away and do a load of laundry or wash the dog.   

See you next winter.  I'm on vaca.  Food and Wine Expo at EPCOT.  Disney with the young foodie and the in-laws.  We're freaking magically excited! 

Butternut Squash Risotto
6-8 servings

10 C low-sodium chicken broth
4 TB unsalted butter
4 C diced butternut squash, 1/4" dice
2 medium onions, 1/4" dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 C dry white wine
2 C good parmigiano reggiano
3 C arborio rice
2 TB unsalted butter
parsley/chives/sage garnish

Warm the stock in a medium pot on a back burner of your stovetop, probably the one for 'simmer'.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter and add the EVOO.  Once hot, saute the  squash cubes (season with a pinch of S&P) for about 8-10 minutes, stirring often, until softened.  Introduce the onion, cook for about 4-5 minutes, until softened, stir occasionally.  Add the garlic during the last 60 seconds.

Deglaze the skillet with the wine, scraping up and browned bits with a wooden spatula.  Reduce the wine and cook off for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and begin to add the stock, 1/2 C or so at a time, stirring with each addition.  Add more stock once each phase is absorbed by the rice, total cooking time will be about 25-30 minutes, until creamy and tender yet firm to the bite, aka al dente.  You may have a 1/2-1 C or so leftover stock, depending on your preferred texture.

Once tender to your liking, add the 2 TB butter and 1 C of the king of cheeses, parm-reg.  Stir well and remove from the heat.  You may also want to season with S&P and add a colorful garnish such as chopped chives, parsley, or even some torn sage leaves.  Plate and then top with more cheese please.   

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Applesauce, Cabbage Apple Bacon Slaw

B.Y.O.P.  Bring your own pork.  Tenderloin, that is.  Preferably grilled while drinking an Oktoberfest beer.  You'll need some oink to bring this plate together.  Perfectly cooked and sliced atop a homemade savory applesauce, plated next to a lovely fall apple bacon slaw, it's autumn on a plate.  If you need a basic guide to grilling a pork tenderloin, a good one is right here.  

Grilling all summer sure is fun.  But grilling in the fall is much more comfortable as you aren't melting between the smoky heat of your grill and the blazing sun.  And now with the more frequent mild winter days, the cover gets pulled off the grill almost every month of the year.  The newest day of the year, no matter how cold, used to be marked for grilling chicken wings while the oven got it's annual cleaning.  That tradition was short-lived, does anyone actually use the oven cleaning feature anymore?  Not here.  I'm lucky if I clean under my couch once a year. 

Have your costume picked out yet?  We're approaching that time of year.  I look forward to roasting the pumpkin seeds once we carve that orange orb into something that does not look as good as imagined.  That's just not the stronger half of my brain.  The pumpkin is quite versatile in the kitchen, from a dessert treat to a savory main dish. 

If you like making slaw this time of year, this similar version is quite delectable.  There could be some cabbage slaw leftover from this recipe, which will be tasty for up to 2 days. 

Applesauce, Cabbage Apple Bacon Slaw
4 servings, as sides

1 large onion, diced
3 medium apples, peeled, cored, and diced
2 TB fat- bacon, unsalted butter, or oil
1/4 C dry white wine
shot of brandy
1.5 TB AP flour
1 C low-sodium chicken stock

2 C red cabbage
2 C green cabbage
2 TB apple cider vinegar
1/2 ts sea salt, Maldon preferred
1/8 ts pepper
2 gala apples, cored and cut into matchsticks
1 carrot, peeled and diced
3/4 C toasted walnut pieces
2 strips bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled
2 TB good blue cheese

Render the fat from the bacon in a large skillet over low heat.  Cook until crispy and then set aside, crumble once cooled.  Add the apple and the onion to the pan and turn up the heat to medium high.  Season with a pinch of S&P and saute until tender, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Deglaze the skillet by adding in the brandy and wine, use a wooden spatula to scrape up the tasty bits, you don't want those to get left behind.  Let the wine reduce for about 5 minutes, stirring here and there.  Sprinkle in the flour, stir for two minutes to let that cook a bit and thicken things up.  Introduce the stock and turn up the heat to bring to a boil, then back to medium to simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove pan from heat and set aside.

Once the apple onion mix has cooled a bit, add to your food pro or blender.  It will still be hot, but those devices work best when food isn't still boiling hot.  Pulse a few times until you have your desired consistency, I prefer a pretty smooth sauce so I let it go for 30 seconds.  Once blended, pour into a small saucepan and keep warm over low heat.  (If you like your sauce warm, stash in fridge if you prefer cold)

In a large mixing bowl, add the cabbage, apple, carrot, walnuts and bacon.  Mix in the oil and vinegar, season with S&P, toss well.  Taste for seasoning/acidity, adjust if necessary.  Add some small pieces of good quality blue cheese and serve with your applesauce plated with some slices of grilled pork tenderloin.  That's autumn on a plate.  Need Autumn in your glass?  

Monday, October 7, 2013

Cilantro Lime Tilapia Tacos

Are you that asshole that microwaves leftover fish in the office lunchroom?  I sure am, cause I generally don't give a flying shit.  Usually it's salmon on Mondays, as we grill wild-caught salmon often on Sundays when we grocery shop the same day.  Rarely I will reheat something like tilapia, which has a bit more of a fishy odor than salmon.  When it comes to lunchtime etiquette at the workplace, I think this is pretty low on the list.  What do colleagues do at your work to piss off your lunch hour?  Stealing food is #1.  Leaving dirty dishes in the sink is a close second.  Do they 'borrow' your silverware or dishes?  Is it necessary to put your name on your sack lunch?  You have to put up with any loud eaters?  Do people leave food in the fridge for months so it gets all nasty and then you have to throw it out?  Luckily, I only have a couple of other people using the lunchroom when I do, so any dirty looks I might get from reheating leftover fish will be manageable.   

Apparently I enjoy this flavor combination with seafood

Cilantro Lime Tilapia Tacos
4 servings

For the tilapia-
1 lb tilapia, prolly 2 fillets
3/4 C cilantro, packed
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
zest of 2 limes
1/2 ts cumin
1.5 ts kosher salt
1 ts freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 C EVOO
Canola oil

For the crema-
1/4 C sour cream
1/2 ts lime zest
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 TB chopped cilantro
pinch S&P

For the slaw-
1/2 small red cabbage, thinly sliced and chopped
1 large or 2 medium carrot, peeled
1/4 medium red onion, diced
1 TB white wine vinegar
pinch S&P

For the options-
sliced avocado
cilantro garnish
thinly sliced jalapeno, serrano or habanero

In your food pro or blender, combine the cilantro, lime zest, garlic, cumin, and S&P.  Blitz to combine, then slowly add in the EVOO.  Place the tilapia in a shallow dish, season lightly on each side with S&P.  Spread the cilantro mixture on each side and let rest for 20 minutes at room temp while you make the crema and slaw.

Combine the sour cream, lime zest, garlic, cilantro, and S&P in a small bowl.  Stir well, taste for seasoning and then stash in the fridge.

Mix the cabbage, carrot, and onion in a medium bowl.  Add the vinegar and oil, season with S&P and stir well.  Taste for seasoning and then stash in the fridge.  You may need to add more oil and vinegar too, depending on the size of your slaw.

Heat a large skillet or even better, an electric skillet (375°F) or griddle to medium high heat.  Once hot, add a drizzle of canola oil and then gently place the fillets with the thicker part in the middle of the skillet or griddle.  Don't touch them for 3 minutes, let them brown!  After you get a good Maillard crust on the bottom, after 3-4 minutes, carefully turn them with a spatula and cook on the flip side for 3-4 minutes until cooked through.

Warm up your tortillas and assemble your tilapia tacos as desired.  If you run out of tortillas as I did, grilled french bread works great too.  I never pass up the opportunity for a sandwich. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Potato, Leek, and Bacon Pizza

Gonna crank this one out quick as I wait for the 3rd period to start...Blackhawks first game of the year in defense of their Stanley Cup victory 100 days ago.  The offseason is very short when you win the best trophy in all of sports.  Doesn't seem like that long ago we were making summer pies like this, but now that it's fall this one is more appropriate.  For the love of swine get some good bacon like Nueske's.  It's only a couple dollars more than your typical stuff and well worth it.  More flavor, more smoke, less shrinkage.  

Potato, Leek, and Bacon Pizza
4 servings

1 serving pizza dough, recipe can be found here
5-6 small red potatoes, very thinly sliced
4 slices good bacon
1 large leek, light green and white part only, very thinly sliced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
6-8 oz. ball fresh mozzarella, halved and 1/4" slice

Preheat your oven for at least 30 minutes at 500°F.  Once your dough has been punched down, let rest for 10 minutes before shaping into something that resembles a circle on your peel or cookie sheet.

Render your tasty bacon over low heat in a cast iron or other skillet.  Remove when crispy to a plate lined with paper towel.  Crumble once cooled.  

Add the leeks to the skillet and turn up the heat to medium, season with S&P.  Cook until lightly browned and tender, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, 1 minute or so.

Drizzle your dough with a bit of EVOO, then layer on the potato slices.  Top with the leeks, then the bacon, and finally the fromage.  Slide onto your very hot pizza stone and cook for about 8-10 minutes, until the dough is crisp and the cheese is bubbly hot and lightly browned. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pork Fried Rice

Summer is over, but each change in season brings a much welcomed adjustment to the meal planning, and fall is a tasty one.  The transition to Autumn has been smooth with warm sunny days, cool nights, and a continued lack of any decent rain.  BLT season is certainly over, and I’m actually okay with that as we’ve eaten them for lunch or dinner at least 20 times in the past 6 weeks.  Too much of something brings a lack of appreciation.  No more BLT’s or cucumber tomato salads with garden produce until 2014, let us get back into the kitchen (been grilling BLT’s all summer, it’s a great method) and use that oven again.  Or the stovetop, so you can quickly prepare this pork fried rice.  The opportunity to tuck into some casseroles and potato gratins will soon be here.  We'll be stirring up plenty of risottos soon, here is one of my faves.  This roasted tomato soup with cheddar crouton is the perfect shift from summer to fall, using up the very last tomatoes still clinging to the withered vines next to my garage, with a chiffonade of basil that hasn’t yellowed yet thanks to plenty of September sunshine.  

The Oktoberfest beers (current choice) and pumpkin ales (current choice) are populating the shelves.  Football is on, NHL hockey is back, (it's only preseason?) and very soon I won’t have to suffer through any more Cubs games this season.  Even though summer is over, there is much to like about fall.  Especially with the current NFC North rankings.  Sausage.  Ditka.  Bears.

 My preferred grocer sells pork cutlets which dice up easy for this meal.  You could probably find the same, or break down a small loin, and as a last resort ground pork would do the job.  If you don't like the spice, then certainly don't use hot peppers.  I substituted edamame for frozen peas, as the kid wouldn't eat them.  She gobbled them up the day before, so why would I even think about serving them again so soon?  Mushrooms are optional, the addition of bok choy would be great for some green Asian flair.  We prefer brown rice vs. white, that's your choice.  Just be sure it's leftover or cooked a few hours in advance and then chilled- it makes a difference, I've tried fresh hot rice and it is not the same.  

The trick to this quick cooking one-skillet meal?  Mis en place!  
Pork Fried Rice
4-6 servings

3 TB soy sauce
5 TB rice wine vinegar
1 TB sesame oil
1/4 ts white sugar
3/4 lb thin pork cutlets, 1/2" dice
1/2 C frozen peas
1 C sliced bella/cremini mushrooms
1 medium carrot, small dice
1 medium red or green bell pepper, diced
1/2 small white or red onion, diced
2 medium garlic cloves, halved and thinly sliced
3/4 C broccoli florets
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 C cold cooked brown rice
2 green onion, thinly sliced
chow mein noodles, optional
jalapeno/serrano peppers optional 

In a small bowl, mix the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sugar, and sesame oil.  Set aside.  

In a large heavy skillet, heat a couple TB of canola oil over medium high heat.  Once hot, cook the pork, stirring often, for about 2-3 minutes until no longer pink.  Remove to a bowl and set aside.

In the same skillet, add the vegetables (except green onion) and cook for 2-3 minutes until crisp-tender.  Season with a touch of S&P while cooking.

Turn down the heat to medium and add the lightly beaten eggs, scramble until just set.

Add the rice, pork, and soy sauce mixture.  Turn down the heat to medium low for a couple minutes while stirring occasionally, until everything is heated through.  Taste and season with S&P if needed.

Serve in bowls topped with green onion and crunchy chow mein noodles,  add thinly sliced jalapeno or serrano if you like.  I like.  You like? Xiǎngshòu!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Grilled Chorizo Stuffed Jalapeno Poppers

When I made these many years ago for a party, I almost killed people.  I didn't clean out the pith and seeds thoroughly before stuffing them, just got the big chunk out of the way to make room for the chorizo and cheese.  Now I like hot food, but they were almost inedible.  I used to have a good selection of hot sauces like Dave's Insanity, the kind you stick a toothpick in and use the smallest amount possible- the tiny jar lasts years.  Then there was one time in the lab where another chemist decided to blend habaneros with ethanol and distill it several times to extract the pure capsaicin a fume hood, safety first.  That would have placed quite high on the Scoville chart.  If you ever find your mouth on fire don't reach for your beer or even water, that will just spread the heat around your mouth and make it worse.  A better option is dairy- milk, sour cream, yogurt.  Casein is a protein in dairy that will bind with the capsaicin oil and get it out of your mouth.  The best option has been scientifically proven as the quickest way to cool off your burning taste buds-rinse your mouth with hydrogen peroxide- don't swallow, of course.

 An important lesson was learned that evening- trying out new recipes for a party can be risky.  It might pay off and everyone raves about how delicious it is and you've got a great new dish, or you might injure people and they are afraid to put a utensil near anything you ever make again.

Sort of like beer-can chicken, jalapeno poppers certainly aren't pushing the culinary envelope.  They are damn tasty though, and if prepared properly only mildly spicy.  The trick of course is to ensure you scrape out the pith and seeds with a paring knife.  The grilling rack I bought for $10 at Menards came with a double-sided serrated knife that is perfect for the task, but a small paring knife does the job too.  The pith, or white part, has the most capsaicin which contains the heat, the seeds have some and the actual flesh of the vegetable has the least, so that's the part you want to eat.  But first let's stuff it with cheese and sausage.

You can find Mexican chorizo loose or in encased sausage form.  If the latter, simply squeeze out of the casing and break up while browning with a wooden spoon.

The amount below will yield enough for about 15 medium to large jalapenos, I only had a dozen and had some leftover sausage cheese mixture which turned into a tasty breakfast with some eggs scrambled in.  You might have the same 'problem' depending on pepper quantity and size.  Just in time for Sunday football appetizer season!  

Grilled Chorizo Stuffed Jalapeno Poppers

12 jalapeno peppers, washed, tops cut off, cored and seeded thoroughly
4 oz cream cheese, room temp
4 oz pepper jack, shredded or small dice
3/4 C Mexican chorizo sausage
4 green onion, green parts only, sliced thin

Cook the chorizo in a small skillet over medium heat for about 6-8 minutes, stirring often until cooked through and the fat is rendered.  Remove to a plate lined with paper towel and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, add the cheeses and scallion.  Toss in the sausage and mix well.  Using your fingers, stuff each pepper well- cram the mix in there with your finger.  Fill just to the top and place on a popper rack, on a rib rack, or some other modified piece of grill-proof metal if you want to MacGyver it. 

Fire up the grill for medium direct heat.  Grill for about 10 minutes, until nice and bubbly and lightly browned.  Let cool for 2-3 minutes before enjoying. 

A simple recipe post such as this deserves a more serious contemplation on food and food writing, from one of the best. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Grilled Lamb Meatballs with Tzatziki

Was August 2013 only two weeks long?  Sure felt like it, and now another summer is complete.  I hope yours was enjoyable.  Mine was busy, a good mix of fun and manual labor.  But there was plenty of time for pizza and beer, two essential components for summertime.  Actually, those are necessary year round.

Prosciutto and asparagus early in the summer, Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale

Mushroom, green pepper, onion, pepperoni and fresh basil, Stella Artois

It might technically be fall now that we're in September, but there are some warm days ahead and the grill is still used more than the oven.  These grilled lamb meatballs are a nice change up from all the lamb burgers we've had the past few months, and is similar to these lamb meatballs.  They are quick to throw together and cook up in less than 10 minutes. 

Grilled Lamb Meatballs with Tzatziki
3-4 servings

1 lb lamb
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 small cloves garlic, minced
2 TB finely chopped fresh mint
1 TB finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

6-8 oz plain greek yogurt
2 TB finely chopped fresh mint
1 TB fresh lemon juice
1/4 C diced seedless cucumber
1 small clove garlic, minced
pinch S&P

For the tzatziki-
combine yogurt, mint, lemon juice, cucumber, garlic, season to taste with S&P.  Chill for at least 30 minutes. 

For the lamb balls-
In a large mixing bowl, add lamb, onion, garlic, mint, parsley and season with S&P- about 1 ts salt and as much pepper as you like.  Mix thoroughly and gently form into golf ball size meatballs.  Thread onto metal skewers or pre-soaked wood skewers. 

Fire up the grill to just under high heat.  When it's heated up properly, grill the meatballs for about 6-8 minutes, turning every minute or so until cooked through. 


Serve with grilled pitas, tzatziki, cucumber, red onion, tomatoes, green onion, etc.  Preferably eaten out of doors with slightly chilled syrah. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Grilled Shrimp, Avocado and Tortilla Salad with Lime Crema

Finally, I'm giving you a recipe in advance.  Unlike these Christmas cookies posted after Christmas, this one made it a few days early.  Until August, that is, when most of the country is guaranteed to see the return of warm weather.  At least in the Midwest lately, the air feels like early October and not end of July.  When that heat does return, this main course salad will be ready for you.  It's a great change of pace from all the grilled land animals you've been eating all summer.  It's quick and easy, and for the most part, healthy.  Sure there's some fat in the mayo and cream but fat isn't bad for you, in moderation. 

If you would rather pan sear the shrimp instead of grilling them, that is certainly an option.  Grilling dinner outside is always preferred, you should also be eating this dish outside.  We have been enjoying the hell out of our new patio dining furniture, eating dinner alfresco as often as possible. 

Not sure how to dice an avocado?  One of my favorite blogs has a tutorial

Wondering what to quaff with this lovely meal?  I would suggest a glass of chilled Sancerre, Pinot Gris, or a Mexican beer with lime wedge.  

Grilled Shrimp, Avocado and Tortilla Salad with Lime Crema
4 servings

1 lb medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 large bunch romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
2 C cherry tomatoes, halved, large ones quartered
1 small seedless cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 Hass avocado, diced
1/2 C roughly chopped cilantro
3 C tortilla chips, roughly crushed
3 TB sour cream
3 TB mayo
3 TB fresh lime juice
1 ts finely grated lime zest
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fire up the grill for high heat.  Thread your shrimp onto skewers, if they are made of wood be sure to have soaked them for an hour or so.   Season the shrimp liberally with salt and pepper.  Grill for about 3 minutes per side, until opaque and cooked through.  If using metal skewers, remove them to prevent the residual heat from further (over)cooking.  Set aside. 

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients- sour cream, mayo, and lime juice and zest.  Season to taste with S&P.  

In a large mixing bowl, add the romaine, tomato, cucumber, onion, avocado, and cilantro.  Add most of the dressing and toss to combine.  Serve in bowls, then top each with shrimp and tortilla chips. Add additional dressing if needed. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Grilled Baby Octopus Salad

Octopus and I have had a thing lately.  Not sure what it is, but I've been downing them like a hungry sea creature swimming through a school of octopi.  They're pretty cheap at my fish guy ($4/lb) and always available.  Easy to prep, simple to grill, quick to toss with this Greek influenced summer salad.  So damn tasty!  That's why I've been making this salad almost every weekend for the past month.

If you've never prepared baby octopus before, it's not difficult.  Just slice off their heads and you're ready to go.  You might be able to find them frozen and already headless, I've never gone that route.  I enjoy the relationship with my fish guy.  He calls everyone buddy, even the ladies.  You could also leave the heads on and clean them out, cut off the beak, but that seems like too much work for such little return.  Here's a tutorial anyway.  

One time I brought home a normal, full-size, adult, giant octopus.  Man that thing was huge.  Lots of waste after cleaning and par-boiling the massive tentacles before grilling, the experience has certainly made me wiser.  Baby is the way to go. 

Olives, tomatoes, red onion, and good quality fruity extra virgin are key to make the flavors sing.  A few leaves of oregano from the garden, a shot of heat with the serrano, and of course fresh lemon juice to add the required acidity to bring it all together. 
 Grilled Baby Octopus Salad
2-4 servings as side or appetizer

1/2 lb baby octopus, heads removed
6-8 kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
6 cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 small serrano pepper, thinly sliced
fresh oregano leaves from a couple sprigs
lemon juice from 1/2 medium lemon
good extra virgin olive oil
freshly cracked black pepper
sea salt

Fire up the grill for medium high heat.  Preheat a perforated grill pan also, you don't want to lose any through the grates.  With your cleaned octopi in a small bowl, add a bit of EVOO and a touch of S&P.  Grease up those little guys and then get them on the grill.  Turn every couple minutes for about 4-6 minutes, until the tentacles are lightly charred and the bodies are cooked through.  Slice the large ones into halves or quarters, the little ones (which will cook quicker, pull them off the heat sooner) can be added whole. 

In a medium mixing bowl, add the olives, tomatoes, onion, serrano, oregano leaves, and the cooked octopi.  Pour a couple glugs of your best EVOO, then a healthy squeeze of a half lemon.  Toss well to coat everything with the oil and juice.  Season with a bit of pepper and sprinkle on some sea salt, or kosher will do also.  Mix thoroughly and serve at room temp or chill slightly.  Pairs very well with your favorite summer white chilled wine. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Radish, Cucumber, White Bean Salad

One of my favorite summer side dish salads is this cucumber dill feta.  Cool, crisp cukes tossed with yogurt and feta usually share a plate with cedar-planked salmon.  I have found that a perforated grilling sheet multitasks to let the moisture drip from the salted cuke slices.  Another sheet pan underneath for collection.  A soggy salad isn't so appealing.

This vegetable and bean salad also tastes lovely with grilled protein, perhaps a pork tenderloin or a bone-in chop.  The anchovy is optional, a jar is always present in my pantry, if you don't like or have any don't go out of your way.  Half a garlic clove could be a good substitute?

I thought about busting out the mandoline to cut the cucumber and radish paper-thin, but good knife skills get them thin enough.  Another option if you have that tool and need more things to wash up. 

And just in case you need another cucumber salad for your summertime dining.

Radish, Cucumber, White Bean Salad
three to four servings as side

1/2 medium seedless cucumber, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
1/2 bunch radish, ends trimmed, large ones halved, sliced thin
1 C parsley, loosely packed
1 15 oz can cannellini or northern beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 C white wine vinegar
1/2 C EVOO
1 anchovy filet (optional)
1 small shallot, roughly chopped
S&P to taste

For the dressing-
in your blender or with a stick blender, zap the white wine vinegar, EVOO, 1/2 C of the parsley, anchovy filet if using, shallot, and a pinch of S&P.

For the salad-
Combine the cuke, radish, and beans in a large mixing bowl.  Roughly chop the remaining 1/2 C parsley.  Pour on most of the dressing and mix thoroughly yet gently, you don't destroy the beans.  Taste and adjust S&P if needed, add more dressing if desired.  Serve immediately or chill for a few hours while assembling the rest of your meal.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Perfect Guacamole

If you like guacamole, making your own in the summer is a must.  It's cheap, quick, and tastes so damn good with some quality tortillas chips and a cold beer.  I recommend those Mexican chips in the green bag or Frontera, and a very chilled Tecate with a little slice of lime.  Sitting on a boat is ideal, although your backyard or balcony will be just as nice.  Double the batch for a party, it won't last long.

Are you one of those that think cilantro tastes like soap?  Then feel free to omit it.

Want to keep the flavor on the mild side?  Leave out the serrano.

Want to boost the heat even more?  Add in the seeds and ribs of the serrano pepper.   

What are 'Hass' avocados anyway?

Hope this guacamole helps to make your summer tastier.

The Perfect Guacamole

2 ripe Hass avocados, halved, pitted, flesh scooped out
1/2 small red onion, minced
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 TB fresh lime juice
1/2 ts kosher salt
1-2 TB cilantro, optional
1 small serrano pepper, seeded and minced, optional

Scoop the avocado flesh into a medium mixing bowl.  Add the onion, lime juice, garlic, salt, and cilantro and serrano if using.  Mix well with a fork or potato masher.  Let chill for at least 30 minutes before serving.  Will keep for a day or so, covered. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Blueberry Lemon Scones

What would you want for your 237th birthday?  Blueberry lemon scones?  Perfect!  Can't think of a better way to start the July 4th celebration than with a batch of these.  I hope you are enjoying your country's independence.

I read an interesting diet plan recently.  Eat anything you wish, as long as you make it yourself.  No counting calories, no restricting carbs or any of that nonsense.  I like that guideline.  We love making food from scratch for the whole family, especially tasty scones like this that make your whole house smell delicious.  The dough comes together quick while you sip on the morning coffee.  Come fall, these apple cheddar ones are quite fantastic.  BLT has put up a blueberry scone recipe before, but this one is better. 

Be gentle when kneading the dough so your breakfast turns out light and fluffy on the inside.

Blueberry Lemon Scones
8 pieces

1/2 C buttermilk
1 large egg
2 C flour
2 T brown sugar
2 ts baking powder
1/2 ts kosher salt
zest of 1 large lemon
1/4 C unsalted butter, diced and frozen for 10 min
3/4 C fresh blueberries

Fire up the oven to four twenty five, rack in middle.

Whisk the buttermilk and egg in a small bowl until frothy, set aside.

Add the dry ingredients in a large bowl- the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest.  Introduce the very cold butter, and use your fingers, two forks, or a pastry blade thing to coat the fat (butter) with the flour.  Mash it up until you have little pieces of butter the size of peas.

Fold in the blueberries.

Introduce the wet ingredients, all but 1 TB of the buttermilk/egg mixture.

Using a wooden spoon, stir the wet and dry ingredients until it just comes together, then dump out onto a lightly floured board.  Knead a half dozen or so times to just bring the dough together, shape into a circle about 1" thick. 

With a floured knife, slice the circle into 8 pieces.  Place onto a sheet pan and brush each scone top with the remaining milk/egg mixture.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until nicely golden brown.  Let cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before spreading on a thin slice of butter and devouring.  Will keep for a couple days in a tupperware but are best eaten within a few hours of baking. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Grilled Shrimp and Tomato Pasta Salad

I write this post listening to the repair man hack away at our furnace while cursing frequently.  I swore too when I was given the quote for a new circuit board, a part quite necessary in running the air conditioner.  Fucking thing is massive, bigger than the motherboard on my first computer which weighed more than the Stanley Cup.  The entire laptop I'm typing on now was cheaper than this new board that is hesitantly making its way to the interiors of the cooling machine.  Hopefully only another hour or so until we can condition our air for the first time all summer.  I like the heat and humidity for the peppers and tomatoes to thrive, but not so much when it's 86°F and 82% humidity inside the house. Needless to say, we've been using the grill a lot in this warm stretch, although that is a common cooking method this time of year with or without the modern convenience of air conditioning. 

This is one of those summer dishes that is quintessential to the season.  Summer-in-a-bowl is the ultimate summer dish, but we have to wait until the local corn and tomatoes from the garden are ready.  We've made it once this summer for a cook-out with the grocery store produce, it's extremely underwhelming with such poor quality ingredients.  

From start to bowl in 15 minutes, this recipe is quick and easy.  Maybe just a quarter hour after you've thawed and peeled your shrimp, which is my preferred way to purchase them.  With a pound or two always in the freezer, a speedy dinner is always at the ready.  I found a box of rotini infused with spinach in the back of the pantry, not sure where that came from but I let her know it was a great idea, because she doesn't get enough credit for her great ideas.  Don't have both cheeses?  Just one of them will do, and of course, make sure it's the good stuff!  If you don't shred it yourself then it is most likely tasteless. 

Grilled Shrimp and Tomato Pasta Salad
4 servings

1.5 TB unsalted butter
3/4 C panko breadcrumbs
lemon pepper garlic seasoning
1 lb. large shrimp (16-20) shelled and deveined
1 lb. spinach rotini or pasta of your choice
3 large garlic cloves, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1/4 C freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
1/4 C freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
3 long green onions, green part only
8 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade

Fire up your grill for high heat and get your salted pasta cooking water over high heat on the stovetop.  Melt the butter in a small skillet and toast the panko breadcrumbs, stirring often, until nicely browned, about 3-4 minutes.  Dump breadcrumbs into a bowl and set aside. Reserve skillet. 

Skewer the shrimp and season with a lemon pepper garlic type blend, or just give them a good raining of S&P.   Oil lightly with EVOO.

Skewer the tomato with the cut side facing up.  Season with S&P.

Begin cooking pasta according to package directions, always test one to two minutes early to ensure your desired tenderness.  

When your grill is ripping hot, place the shrimp skewers over direct heat and put the tomato skewers off to the side a little, cut side up.  Cook for 3 minutes, then carefully flip the shrimp and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until just opaque and cooked through. 

With the now-empty skillet, heat a TB of EVOO over medium high heat.  Once warm, saute the thinly sliced garlic for about 30-45 seconds, until just fragrant.

Into a large serving bowl, combine the drained pasta, shrimp, tomatoes, most of the cheese, and most of the basil and green onion.  Serve in bowls and top with remaining cheese, basil, and green onion. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Pappardelle with Prosciutto and Arugula

I'll admit it.  I'm old.  As in, not young anymore.  It wasn't an instant realization, more like a progressive wave of events the last few weeks.  An intern recently joined the office, fresh out of high school.  She's half my age.  We got a new tenant in our rental property.   He was born in the 90's.  My neck and upper back is still quite tender from pulling a muscle.  Folding down a car seat.  I find myself tucking in my shirt more often at work.   Even when the very important people aren't around.  I just got life insurance.  Shit I remember this weird but awesome band Radiohead making their TV debut on The Arsenio Hall Show with the hit song 'Creep'.  What finally pushed me over the hill?  The paper.  Myself and this guy even older than me, we are the only ones in our office lunchroom that prefer to receive our news events by reading an actual paper.  It's not electronic.  You have to unfold it and then physically turn pages with your hands, not just repeatedly swipe some tiny screen.  It can't reach the internet and download stuff.  It won't play games with you, unless you consider the crossword or word jumble.  As I sat in the lunchroom with my Chicago Tribune, all these kids around me have food in one hand and their phones in the other.  Now I'm not against technology, (I do author a website) but I felt like I was holding a stone tablet and wearing mom jeans.  There's a lot more gray in my chin stubble these days, and these young bastards are making me feel old.  Yet I will remain youthful by eating healthy meals made from scratch from good ingredients that are whole and not processed.  You punks can read your kindles and drink your Monsters for lunch and microwave those frozen preservative-packed meals to eat.  I prefer a different route.

This is a tasty and somewhat light summer meal, for having pasta and prosciutto and butter, cheese and oil.  Thank the lemon and arugula.  There's plenty of arugula in the garden the rabbits haven't discovered yet, and this recipe is a delicious way to enjoy the produce.  Arugula and lemon are good friends.  Pig parts get along with everything, the thinly sliced prosciutto is added to the pasta at the last minute to highlight it's flavor. 

Important notes for this recipe- 
wash your leeks very well, dirt loves to hide in all them layers. 
use the real deal parmigiano reggiano, there is no compromise when it comes to parm
you don't have to spend $24/lb on prosciutto di parma, the normal stuff will do
if you cannot find pappardelle, fettuccine or another fat ass noodle can sub

Pappardelle with Prosciutto and Arugula
4 servings

3/4 lb pappardelle
2 TB unsalted butter
2 leeks, white and pale green part only, halved lengthwise and then thinly sliced
1 small garlic clove, minced
3 ts grated lemon zest (about 1 large lemon)
1/4 finely chopped fresh chives
4-5 C fresh arugula, thick stems removed, large leaves torn in half
3/4 C freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
 Freshly cracked black pepper and kosher salt
4 oz. prosciutto, sliced into 1" pieces

Cook the pappardelle in a large pot of salted water until al dente, probably a minute or two before the box tells you it's done.  Reserve 2 C of the cooking liquid when draining. 

In a large skillet, heat oil and butter over medium heat.  Add the leeks and cook, stirring often, for about 6-7 minutes until soft but not browned.  Add in the garlic during the last minute.  

Add the pasta, most of the chives, 2 ts lemon zest, and 1 C of the pasta cooking water to the skillet and stir well to combine.  Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring, until you have a nice sauce coating the pappardelle.  You may need a couple more 1/4 C additions of pasta water if things look too dry, there should be plenty available.

Add the arugula and 1/2 C of parmigiano reggiano, season with salt and pepper and stir well to combine.  Fold in the prosciutto and stir again.  Serve onto plates or shallow bowls with more grated cheese, the rest of the chives and a touch of lemon zest. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

Grilled Skirt Steak Salad with Arugula and Spinach

Only 2 recipe posts so far this month, and one of those wasn't even a meal, it was a cocktail.  Albeit a delicious cocktail, but just a libation after all, which is not the point of this blog.  I'm squeezing this one in on the last day of Spring.  The days of BLT having time to post 4 or 5 recipes a month are most likely over.  Fini.  Caput.  Dunzo.  Some authors of my favorite food blogs (listed to the right) have jobs and kids and spouses/partners and other demands on their life too, and they still have the time for awesome recipes and amazing pictures.  Like twice a week.  Kudos to them, I'm not sure how they manage to do that and still get at least 6 or 7 hours (If they get 8, I'd be real jealous) of sleep per night.  What you get less of in quantity, however, I'll try and make up for in quality.

This one year old is demanding more of my free time, which this Daddy will gladly oblige.

This garden is demanding more of my free time, which provided all of the arugula, spinach, and green onion for this meal.  

The beauty of this recipe is that it is highly personable.  You don't like raw onion?  Omit it, or try soaking the thin slices in the vinegar and lemon juice, which will lessen the pungent bite.  Me, I can eat a raw onion like an apple.  At one point in my life I considered getting an onion tattoo before every chef from Next to Golden Nugget got foodie ink.  My mom got over the skydiving thing, but she probably wouldn't get over an onion tattoo.  You want to add some sliced mushrooms? That would be awesome with steak, I just didn't have any.  Want to swap the blue cheese for some chunky shavings of parmigiano reggiano?  Okay by me.  If you'd like to use just spinach or only arugula, I won't complain.  It's your steak salad.  Can't find skirt steak but you see flank steak instead?  That is very fungible.  Don't have homemade croutons for some crunch?  That sucks.  Maybe you need a recipe for homemade croutons??  Gimme a couple weeks. 

Grilled Skirt Steak Salad with Arugula and Spinach
4 servings

1 lb skirt steak, room temp
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1/4 lb baby arugula
1/4 lb spinach
4 oz blue cheese, the good stuff
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 green onion, chopped in 1/2" pieces

for the vinaigrette-
1 TB coarse dijon mustard
2 TB white wine vinegar
2 ts freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 ts Worcestershire sauce
1/2 ts honey
1/3 C EVOO, the good stuff
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fire up your outdoor grill or a grill pan to high heat.  Your skirt steak should be out of the fridge for 20-30 minutes to bring to room temp.  Season liberally with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper and coat both sides with a touch of EVOO or canola/vegetable oil.  

Turn down the grill to just under high heat, about 475-500°F.  Grill the steak for 5 minutes on one side, then 4 minutes on the flip for medium/medium rare, depending on the thickness and heat.  Tent loosely with foil on a cutting board for at least 8 minutes while you assemble the salad.

Combine the arugula and spinach in a large bowl and toss evenly.  Distribute among 4 dinner plates.  Add the tomatoes, onion, blue cheese, and croutons.

To make the vinaigrette, add all ingredients except the oil to a small boil or glass measuring cup.  Whisk in the oil slowly.  Season to taste with S&P and add more vinegar/mustard if desired.  Or, throw everything together and zap with a stick blender, which is well worth the $29.99.

When the protein has rested, cut in half and then thinly slice against the grain.  Add the sliced steak to your salad plates and then dress with the vinaigrette, and bring on the croutons if you got em.   

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Grilled Meatloaf

If you live in a temperate climate, you might not understand the excitement.  Or you have those 'we grill all year around!' people.  They also aren't as giddy as I when the cover gets taken off the grill for the first time each spring.  Sure...I'll fire up a batch of wings on the grill once or twice during the winter, but for the most part, the cold season is a needed break from cooking outdoors.  When the warmth finally arrives each year, a dominant amount of dinners for the next 5 months are prepared on my trusty Weber 3-burner gas grill, or the little Weber charcoal guy when I really want do it right.  No animal or vegetable is safe from May through October.  But before we break out the usual steaks, brats, potatoes, asparagus and brined chops, here is a meal everyone has enjoyed with a unique twist on the preparation.  You may have seen my previous recipe for this classic comfort food, now let's take it outside.
Sometimes grilling is just like cooking in the oven, as in this recipe, only it's not underneath your roof.  During the dog days of August we rely on the grill almost every night so we don't heat up a kitchen that's already conditioned to remove excess heat and moisture, two things a gas oven yields.

While this tasty protein denatures on your grill, you've got about 45 minutes to mow the lawn, pull some weeds, plant some flowers, sand an old table, wash your ride, clean the gutters, or maybe just pull out the lawn furniture and pop a squat.  Don't forget to order those cedar planks you'll need this summer to prepare this delicious meal.   
Grilled Meatloaf
serves 4, plus a 1 yr old if you have one
1 large or 2 small-medium yellow onions, diced
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ground beef, 80-85% lean
1 lb ground pork
2 TB chopped cilantro
2 large eggs
3/4 C panko bread crumbs
1 ts Kosher salt
1/4 ts freshly cracked black pepper
Sweat the onion in a skillet over low heat with some extra virgin olive oil for about 6-8 minutes, until soft but not browned.  Sweating=low heat, you shouldn't hear a loud sizzle, that's sauteing.  To sweat is to just remove the moisture from the vegetable.  Add in the garlic for the last minute or two.  Set aside to let cool.

Fire up your grill to medium heat, 375°F. 
In a large mixing bowl, beat two eggs.  Add the bread crumbs, cilantro, salt and pepper, and the beef and pork.  Mix thoroughly but gently with your clean hands.
Take a large sheet of tinfoil and spray lightly with pam or brush with some olive oil.  Place the mixture on top and shape into a loaf, mine was 9X4X2.  That's inches.  Wrap the meatloaf with the foil.  Place another piece of foil on the top and wrap around the bottom and sides, so the loaf is double-wrapped. 

Place the loaf on your grill and cook for about 35-40 minutes, flipping halfway through.  The loaf is done when the internal temp reaches 170°F.  Let rest for 5-10 minutes before unwrapping and slicing.  Serve with your favorite bbq sauce and garnish with cilantro. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Mint Julep

It's a good weekend if you wanna do some day drinking.  I won't be, as air-powered nails guns and alcohol are not a good combo, unlike the pretzel and pizza flavor.  But I sure will be looking forward to one (or two) of these when I'm done putting in the new hardwood floors.  I'd say a good 10% of the mint grown in the garden is muddled in bourbon drinks.  After a Saturday's hard house/yard work in the summer, standard protocol is an old-fashioned glass filled with ice, 2 ounces of good bourbon, a shake of Peychaud's bitters, a couple mint sprigs smashed in the palm, retreat to the back deck and enjoy 20 minutes of peaceful cocktail time.  

This weekend though, you need to fancy up that drink for the most famous race involving small grown men riding horses in a big circle as they whip them to entice the animals to speed up.  I enjoy the local racetrack on a warm sunny day, I just wish I knew more about betting.  Usually, I go with the trifecta and whichever horse takes the biggest dump before the race is my bet to win.  It's all about physics from my scientific perspective.

The Mint Julep
serves 1, increase as needed

First you need to make a simple syrup, which is equal parts sugar and water.  I'd start with a cup of each, depending on how many you are serving.  Any leftover will keep for future cocktails.  Warm up the water on the stovetop, microwave, or campfire, add the sugar and stir until dissolved.  Add a couple inches of lemon zest and cool completely. 

In an old-fashioned or highball glass, muddle about 6 medium leaves of mint with a muddler or wooden spoon.  Fill with good, large ice cubes.  (traditionally, use crushed ice, but I simply serve on the rocks, your choice)  Pour in one half ounce of simple syrup and two ounces of your preferred bourbon.  Stir well and garnish with a sprig or two of mint.  Good luck with your bets!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pan-Seared Scallops with Bacon-Braised Chard

I've never made scallops at home before.  I guess I just never got around to it back in my lonely bachelor days, and the wife told me she didn't like to eat the Kingdom Animalia, phylum Mollusca, class Bivalvia, order Ostredoida, family Pectinidae.  And then she experienced the Scallop Crab Motoyaki, prepared by Chef Shin Thompson at the late Bonsoiree.  Her scallop-hating world was turned upside down.  That dish was the star of many over the course of our tasting menu, and soon afterwards I declared Bonsoiree my favorite restaurant in Chicago.  We dined there a couple other times before it closed, bringing friends and much more wine, both key moves.  My second favorite dish they often served was called Duck Duck Goose- duck confit, seared duck breast, and foie gras with gooseberry, saffron gastrique, black mission fig, and vidalia onion jam.  Thompson's new venture is opening soon- Kabocha, and is rumored to have DDG on the menu. 

More recently, celebrating an anniversary, we loved a scallop dish during the chef's tasting menu at Takashi.  That chef would be Takashi Yagihashi, who you might know from Top Chef.  So after two scallop experiences the young lady found tasty, I decided it was time to make them at home.  The recipe I centered on is from Stephanie Izard, who also gained fame through Top Chef and is head girl at her Goat enterprises.  Izard also used to cook at Scylla, which occupied the space before Takashi opened.  The scallop is indeed a circle.

Among minor adjustments, I halved Izard's recipe as this should be a meal between just you and your lady friend.  Or a man friend, if that's your thing.  Everybody gots to eat.  To really impress, find diver scallops, which simply means they are harvested by hand, obviously a person in the act of 'diving' for them.  Wild scallops are preferred over farm-raised, which is what I procured at my local fishmonger.  Whatever you get, be sure they do not have any trisodium phosphate added for moisture retention.  Do you really want to consume something that is also used to clean the walls of your house prior to painting?

Cooking scallops is pretty simple, only a couple key elements- First, season well with S&P, let it rain from high up to spread evenly.  Secondly, get that skillet ripping hot...a cast iron is preferred, you want a nice brown crust to contrast the tender interior.  And lastly, if you have an exhaust fan, use it!

Pan-Seared Scallops with Bacon-Braised Chard2 servings

2 thick slices of bacon, cut into 1/4"pieces
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 small plum tomato, seeded, diced
1 lb rainbow chard
1.5 ts soy sauce
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
6 large sea scallops, about  3/4 lb total
1 TB unsalted butter

Rinse the chard and shake any excess water.  Cut off the stems and slice them into 1/2" pieces.  Cut the large (any over 5" across) leaves in half and then into 1" strips.  Set aside.

Fire up a large, deep skillet over medium heat.  Add a TB of EVOO and cook the bacon until crisp, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.  Spoon off (and save, of course) any more than 2 TB fat.  Add the onion and cook until soft, stirring often, about 4 minutes.  Add the garlic and stir constantly to avoid burning, for 30 seconds and then introduce the tomato.  Cook for about 2 minutes until the tomato breaks down, then add the chard stems.  After those soften at 3-4 minutes later, bring in the leaves and turn up the heat a bit to medium-high, cook until the chard is wilted, another 3-4 minutes.  Add a couple healthy dashes of soy sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Keep warm over low heat while you cook the scallops. 

Season the scallops well with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  Fire up a heavy skillet over high heat, and once very hot add a couple TB's of EVOO.  Add the scallops and sear for 30 seconds, then turn down the heat to medium-high.  Cook for about another 2.5 minutes, until a nice golden crust develops.  Add the butter and turn the scallops, cook on this side for about 3 minutes, spooning the butter over them often.  Remove from the skillet when the scallops are just white throughout.

To serve, plate the bacon-braised chard with a slotted spoon and then top with the scallops.