cooking

Summer Charred Caesar Salad

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A misconception of Italians is that pasta is very important to us. I’m not going to lie, it was a staple in my youth growing up. But just as important, if not more so, are vegetables. Everyone in my family gardened, my uncle even had fig trees so large that they busted through his green house in Connecticut. Many of my early memories are sitting in the dirt at my grandparents house, gnawing on a cucumber I picked off the vine while they harvested the other fruits of their labors. And salad was always served at the end of the meal. After the heavy stuff was out of the way, it was onto lightly dressed lettuces, sliced pears, and shared granny smith apples. It seemed like my grandparents always had a pen knife tucked in a pocket or folded into the waist band of an apron, just to easily hand out slices of nature’s bounty.
This was a great way to be raised. If my dinner doesn’t contain a lot of vegetables today then it’s not complete, it only half done to me, or I think it’s simply not healthy. I’m always on the look out for new ways to do the same old – same old. Recently I had made some grilled corn and liked it so much I decided to expand on it. I decided my less than exciting romaine for a Caesar salad needed to be smokey, charred, a flavor you just couldn’t add to salad without real flame.
Salad (Serves 4)
2 hearts of Romaine cut in half the long way
…Yep. That’s it. This is a spin on a Caesar Salad, the magic is in the dressing and preparation, not its contents and co-stars. I also tend to look at croutons as sode: empty calories that ruin anything healthy and are the salad equivalent of a soda with a meal. It may be tasty, but you might as well have a candy bar or something. If your salad is about the croutons, you’re doing it wrong.
Summer Caesar Dressing
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Worcester sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • Pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp anchovy paste (Optional…or, in my house, Non-existent)

Caramelize the shallots. While those are working on their golden brown deliciousness, whisk everything else in a small bowl. Once caramelized, remove the shallots to cool a bit. You want to add them to the dressing when they’re warm so they don’t cook the egg, but do help thicken the dressing; letting them sit about 4-5 minutes should be fine.

Preheat your grill to high, clean the grates, and rub them down with vegetable or olive oil. Place the cut halves of Romaine flat/cut side down and don’t touch for 1-2 minutes. They char quick and you don’t want them completely blackened.

Remove from heat, and plate grilled side up. Drizzle the Caesar-ish dressing over the grilled side, allowing the dressing to drip in between the layers of lettuce. Top with a little more Parm if you’re so inclined. Served with chicken or a grilled steak makes a memorably delicious meal.

 

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Grilled Garlic & Herb Lamb T-Bones

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I prefer I high protein diet. Fat makes you fat, sure, but glucose makes you fatter. I tend to have fun coming up with replacements for pizza, bread, and potatoes. Looking for a new protein, I decided to try my hand at Lamb T-Bones. Lamb is under-rated. People tend to turn their nose up to it, thinking it’s a gamey outdated meat, but that’s just not accurate. It doesn’t have to be gamey, it doesn’t have to be anything but delicate and delicious, and it’s perfect when grilled. A simple marinade goes a long way, and a grilled Summer Caesar is a light and flavorful compliment to the charred medium rare meat.

I decided on 2 to 3 lamb t-bones per person. They’re about an inch to 1 1/2 inches thick, but we had one side to this dish, and that seemed to be the right amount to keep people full without feeling heavy after dinner.

Marinated Grilled Lamb T-Bones (Serves 2-3)

1.5 – 2lb. package of Lamb T-Bones, about 6 “steaks”

2 TBSP freshly chopped parsley

2 TBSP freshly chopped tops of fennel (the thin greenness that looks almost like dill), optional.

2 TBSP (about 6 cloves) minced garlic

juice of 1 lemon

1/2 TBSP salt

2 tsp black pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

Mix all ingredients in a plastic zip lock baggie. It’s best to marinate the lamb for a couple of hours at least, but you can do it for as long as over night if you’d like.

Take your lamb out of the fridge an hour prior to grilling and let come to room temperature in its marinade bag on the counter or in your sink. Heat your grill to high and clean your grates (which you do prior to to every time you grill, right?). Place the marinated lamb on the hot grill, close the lid, and turn the heat down to medium high. Grill for 3 minutes and then turn the lamb 1/4 turn and grill for another three minutes with the lid closed. That’s you’re “pretty” side. Flip the lamp t-bones over and grill for an additional 4-6 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 140-145 F. That’s for medium rare lamb. Keep in mind that lamb, like salmon, has a more delicate flavor the less it’s cooked, so stay away from gamey by staying away from medium to well done. We served ours with a hunk of rustic bread and the aforementioned Caesar Salad, recipe here.

Pink and delicious – no gamey-ness! So good for summer that you’ll miss it come winter!

Spicy Coconut Curry Stir Fry with Tropical Quinoa

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In the ever constant search for something new and exciting in the kitchen, I’ve decided to start making that which I crave from restaurants. The below recipe is very similar in flavor to P.F.Chang’s/Pei Wei’s Thai Coconut Curry sauce. I made this with a teaspoon of red pepper flakes and a teaspoon of chip oil and the heat is barely noticeable, just a hint, which is nice. And my heat tolerance is not very hot at all. Filled with veggies, lean protein, and quinoa instead of rice, this is a flavorful, healthy dinner that comes together relatively quickly and is super tasty! This makes enough for 4 people. You can also use shrimp instead of chicken for extra awesomeness.

Sauce

1 TBSP Sharwood’s Mild Curry Powder (That’s what I used because it was easily found in my local grocery store, but you can use whatever you like or can find.)

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp chili oil

2 tsp ginger

juice of one lime

1 cup coconut milk (You can use Lite if you’d prefer)

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp salt

Mix the sauce ingredients in a bowl, whisk together, and let sit for flavors to marry. Set it aside.

Stir Fry

1 20oz. can pineapple chunks, drained (reserve some liquid for the quinoa if making as below). You want to slice up a pineapple fresh? Go nuts.

1 red bell pepper cut into 1 inch pieces

1 small or 1/2 large white onion, diced

1 1/2 cups snow peas

1 8oz. can baby corn, cut or whole

6 oz. boneless skinless chicken breast

2 TBSP coconut milk

3 cloves minced garlic

In a large sauté pan, caramelize or brown the pineapple chunks over medium high heat, about 10-12 minutes. Remove pineapple from pan and set aside in a bowl for later. Add a TBSP vegetable or olive oil in the same pan without cleaning the yummy residue left over from the pineapple. Add the chicken and brown, just cooking through, about 4 minutes per side. Remove chicken from pan and set aside. In the same pan add another TBSP of oil and toss in the onion and red bell pepper. After about 2 minutes, turn the heat down to medium.

Quinoa

1 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa

1 cup chicken broth/stock

1 cup + 2 TBSP coconut milk

2 TBSP pineapple juice (bottled or from the can of pineapple chunks)

Place the quinoa and liquids into a sauce pan. Heat to a boil, cover, and then turn the heat down to a simmer and for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and leave covered for an additional 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and try not to immediately start gorging yourself on this. It’s super tasty, slightly sweet, and a little nutty. The perfect compliment to the Stir Fry.

Homemade Fruit Roll-Ups

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I like snacking. I like fruit. And I hate spending money.

At the tail end of the season (now) strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are hanging out in your grocery produce section at clearance level prices. With a dash of lemon, a pinch of sugar, and some dry heat, those peaked berries can reach their full potential.

And, yes, you can make this with you kids. I don’t have kids. It’s a recession, pay hasn’t nearly caught up with inflation, and there’s no way in hell I can afford spawn. So, I’m making fruit snacks for me and me alone.

Homemade Fruit Leather/Rollups

4 cups fruit, roughly chopped. I used a mix of berries, but you can also use apple and pear. If using apples and pear, be sure to peal them and omit the orange marmalade and vinegar.

3 TBSP water

1 TBSP balsamic vinegar (Optional, but it intensifies the flavor of the berries. If you leave this out use an extra TBSP of water or substitute with a TBSP of orange juice.)

2 – 3 TBSP sugar. I’m into flavor, not “sweet”. As the fruit dries their natural sugar is going to intensify, so add what you think is best, taste your fruit mixture prior to drying it, and add sugar as necessary.

1 1/2 TBSP orange marmalade

1 TBSP lemon juice

1 TBSP freshly chopped mint.

If you don’t have a dehydrator (I don’t) preheat your oven to 125-150. My oven starts at 200 with a “Warm” setting just beneath it. I set it to “Warm” and stuck a spoon in the door to keep the oven cracked. Your not cooking the fruit mixture; you just want to dry it out. In a sauce pan mix the fruit, water, and balsamic if using over medium high heat. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the berries soften significantly and thicken slightly. Turn off the heat. Add the marmalade and sugar, mixing until incorporated. Add the mint and blend the entire mixture in a food processor or with an immersion hand blender until mostly smooth. Cover a cookie sheet in wax paper or plastic wrap. I wanted a thicker fruit leather so I covered a large Pyrex dish in plastic wrap. If you want to roll them up for lunches, use a cookie sheet. You’ll be able to roll up the fruit leather with wax or parchment paper to snack on later and what kid wouldn’t think that it’s totally awesome to have a fruit rollup at lunch time that they themselves made?! Pour the fruit mixture into the cookie sheet or pan using a spatula to make sure it’s even. Your mixture should be 1/4-1/2 inches thick.

Place on the top shelf of your oven and forget about it. It’s going to have to dry out for at least 6 hours, but it will probably take closer to 8-12 hours. You’ll know when it’s done because the top won’t be sticky. Let cool and the cut (it was easier with scissors than with a knife) into the size you’d like you snacks to be. The edges may be a little crispy; just cut those off and sprinkle over a salad later. You can roll them up with wax paper to snack on throughout the week. Next time I make these I’m going to substitute the water with a red wine. If anyone does this, let me know how it turns out.

Rice Croquettes

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This is an old Depression Era throwback. It’s often the things we ate out of necessity that we cling to as comfort food. My grandmother, “Nonni”, would fry up everything if she had oil going. Left over rice never went to waste in the form of rice croquettes.

There’s no major science to this recipe. It’s an excellent excuse to make something fried if you have leftover rice from dinner or you can make it as a great appetizer on a drizzly evening. For this recipe I used:

3 cups over-cooked rice (see below)

3 TBSP finely grated NY sharp cheddar (I don’t believe in orange cheese)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

2 tsp garlic powder

1 egg

2 TBSP milk

Boil the crap out of the rice. Keep an eye on it, let it absorb all the extra water, and stir, stir, stir. You want the rice very tender. Once the rice has boiled about ten minutes past it’s normal done time, take it off the heat and let it cool for at least 10 – 15 minutes. Mix together all the ingredients in no particular order until everything is well combined, make sure the egg is really blended into the rice mixture.

Bring 1-2 inches of vegetable or peanut oil up to 310-325 degrees in a sauce pan over high heat. While you’re waiting for the oil to reach the proper temperature, form your rice mixture into ovals about inch thick and 2-3 inches long. This mixture should make about 12. Use a small bowl of clean water to help everything from sticking to your hands, though it is a bit of a messy process. The ovals will be delicate; shape them as best you can.

Once the oil is heated carefully drop the rice croquettes into the oil. I am comfortable doing this carefully and slowly with my hands, as practice and experience has taught me how to do this without getting burned. If you’re at all nervous about dropping these delicate bites into the hot oil, place them on a spatula and then gently roll them of that into the oil using a spoon.

Fry the croquettes for 3-4 minutes or until they are golden brown on one side. Then gently turn them using two forks for support and brown the other side for an additional 3 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and parsley once they’re out of the pan.

Once you get making them down-pat, you can try stuffing them with hunks of cheese, prosciutto, or hot peppers. Use different spices in the mix based on your mood, anything goes with these really. With this recipe I recommend serving them as is or with a lemony, honey aioli. Hell, even honey mustard works well if a dipping sauce is needed. As a kid I loved them plain or with a little bit of fresh lemon squeezed over them. Delicious, simple comfort food made from leftovers from a time of an almost equally bad economy.

Hot Wings at Home – The best thing since sliced bread!

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I’m a glutton for punishment. Okay, maybe I’m just a glutton, but after hours of hardcore Ultimate frisbee in the morning (I have 2 – TWO bruises!) I really only wanted to eat what I was craving. When I want something bad I want to make it at home. More punishment. This way, though, I get to be part of the process, I get to save money (sometimes), and the tweaking – oh, the tweaking! I love it. Sometimes I need to have a dinner that screams immaturity and irresponsibility. In this instance I’m talkin’ ’bout hot wings. A whole dinner of hot wings. Screw salad, screw even cole slaw. I mean a whole dinner of wings and wet naps and beer.

Making chicken wings at home is seriously cheap and makes for wicked deliciousness.

1.5 – 2 lbs Chicken Wings, about about 14 wings (which when cut up equals 14 drumettes and 14 wind segments)

1 cup Franks Hot Sauce

2 TBSP melted butter

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp white pepper

3 TBSP flour

First step: cut up yo’ wings into three segments, the drumette, the middle wing part (the less favorable non-drumette), and that end pointy bit that has no meat and it just a waste all around.

Find the joint in each area, line your knife edge in the joint, and slip through. It’s not hard. Chuck the lame little pointy ends, the farthest left in the above picture. Then rinse the remaining pieces, dry them really well, and set them aside in a bowl.

Pour about 3 inches of oil in a stock pot or deep dutch oven and heat to about 325 degrees. I used a pasta pot. In a small bowl, mix together the flour, cayenne, peppers, and salt. Then toss the dried wings in the mixture. Once your oil is up to heat, gently -gently -drop the flour coated wing pieces into the oil and let fry for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown. If you’re oil doesn’t look like the below picture when the wings are dropped in then it’s not hot enough.

And after 12 minutes they’re all beautifully golden brown like this…

Now, I’m not going to lie: These are awesome just as they are and you’re going to want to eat them, but don’t do it. Don’t give in. I mean, I guess if you have kids that can’t handle the extra spice or you don’t want sauce finger prints everywhere – and I do mean everywhere – then serve them like this. But if you sauce them, it’ll be like Dorthy stepping out of Kansas into Oz. I mean freaking amazing. So don’t be a coward: Stay strong, wait 4-5 minutes to allow them to cool, and sauce ’em.

In a big bowl mix together your Frank’s, the melted butter and any other flavors you’re craving. Extra cayenne? Sure. Chili paste? Go for it. Then throw in your slightly cooled chicken and toss away, either literally toss if you have the kitchen skills or toss with your hands – but then immediately wash them. And definitely don’t touch your eyes or lick your finger tips for the duration of this recipe. Then open a beer and eat away. I recommend in front of the TV. Notice I didn’t say “sports”. I don’t care for sports.

I’m hardcore: I have my wings with a beer in front of Antiques Roadshow. Ahhh, yeah.

Okay, so I have to be honest with you: These are not health food. Are they good for your soul? Fo’ shizzle. Are they good for your heart? Absolutely not. Enough of these will be the direct reason you go into cardiac arrest while on the treadmill one day. So, in an effort to just be plain bad rather than ridiculously bad, I also made a grilled wing that honestly was just as tasty as the above Buffalo wings.

Alternative sticky, spicy Asian grilled hot wing:

1 cup La Choy Orange Ginger sauce

1/2 TBSP srirachi

1 tsp black pepper

1 cup Spicy citrus sauce, cooled (from my chicken tender recipe)

Combine the La Choy sauce, srirachi, and black pepper. Toss the rinsed and dried chicken, and let soak in the coating for about 20 minutes. Heat your grill to medium – high. Once you grill is ready to go and the chicken has marinated a bit, grill with the lid closed for 12-15 minutes or until an internal temperature of 160 has been reached, turning once half way through. Let cool about five minutes once you remove them from the grill. Once they’ve cooled a bit coat them in the spicy citrus sauce. These are messy, but very delicious, and a welcomed healthier twist on traditional fried Buffalo wings.

Pork Chops in Marinara Sauce

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I like creating something new in my kitchen, but sometimes I figure out a tasty recipe that’s a cinch to make and I just get stuck in a habit of making it regularly. In other words, new excitement has been leading to regularity. I decided to make an old family favorite to reignite the spark in my kitchen.

I’m not a big pork fan. I love a good banh mi, and ribs here or there, but that’s where my interest stops. Growing up, however, we had pork most Sunday’s at family dinner. My grandmother would make her usual marinara sauce (something I can make with my eyes closed and both hands tied behind my back), but she would a sometimes add fatty, bone-in pork chops and let them simmer low and slow for a few hours, cooking in the sauce while the sauce absorbs the delicious porkiness to make the usual Sunday meal a little more special.

I figured I’d give this a shot. Besides, cooking sauce on the weekend is great, because you have it for pasta and pizza for the rest of the week.

3 TBSP olive oil

5 large cloves garlic, minced

1 large shallot, thinly sliced or 1/2 cup diced onion

1 very ripe peach, diced into 1/2 inch pieces

1/2 cup wine, your favorite

1 28oz can crushed tomatoes

1 28oz can whole or diced peeled tomatoes

1 cup cherry tomatoes

8 large button mushrooms cut into 1/4’s or 1/8’s depending on your own bite preference

1/2 cup chicken stock

1 TBSP fresh chopped basil

1 TBSP parsley

1 TBSP kosher salt

1/2 TBSP black pepper

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 1/2 tsp oregano

1 tsp sage

1 TBSP tomato paste

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2.5-3 lbs center cut, bone-in loin chops

Juice of 1 lemon

Like most Italian recipes, this one starts with a shit ton of garlic. If you can’t get a shit ton, a butt ton will do. Or five large cloves. Which ever works. In 2 TBSP of the olive oil over medium heat, warm the minced garlic cloves, the shallot or onion, which ever you decide to use, and the peach. You want to sweat the garlic and onions a little, but don’t allow them to brown. After about 5 minutes add the wine (because of the pork I used a white wine I like, but anything that’s good will work), and stir. Add the tomatoes, both canned and cherry, mushrooms, chicken stock, and the spices. Sprinkle in the salt, stir, and incorporate the tomato paste. Once the paste is dissolved into the rest of the mixture, toss in the parm and mix well. Congratulations: you got yourself some marinara.  Also, just as a side note, you can make this as thin (for pizza) or as chunky (for anything else) as you want. Add green bell peppers or chunks of fresh tomato to cook down and swap the crushed canned tomatoes for a second can of whole. If you want a smoother sauce omit the mushrooms and do a second can of crushed.

I like making entrees over baking because baking is exact. Dinner is whatever the hell you want it to be.

Bring the stock pot of tomato magic up to a bubbling simmer. Then turn the heat to low, so the sauce is still very hot, but barely bubbling, and add the pork chops. Cook these on low for about 2-2 1/2 hours. You can sear them before hand, but I chose not to, simply because I was too lazy to dirty another pan. The slower you cook the chops the more juice they will retain.

After about two hours, or when the chops reach an internal temperature of 160-165 remove them from the pot. Add the lemon juice to the tomato sauce. Stir and taste; add any additional salt or pepper. And viola!

I served mine with penne & salad. Classic Italian dinner.