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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of middle-aged high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, and wealthy) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Grilling, Miscellaneous, Pork, on September 6th, 2013.

pork_chop_spicy_pesto_finger_lime_caviar

As a food blogger, it’s so fun when a company contacts me – gee, little old me – asking if they can send me some food product to try. No charge. No strings attached. Actually, Freida’s contacted me about Hatch green chiles, but almost as an afterthought, they threw in a box of finger limes.

Prior to this, I’d only read about finger limes. Before our trip to Australia 2 years ago, I thought I’d scour the food markets there (if I could) to find some. I wanted to taste them. (Alas, it was the wrong time of year for finger limes, so no, I didn’t see a one.)  The whole idea of the finger limes is so bizarre, in a way. Let’s backtrack . . . finger limes were developed in Australia. The limes are small, some pink, yellow, green and off white. When you cut them in half and squeeze them, the little balls of encapsulated lime juice roll out, almost like a roll of fluff. But they’re not fluff, they’re these little sacs of lime juice. Here you can see what they’re like. finger_limes2

The average finger lime, uncut, is about an inch long. I cut several in half and gently squeezed. As I was working , I cut several of the limes more lengthwise and tried to extract the little juicy gems. Hard to do, actually, but once I cut them in half crosswise, and did the squeeze technique, they came right out. I have yet to try these on a piece of fish – that will be the ultimate test, I think, with a bunch of these adorable things scattered on top of a sizzling hot swordfish steak. Some marketing type came up with the “caviar” name, but it’s actually very apt as the sacs kind of pop in your mouth.

The origin of the relish came from Southern Living. It is called a Peanut-Basil Relish. The basil is chopped up finely, then you add green onion tops (only), some fish sauce, garlic, sesame oil (a tiny amount) and olive oil. Serrano pepper was in the mixture, but I didn’t have one, so I substituted some chipotle chile. And then I got the idea about using the finger limes. Peanuts have a role in this – I kept them separate until I was ready to serve (because they absorb liquid easily). It took about 5 minutes to make the relish.

Meanwhile, I sprinkled about a teaspoon of light soy sauce on the pork chops, then a bit of olive oil and some Montreal pepper seasoning. Those went on the grill until the meat reached 150° and they were perfectly done. I spread the relish on top and we chowed down. It was delicious. I happen to have a bumper crop of basil at the moment and this made good use of it. The relish recipe suggested if you have left overs, to mix into pasta.

What’s GOOD: the relish is ever-so easy to make, and the chops were simple to season and grill. Loved the Asian flavors – they’re not overwhelming at all (either the soy sauce on the meat or the fish sauce in the relish) but gave it a piquant taste altogether. The relish would be delish on other things – it does need to be used right away, I think. The little bit that was left in the bowl when I got done was turning black, which is what basil does when it’s bruised and wet. I could have whizzed it up in the food processor and made a paste (with more oil, probably) but I liked it as a kind of rough relish.
What’s NOT: really nothing at all. Liked everything about it.

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Grilled Pork Chops with Spicy Basil Relish and Lime Caviar

Recipe By: Partly my own ideas, part adapted from Southern Living.
Serving Size: 4

PORK CHOPS:
2 1/2 pounds bone-in pork sirloin chops — or any cut of pork chops
4 teaspoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
Montreal seasoning pepper to taste
BASIL-PEANUT RELISH:
4 tablespoons green onion tops — (green part only)
1 1/2 cups basil leaves
2 cloves garlic — crushed
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
4 teaspoons finger lime caviar — or fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted peanuts — chopped

1. Dry pork chops with paper towels. Spread soy sauce on pork, then olive oil, followed by a moderate amount of Montreal pepper seasoning.
2. Grill pork, searing both sides, until the interior temperature reaches 150°. Remove to a heated platter, tent with foil and set aside for just a few minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a bowl combine the green onion tops, chopped basil (use a ceramic knife if you have one, so it doesn’t bruise the basil), crushed garlic, fish sauce, sesame oil, olive oil, lime caviar (or lime juice) and add the peanuts last (or sprinkle them on top when serving). If you have left over relish, add a bit more oil and use it to season rice or pasta. Use it within a day, as the basil will turn black and look very unpalatable. Spread the relish on top of the grilled pork chops.
Per Serving: 476 Calories; 34g Fat (64.0% calories from fat); 39g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 1mg Cholesterol; 293mg Sodium.

Posted in Beef, Grilling, on September 2nd, 2013.

This is a post about the technical side of grilling steaks – the photo is from an earlier post – which happens to be our favorite steak preparation. Click this link to go to that recipe.

We do enjoy a steak with some regularity. My DH would probably eat a steak about every 3-4 days if I’d let him, but since I know we should limit how much beef we eat, we have a steak probably once every 2-4 weeks. And I cook beef in one or another form (ground, short ribs) maybe once a month too, although generally we’ll have more than one meal out of it, so technically we eat it more than once, twice or three times a month. If we go to a steakhouse, sometimes Dave will order a steak there as well. I almost never order a steak out because I’m pretty certain the steak we’ll eat at home is better tasting and more tender. I’m not sure about most beef purveyors, either – what do they feed the cattle? Fillers? And solely corn and grains at the end? – which is so awful for their digestive tracts. Lots of cattle are near death when they’re slaughtered because of what the feed lots force them to eat. All of that came from a book we read about steak: Steak: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef. I have yet to write up an essay/post about that book. I’ve been meaning to, because I found the book absolutely fascinating.

In the last couple of years you may have read some of my posts about how and what we’ve done at home to improve the chances of a good, juicy tender steak.

(1) We now buy nearly all of our steaks from an organic grower who raises his stock about 50 miles from where we live, and he sells his beef (and lamb, chicken and pork) at a Saturday farmer’s market. He raises grass-fed beef (very, very chewy meat) and some he raises with just a short time of eating a special diet of legumes and grains (no corn) developed by a university. We buy the latter because it’s got the perfect combination of taste and texture. We can order ahead if we want, or just show up at the farmer’s market and decide on the spot from what he has available. Many people have standing orders. Some buy a whole steer and request part of the order to be delivered every thermapenmonth or so.

(2) We use a very expensive (for a thermometer) Splash-Proof Super-Fast Thermapen to test the temp of the steaks. We like medium rare, and usually remove the steak from the grill at about 125° give or take a degree or two.

(3) We let it rest under a light tent of foil for 7-8 minutes.

(4) As for cooking the steaks – we were using a method developed by Hugh Carpenter to grill – mark the meat (grill marks) then move it over to the indirect heat area of the grill and wait until it reached the desired temp. And we thought those things were working well, although we had one complaint – by the time the steak got to our plate and on the table, it was not hot enough for my DH’s tastes – he wants a hotter, almost sizzling steak. We hadn’t experimented with that method.

We’ll likely be changing some of our grilling from now on after reading an article over at Serious Eats. It details 7 things that are myths about grilling, about meat, etc. I found the article quite fascinating. I’ll give you a quick synopsis here:

Myth #1: “You should let a thick steak rest at room temperature before you cook it.”

Apparently it’s  not necessary. It just means the steak spends less time on the grill if you do let it sit out. Otherwise, the author found no difference to taste or how it cooked.

Myth #2: “Sear your meat over high heat to lock in juices.”

Nope. Definitely a myth. The article says: “When cooking thick steaks, start them on the cooler side of the grill and cook with the lid on until they reach about ten degrees below final serving temperature. Finish them off on the hot side of the grill for a great crust. For thinner steaks (about an inch or less), just cook them over the hot side the entire time—they’ll be cooked to medium rare by the time a good crust has developed.” The analysis is that once the steak has cooked on the slow side for awhile, the flat surface is drier, therefore when you do put it on the hot side, it will give you a better crust and grill marks.

Myth #3: “Bone-in steak has more flavor than boneless.”

This is one that I certainly thought was true, but tests proved it made no difference. But, if you like to gnaw on bones, do cook bone-in.

Myth #4: “Only flip your steak once!”

Isn’t this one of those quintessential mental pictures of a guy at his grill, flipping those burgers or steaks? Here’s what the article says: “. . . multiple flipping will not only get your steak to cook faster—up to 30% faster!—but will actually cause it to cook more evenly, as well. This is because—as food scientist and writer Harold McGee has explained—by flipping frequently, the meat on any given side will neither heat up nor cool down significantly with each turn.”

Myth #5: “Don’t season your steak until after it’s cooked!”

The explanation for this one is kind of long (go to the article to read it in full), but the general theory is that we put steaks on the grill when they’re too wet. Steaks have got to have a dry, dry surface. The article’s “takeaway:” You can get away with salting just before cooking, but for best results, salt at least 45 minutes—and up to a couple of days—in advance, letting your steak rest on a rack in the fridge so that its surface can dry and the salt can be absorbed into the meat. Serve the steak with crunchy sea salt at the table.

Myth #6a: “Don’t use a fork to turn your steak.”

You know you’ve read about it – don’t puncture any piece of grilled meat (steak, pork chop, tenderloin, even chicken) because the juices will escape, resulting in a dry piece of finished meat. The truth:  muscles in steak are little tiny, miniscule water balloons, he explained, and indeed, if you puncture a steak you likely will break a few, but his tests showed it was such a finite amount to hardly matter.

Myth #6b: “If you cut it open to check doneness, it will lose all its juices.”

Certainly I’ve wondered about this, but I still have done it anyway – especially when Dave has brought a piece in from the grill about 20 minutes early and he says it’s done (per the thermometer). I never want to serve an undercooked chicken breast or steak, or pork chop. A few juices may be lost, but it doesn’t seem to affect the final result. He recommended using this method only if you don’t have a meat thermometer, or you don’t trust what it says.

Myth #7: “Use the “poke test” to check if your steak is done.”

You know this one – press your finger on the meat itself – if it’s fleshy like the inside of your palm, it’s really rare, closer to the thumb it’s medium-rare, etc. The writer says that not everyone’s hands are alike – some are more fleshy than others, so that makes this method a crap shoot. His answer: use a Thermapen.

Posted in Fish, Grilling, on August 1st, 2013.

salmon_lemon_piccata_sauce

Perfectly cooked salmon that’s pre-marinated in a lemon herb mixture, then served with a lemony beurre blanc (i.e. lots of butter) sauce with capers. Each serving gets just a little bit of sauce, so it’s not so awfully wicked.

Surely I have no shortage of salmon recipes here on my blog, but I’m always open for another new preparation, especially when it’s served with this delicious, butter and lemon caper pan sauce. The recipe came from a recent cooking class with my favorite instructor, Phillis Carey. It’s not difficult – in fact it’s quite easy – although the sauce can be a bit tricky.

The SALMON: First you’ll marinate the salmon for no more than an hour. 15 minutes is better than no time in the marinade, but 1 hour is ideal if you can make the time. Then you either grill the salmon (you could do it on a stovetop grill also), or you can do long, slow baking, or you can do a slow broil. Read the recipe for instructions on doing any of those methods. My favorite method is the slow broil. Even the phrase sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Broil means high-high heat. And yes, it does, but to do a slow broil you put the fish on a broiler pan and place it 8-10 inches below the broil element. That way you don’t have to turn the fish over – it cooks completely this way. It’s a Phillis technique, and I’ve used it numerous times since she first taught it at a cooking class I went to about a year ago.

Beurre Blanc Tip:

the trick to beurre blanc is to add the butter in small pieces and never allow the mixture to bubble or even simmer. That way it will stay slightly thickened.

The SAUCE:  Well, the sauce is really a buerre blanc and Phillis just makes it a little different with the addition of capers. You could also use dill or basil if you don’t like capers. I do, so I knew I’d love the sauce. The only thing to remember about making the sauce is to NOT allow the mixture bubble or boil or the sauce will separate and it’s ruined. Well, you could serve it, but it would just look like hot butter. When you add the butter gradually and keep the temp below a simmer, the sauce is slightly thickened. You need to serve it immediately, however.

The other trick to the sauce is to have EXACTLY 1/4 cup of liquid in the pan when you start to make it. If you have more, then you’ll have to add more butter. Less and the sauce will be too buttery. Once you remove all the shallots, pour out the liquid and measure it. If it’s a smidge over, put it back on the flame and reduce it to that perfect 1/4 cup. Beurre blanc isn’t a sauce that can easily be increased for a larger quantity – make it in 2 pans and ask someone else to help with the last-minute butter additions. If you’ve never made a beurre blanc, I might suggest you make it once – do it for a weeknight dinner so you understand how the chemistry works. Serve it over relatively plain chicken breasts or another kind of fish.

What’s GOOD: the fish, if cooked properly, is meltingly tender and tasty, and the sauce! Oh yes, the sauce is so darned good. Buttery. Rich. Understand, though, that you only eat a little tiny bit of it – it’s all you need!
What’s NOT: only the careful work needed to make the sauce – that’s why I suggest you make it once before you try it for guests. It’s not difficult.

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Grilled Lemon Herb Salmon with Lemon Piccata Caper Butter Sauce

Recipe By: From a Phillis Carey cooking class, 2013
Serving Size: 6

SALMON:
36 ounces salmon fillets — skinless, cut into 6 pieces
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Italian parsley — minced
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
LEMON CAPER BUTTER SAUCE:
3/4 cup dry white wine — not Chardonnay or vermouth
3 tablespoons shallots — chopped, not minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup unsalted butter — chilled, cut into 8 pieces
2 tablespoons capers — drained and rinsed

Notes: it is best to use a high-fat butter in this recipe. Grocery store butter contains more water and the sauce will not thicken as it should. Suggested brands: Plugra, Kerry Gold or Land O’Lakes. If doubling this recipe, make the sauce in 2 separate pans – it’s very difficult to make a beurre blanc sauce in a large quantity.
1. MARINADE: Place salmon fillets in a flat casserole dish. Combine the oil, lemon juice, parsley and thyme. Pour over the salmon, turning fillets to coat well. Cover and refrigerate at least 15 minutes, or an hour is preferable. Do not marinate more than 1 hour or the fish will begin to “cook” because of the lemon juice (acid).
2. SAUCE: Combine wine, shallots and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat and cook it to reduce it to 1/4 cup, about 5 minutes or so. It is VERY important that you measure the amount – pour it out into a glass or metal measuring cup to make sure it’s right on 1/4 cup. Pour mixture through a sieve to remove the shallots (discard them). Set the sauce mixture aside for up to 2 hours prior to serving (covered).
3. SALMON: If using an outdoor grill or stovetop grill, grill salmon for 4-6 minutes per side until JUST cooked. Internal temperature should be 135° if you have an instant read thermometer. You can also slow-roast the fish in a 250° oven for 25-30 minutes. Or use a slow-broil method: preheat broiler to high and move the oven rack to at least 8-10 inches below the broiler element. Place fish on a broiler rack and bake/broil the fish for 10-12 minutes total without turning over the fish. It will cook through perfectly.
4. FINISH: While salmon is grilling reheat the sauce mixture. Reduce heat to VERY low (just below a simmer) and add the butter, one piece at a time, taking great care NOT to allow the mixture to boil or bubble at all (if it does, the butter will separate and the sauce will never come together correctly). The sauce should thicken just slightly (because the butter is viscous) – if it is not thickened, add a bit more butter. Remove sauce from the heat and stir in capers. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place salmon on heated plates and spoon sauce over the salmon fillets to serve. This is best served on individual plates, not on a serving platter. If you must use a serving platter, pour sauce separately from a pitcher. The sauce is very rich and each fillet will get only 2 tablespoons or so of sauce total.
Per Serving: 440 Calories; 30g Fat (65.2% calories from fat); 34g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 130mg Cholesterol; 144mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, Grilling, on July 10th, 2013.

halibut_basalmico

Three separate things to make for this meal – marinate the fish (easy) – chop up the tomato salsa stuff (also easy) – and whisk the balsamic vinaigrette (nothing to it, really). It’s worthy of a company meal. Plus, except for cooking the fish, everything can be done ahead.

First thing, I grabbed the package of fish out of the freezer. It was vacuum sealed, so I put it in a large bowl, filled it with cold tap water and weighted it down for a couple of hours. That method doesn’t work quite as well with big roasts and things, but it sure is a simple defrosting method for anything flat. I’ve learned now that it’s very safe leaving that kind of defrosting package, in the bowl, in the kitchen sink, weighted, for several hours. Not all day – that wouldn’t work, I’m afraid – if you’re at work all day.

Defrosting Tip:

Did you know that the easiest way to defrost things is to plunge the vacuum sealed item in a bowl of cold water for a few hours? Be sure to weight it down so it stays under water.

Then I made the vinaigrette. I have a bunch of different balsamic vinegars – the one I used this time was tangerine, but you can also use just plain, ordinary types too. Even the cheap grocery store stuff will work on this recipe because the astringency of the balsamic is muted significantly by all the other stuff going on on top of this fish! Then I made the salsa – now, this isn’t an ordinary Mexican style salsa at all – it’s an Italian style. Except for the fresh chiles, it could be a Latin type. This one uses cayenne – I used the Mercken spice I have in my pantry – it’s a Chilean chile powder mixture that’s a regular condiment on the tables of most people in that country. But just use cayenne, since most people won’t have the Mercken. The salsa has parsley instead of cilantro and fresh oregano instead of any other seasoning. Taste it as you make it – to make sure it has balance (of sweet, sour, salt, etc.).

Meanwhile, the fish is marinated, sort of, in a little bit of olive oil, fresh chopped thyme, salt and pepper. You could do that several hours ahead, cover and keep in the refrigerator. I just let it sit for 30 minutes or so, out on my kitchen counter. I cut the fish into serving portions just to make it easier to cook it in a frying pan.

The original recipe for this came from an Italian cook and chef, Nadia Frigeri. Many years ago I took several cooking classes from her – and learned how to make her polenta, and a variety of other Italian dishes. And this was one of them, and I forget about making it!

The recipe indicates to grill the fish – which you can – but it was blisteringly hot the night I made this, and I didn’t want to make my hubby stand outside at all. I’d cranked our A/C down to 73° so I could stand to cook in the kitchen at all. First I browned the fish on both sides in olive oil, then added some water and a lid and let it steam/simmer for a few minutes. Nothing fancy about that. Just don’t over cook it!

To serve, you drizzle a bit of the vinaigrette on the plate or platter, place the hot-from-the-grill fish, then spoon the salsa on top, drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette and top with toasted pine nuts.

What’s GOOD: the lovely, white flaky fish is foremost, of course. I loved the salsa and the balsamic sauce – it was just a wonderful combination. And the little bit of crunch from the pine nuts too. There’s enough of the salsa for each bite to contain some.
What’s NOT: there is nothing not to like about this. As I mentioned, it would make a great company meal. Easy too.

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Halibut Balsamico

Recipe By:Nadia Frigeri, www.nadiafrigeri.com, from a cooking class
Serving Size: 6

2 pounds halibut — thick cut, in 1 piece
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme — minced salt and pepper
VINAIGRETTE:
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons pine nuts — toasted
SALSA:
3 medium yellow tomatoes — seeded and chopped (or red, or combo)
1/3 cup green onion — chopped
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — minced
1 tablespoon fresh oregano — minced (or 1 tsp dried)
1 pinch cayenne
3 medium garlic cloves — peeled and crushed
salt — to taste

Note: If the fish is more than an inch thick, you can bake it in a 400° oven for about 16-20 minutes until cooked through.
1. Arrange halibut filets in a large glass dish; season with salt, pepper and thyme, then add olive oil. Turn fish over in this marinade. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours, if possible.
2. Combine tomatoes, green onions, parsley, oregano, cayenne, salt and garlic in a bowl. Toss well, cover and chill until ready to serve, or allow to marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.
3. Combine in a small bowl or jar the salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar. Whisk or shake mixture and add the oil as you whisk. Add pine nuts.
4. Grill fish on outdoor grill on both sides until almost cooked through. (Alternately, brown the fish on each side briefly in individual pieces in a little olive oil, add a T. or two of water and steam for just a few minutes too cook through. Do not over cook.) Remove fish from the grill. To plate the meal, pour a small amount of vinaigrette on the plate, and place a single fish serving on top. Add a scoop of the salsa, then sprinkle with more toasted pine nuts and drizzle more vinaigrette on top.
Per Serving: 364 Calories; 23g Fat (57.6% calories from fat); 33g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 48mg Cholesterol; 108mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, Grilling, on May 1st, 2013.

grilled_chix_orange_jalapeno_sauce

Make this. Oh yes, make this! It’s healthy, relatively simple to prepare, and it’s just loaded with flavor. You need to like chiles, however, and spicy food.

Many years ago I must have gotten the original of this recipe from Phillis Carey. My old print-out says it’s hers, but I didn’t find the recipe in any of her 3 cookbooks. And actually, the original was for Cornish game hens, not chicken. But my notes about this recipe said it was really delicious, so I made some changes to it, decided to grill the chicken rather than bake it, and I changed-up the sauce to serve with it too. So let’s just say the recipe was inspired by Phillis!

The photo above shows a half of a chicken breast – bone in – in its finished form. The chicken was marinated for awhile in an orange juice, oil and chipotle mixture, seared on the grill, moved to indirect heat to cook through, then served with a quick sweet salsa at the end.  The salsa was the royal crown of the dish, I’d say. I bought fresh salsa and after melting a little bit of red jalapeno jelly on the range, and allowing it to cool, I added it to the chilled salsa and it was spooned over the top. I wanted to lick the plate – and it’s not that there’s anything so unusual in it – except that you don’t expect salsa to be sweet. Yet it is, and it’s just perfect on the chicken!

What’s GOOD: it’s a really different taste – the chicken is moist, since you take it off the grill when it just reaches 155°. And the salsa. Well, that’s the best part.

What’s NOT: nothing for me – I liked it, but you do need to appreciate a bit of heat and sweet with the chicken to enjoy it fully!

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Grilled Chicken with Jalapeno Jelly Salsa

Recipe By: Inspired by a recipe from Phillis Carey, cooking instructor
Serving Size: 4

4 chicken breast halves — bone-in preferred
3/4 teaspoon chipotle chile canned in adobo
1/4 cup jalapeno jelly
2 teaspoons orange zest
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
SWEET SALSA:
2 tablespoons jalapeno jelly
1/2 cup fresh salsa
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro — minced, for garnish

1. MARINADE: Melt the jalapeno jelly, cool for 2-3 minutes, then pour Into a Ziiploc bag with the orange zest, juice, oil and chipotle chile in adobo. Seal and squish the bag to mix the ingredients, particularly the chipotle chiles. Add chicken and seal. Refrigerate for about an hour, or longer if time permits.
2. Remove chicken from marinade (save the marinade) and blot with paper towels. Preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high. Briefly sear the chicken on both sides – enough to get grill marks, then place it over indirect heat, reduce heat to medium and continue cooking (using the glaze at least once) until the interior of the chicken reaches 155°, about 15-20 minutes. Remove to a cutting board and cover with foil for about 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, pour marinade into a small saucepan. Heat marinade and allow to simmer until it has reduced by half (there won’t be a lot) or until it thickens some. During the grilling, brush the chicken with the glaze.
4. SALSA: In a small saucepan, melt jalapeno jelly. Set aside to cool for at least 5 minutes, then add to the fresh salsa. Spoon the salsa over the chicken and garnish with cilantro.
Per Serving: 402 Calories; 20g Fat (45.5% calories from fat); 31g Protein; 24g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 93mg Cholesterol; 246mg Sodium.

Posted in Grilling, Lamb, on January 7th, 2013.

lamb_chops_cherry_marsala_sauce

What a special treat – loin lamb chops grilled and served with a sauce (dried tart cherries, rosemary, dry Marsala wine, shallots and butter). All of it delish.

Visiting Costco recently I noticed a gorgeous package of 7 lamb chops. Little things, beautifully trimmed, ready for the grill. The recipe came from the New York Times, but I’d read about it in my favorite cookbook, The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century, by Amanda Hesser. This is her recipe that was published in 2001. A winner.

It took a few minutes to make the sauce, and my DH did the chops on the outdoor grill. The sauce has a bunch of ingredients, but it wasn’t difficult – chopped shallot, garlic, fresh rosemary, some chicken broth, the dry Marsala, salt and pepper, plus some unsalted butter and oil. Have all the remainder of your dinner all ready to go so when the chops are done and the sauce is thickened just so, you’re all ready to serve it!

What’s good: the meat was delicious – tender and juicy – and the sauce was unusual (from the tart cherries) but complemented the meat perfectly. It would make a lovely company meal.
What’s not: nothing at all.

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Lamb Chops with Cherry Marsala Sauce

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from New York Times, 2001 (Amanda Hesser)
Serving Size: 4

2/3 cup dried tart cherries
8 lamb loin chops — about 1 inch thick (about 1 pound)
salt and freshly ground pepper — to taste
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup shallot — finely chopped
2 cloves garlic — minced
4 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2/3 cup Marsala wine — dry if you can find it

1. Place dried cherries in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Let rest for 15 minutes, then drain. Pat lamb chops dry with paper towel and season with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet over medium-high flame. Add oil and sauté chops for 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium rare, swirling pan occasionally to make sure chops stay in contact with oil. Transfer chops to plate and tent with foil.
2. Turn off flame under skillet. Wipe with paper towel (lightly and carefully, so you don’t burn yourself—it doesn’t need to be oil-free) and return to medium heat. Melt butter in pan and sauté shallots until just tender, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid burning. Add garlic and rosemary to skillet and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add broth and Marsala to skillet. Stir in cherries and scrape up any browned bits. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until sauce is slightly reduced and thickened.
3. Divide lamb chops between two plates. Spoon sauce and cherries over and around chops. Serve.
Per Serving: 832 Calories; 64g Fat (70.7% calories from fat); 35g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 156mg Cholesterol; 125mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, easy, Grilling, on December 24th, 2012.

grand_marnier_grilled_chicken

Yet another (good) recipe for grilled chicken. Can’t ever have enough. This one is marinated with a variety of things (nothing difficult or odd) and a few tablespoons of Grand Marnier, then it’s grilled. Done. Easy.

Making this chicken was kind of an afterthought. I had decided I was going to make the Summer Grilled Panzanella Salad. But I knew we needed something else with it – some protein. So I opened up one of my favorite cookbooks, Hugh Carpenter’s Hot Barbecue. This recipe popped out at me. Although the orange flavoring didn’t exactly fit with the panzanella bread salad, I decided it was good enough. I had all of the ingredients on hand (goody!) so it was simple to combine the marinade and let it chill out for awhile before grilling.

It was altogether easy to make. The marinade ingredients are combined, divided in half (you marinate the chicken in half and glaze the grilling chicken with the other half and pour any left over marinade on the chicken when it’s served) and then you let the chicken chill for 1-8 hours. The chicken is grilled at a medium heat (350°) for 12 minutes per side, then you just keep grilling it until it reaches 160° on an instant read thermometer. I think it took about 30 minutes altogether. Serve it right away. I’d purchased drumsticks and thighs (you could do breasts, but it will take less time on the grill, and I think I’d turn down the heat a little after the initial grill-mark marking).

What I liked: the marinade gave the chicken a very nice, mellow orange flavor – I liked it. A lot. I’d make it again for sure with no changes to the recipe at all. It’s also EASY.

What I didn’t like: nothing at all.

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Chicken Grand Marnier

Recipe By: Adapted from Hot Barbecue by Hugh Carpenter and Teri Sandison
Serving Size: 4

1 pound chicken thighs
1 pound chicken drumsticks
MARINADE:
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier — or other orange liqueur
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon orange zest
2 tablespoons fresh ginger — grated
2 tablespoons fresh basil — chopped
1 whole green onion — chopped

1. MARINADE: Combine ingredients and pour half of it into a zip type plastic bag. Add the chicken pieces to the bag, seal and refrigerate for 1-8 hours. Reserve remaining marinade in refrigerator.
2. Remove chicken from refrigerator at least 30 minutes ahead of grilling.
3. Preheat grill to medium (350°). Cook chicken about 12 minutes per side, and continue to cook until the internal temperature (dark meat) reaches 160°. Use an instant-read thermometer to determine. Use the remaining marinade to brush on the chicken each time you turn the pieces. If any marinade remains, pour it over the chicken when serving.
Per Serving: 387 Calories; 20g Fat (51.1% calories from fat); 31g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 137mg Cholesterol; 630mg Sodium.

Posted in Grilling, Veggies/sides, on December 14th, 2012.

street_corn

Oh, my. Can I just tell you to make this? Do you trust me? Have you learned that when I say that, it’s something that’s sensational? Worth making? Fabulous. All those things? Yes, YES!

We have a local restaurant in Tustin, where I live, called the Tustin Roadhouse. It’s a kind of a dive, but not in a bad way. Cement floors, melamine topped tables and a few benches. They serve Que – mostly. The restaurant used to have a different name (Beach Pit BBQ) but awhile ago they branched out just a little bit, provided some optional menu items and sides. We went a month ago and ordered appetizers and a side dish – corn. We had delicious – absolutely wonderful fried calamari with a fab remoulade sauce. Then they brought the corn. Oh my gosh! It was SO good. When we went back there a couple of weeks ago, all I really cared about was ordering more of that corn. I quizzed the waitress about what was on the corn, and promptly came home and made it myself.

grilled_cornYou’ll find some other recipes online if you search for Mexican Street Corn. Some recipes suggest Parmesan. Most called for the cotija cheese. Some don’t have the cheese at all. Some used cayenne in the mayo. I like the depth of flavor from chipotle, so I used that. cotija_cheese_pkgI made up my own recipe for it. I know it’s not corn season right now, but I did find corn at our local Trader Joe’s. It wasn’t the best tasting, but hey, it’s December as I write this, so I took what I could cotija_cheese_cutget! Those of you readers who live in the Southern Hemisphere – buy some corn right now and make this.

street_corn_dipping_pans

First you grill the corn, then while it’s sizzling hot you brush on a mixture of mayo, chipotle chile in adobo added in, and a tad of lime juice squeezed into the mix also. Then you roll the corn into crumbled cotija cheese. You don’t need much – maybe 2 T. per ear is sufficient. If you love the cotija, then add more. Cotija is a salty, aged cow’s milk Mexican cheese. It has the texture of feta, but it’s not like feta in taste, just the crumbly aspect of it. If you use Parmesan, be sure to grate it – don’t shred it. You don’t want big threads of cheese – you want crumbles. That’s IT. See? I said easy.

What’s good: the cheese, the flavor, the texture. You don’t use much mayo (the amount above – about 3 tablespoons was enough for 4 small ears) mixed with the chipotle and lime juice. Yum is all I can say.
What’s not: absolutely nothing. Do use corn holders in the end to hold the corn while you’re brushing on the mayo mixture – they’re really hot right off the grill.

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Mexican Street Corn

Recipe By: My own concoction, but based on what I tasted at the Tustin Roadhouse
Serving Size: 4
NOTES: Add more chipotle chile if you like it hotter. Just be careful – it packs a punch if you use too much.

4 ears fresh corn — on the cob
1/4 cup mayonnaise — regular or light
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile canned in adobo — mashed, chopped, minced to a paste
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup Cotija cheese — crumbled in small pieces

1. Set out two flat plates or dipping pans. In one add the mayo, chipotle (to taste – add more if desired), and lime juice. Mix it well and taste. Add pepper if desired. Don’t add salt as the cheese is quite salty. In the other dish or pan crumble the cotija cheese.
2. Grill the corn just long enough to get grill marks on the ears.
3. Use a silicone brush and brush each ear with some of the mayo mixture. Use corn holders in the end, or hold the ear with paper towels. Cover each ear end to end with the mayo mixture, but not thick at all – just enough so the cheese will stick. Then gently roll each ear in the cotija cheese, rolling back to cover most of it with a erratic covering of cheese. It does not need to be solidly covered – that would be too much, and too salty. Serve immediately before the corn gets cold!
Per Serving: 178 Calories; 13g Fat (58.6% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 5mg Cholesterol; 98mg Sodium.

Posted in Grilling, Pork, Veggies/sides, on September 3rd, 2012.

pan_roasted_asparagus

Throwing this dinner together was very last minute. But fresh produce from our corner farm stand just made it fabulous. And the grilled double pork chop? Oh my goodness! Read on . . .

The day I fixed this dinner – a Saturday – I wasn’t even planning to cook dinner. We were heading to San Diego, to spend the afternoon on our boat and with friends and would eat dinner at our yacht club. But traffic got in the way. It took over an hour for us to drive 20 miles. The freeway was just jammed. Where in the world were all these people going? There was no accident, yet my trusty iPhone traffic info said it would be stop and go for another 35 miles at least. We were in my DH’s convertible. Top up, of course, but still it was over 100° and I was sitting on the passenger side, in full sun, with the A/C barely keeping me cool. In bumper-to-bumper traffic very few car A/C’s can keep cool. We eventually got off the freeway and turned toward home. We stopped at our corner farm stand and bought another big box of the less-than-perfect tomatoes ($10 for 10 pounds), 2 ears of corn, some squash and a bunch of asparagus. Walking into our house (heavenly A/C) I stopped at the garage freezer and poked through the contents until I found one last 2-rib pork chop.

double_pork_chops_smoked_cinnamonThe chunk of meat was plunged into a big bowl of cold water and defrosted in a couple of hours, with some weights on top of it. I sliced a big honkin’ tomato and made a caprese with it. Easy. I sprinkled the corn with a new seasoning mix I have – from Savory Spice Shop. If you have one in your neighborhood, try this mixture – called Peruvian Chile Lime Seasoning. I sprinkled it all over the corn which I’d sprayed with Trader Joe’s canned olive oil spray. Wrapped in foil, it cooked in about 10 minutes or less.

corn_peruvian_lime_chileThe pork I sprinkled liberally with Montreal Seasoning and spread with some grapeseed oil, then I sprinkled on a brand new ingredient – smoked cinnamon. Oh my goodness was that ever delish. So easy, and so very wonderful!

asparagus_fryingThen I quick-like researched asparagus and found this recipe which was quick and easy too. I had shallots. I had an orange and sherry vinegar. And I had sliced almonds too. It came together in a flash. It was thin asparagus, so it took no more than about 4-5 minutes to cook from beginning to end.

What I liked: I don’t usually do this – 3 recipes in one post – but all of these were so easy I decided I should just post them all together. The pork and the corn were so simple they hardly even require a recipe! Fabulous meal.

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Corn on the Cob with Peruvian
Chile Lime Seasoning

Serves: 2

2 large corn on the cob, cleaned
1 teaspoon Peruvian Chile Lime seasoning
Trader Joe’s extra virgin olive oil spray

1. Spray the corn with olive oil spray, then liberally sprinkle the corn with the seasoning mix.
2. Seal with foil and grill over medium heat for about 10 minutes, turning several times.

. . .

Double Pork Chops with Montreal
Seasoning and Smoked Cinnamon

Servings: 2

1 double pork chop, a small roast with extended bones intact (about 1 pound)
About 1 tablespoon Montreal Seasoning mix
1/2 teaspoon smoked cinnamon
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil

1. Allow pork to sit at room temp for about 30 minutes.
2. Blot the meat with paper towels, then sprinkle on the Montreal Seasoning. Use ample, then sprinkle on the smoked cinnamon. Press into the meat, then drizzle all sides with grapeseed oil.
3. Grill over medium-high heat until both sides have color (grill marks) then move to indirect heat and continue cooking until the meat reaches about 138°. Remove from grill, set aside and cover loosely with foil for about 5 minutes. Slice the pork into two pieces and serve.

. . .

Pan Roasted Asparagus with Orange and Almonds

Recipe By: Inspired by a Cook’s Illustrated recipe.
Serving Size: 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 pound asparagus spears — ends trimmed
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons slivered almonds
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1. Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering; add shallots and stir for 1-2 minutes until shallots are golden (don’t burn them).
2. Add the asparagus (left whole) and gently fold them over one another in the pan until all the spears are coated in the oil mixture. Cook for about 5 minutes over medium-low heat, covering them for about half the time.
3. Add orange juice, almonds and thyme; add sherry vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat through and serve with additional almonds sprinkled over the top.
Per Serving: 95 Calories; 8g Fat (72.5% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 2mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, Grilling, on July 10th, 2012.

chix_basil_beurre_blanc

Probably this should be a special treat meal – what with 31 grams of fat per serving. But it’s SO delicious. Beurre Blanc (in French it means “white butter” ) sauce is a mystery to me – it doesn’t taste like it’s almost pure butter. But it is! This would also be good with almost any kind of fish fillets too. The sauce isn’t hard to make. Have everything all ready beforehand.

Do you remember the first time you had beurre blanc? I do – it was probably in the late 1980’s – at a famous restaurant in Malibu, and it was served on salmon, and I was in love. Little did I know what sinfulness was in it. No internet could tell me back then – well, there were computers, but finding recipes on a computer then was a daunting task. It wasn’t in my then-old copy of the Joy of Cooking. It wasn’t in my Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cooking. I didn’t own any French cookbooks then. But eventually a cookbook I purchased had a recipe for it, and I gasped when I read the ingredients – almost pure butter. Sigh. No wonder I liked it so much! If you’re interested in reading more about its origin, check out wikipedia’s description. It was (they think) an accident sometime in the early 1900’s, as woman-chef Clémence Lefeuvre from the Loire Valley was preparing a hollandaise, and she forgot to add the egg yolks and tarragon.

So, enough about the history of the sauce. What you want to know is that the sauce is a blank canvas for herbs or veggie additions (in this case tomatoes and cucumber), so you could easily – very easily – substitute other things. In this version from a cooking class with Phillis Carey, it’s served over marinated, then grilled chicken breasts, and the sauce contains basil as well as the tomatoes and cucumbers. Just remember not to let the sauce even begin to boil once you’ve incorporated the cold butter – the sauce will “break” if you do. That’s the secret to it – something about the lecithin in butter than allows the mixture to be a viscous sauce without the addition of any thickeners like flour or cornstarch. Do serve it with some kind of relatively plain carb (like rice as you can see in the photo – don’t add a lot of flavorings as it would compete with the subtle beurre blanc sauce) to soak up every drop of the sauce. Phillis also said it’s particularly good with asparagus.

What I liked: the succulence of the sauce – well, why not since it’s got lots of succulent butter in it! This preparation with tomatoes and cucumbers is very different – I didn’t think I’d like diced up cucumber in this, but it adds a delicious crunch to it. Altogether good.

What I didn’t like: taste-wise, nothing. Calorie-wise, well, as I said, make this a special treat!

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Lemon-Basil Grilled Chicken Breasts with Tomato Cucumber and Basil Beurre Blanc

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, 2012
Serving Size: 4
Serving Ideas: Serve rice along side to absorb any of the sauce. Great with asparagus.

4 each boneless skinless chicken breast halves — (or chicken thighs)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh basil — chopped
BEURRE BLANC:
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons shallots — chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter — chilled, cut into 8 pieces
Salt and white pepper to taste
1/3 cup plum tomatoes — seeded, finely diced
1/3 cup cucumber — peeled, seeded, finely diced

1. Trim chicken and pound to an even 1/2″ thickness. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Stir together the olive oil, lemon juice and basil, then pour over chicken, turning to coat (or combine in a plastic bag). Let stand at room temp for 30 minutes or cover and refrigerate up to 2 hours.
2. Remove chicken from marinade and grill over medium heat (not medium-high or higher) for 3-5 minutes per side, or until cooked through.
3. BEURRE BLANC: Combine wine, lemon juice, vinegar and shallots in a small saucepan. Boil it until reduced to about 1 T. of liquid, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in 2 pieces of butter until melted. Return to a low heat and whisk in remaining butter, a piece at a time. Do not boil sauce from this point on (it will separate if you do). Turn off heat. While sauce is staying slightly warm, season with salt and white pepper, then add tomato, cucumber and basil. Serve immediately spooned over the chicken.
Per Serving: 409 Calories; 31g Fat (69.5% calories from fat); 28g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 130mg Cholesterol; 83mg Sodium.

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