Monday, May 31, 2010

Grilled Chicken Nicoise and Lemon Mousse

After being (quite frankly) a Cranky Hank on Friday due to every one I knew seemingly leaving town to visit fabulous cabins, I ended up actually having a really fantastic holiday weekend. I did a ton of yardwork, had a picnic at the beach (with wine!), went to a Twins game, and tonight cooked an al fresco dinner for my mom and dad.

The parents were in town for a couple hours and it coincided perfectly with dinnertime. I wanted mom and dad to enjoy a super flavorful but light meal so I made my favorite French salad - the Nicoise, but with grilled chicken instead of seared rare tuna.

While my mom (who is super cool) will at least try most things, there are still some things she won't go near. One is any type of bell pepper, no matter what color. The other is raw fish. Last spring in NYC while eating at Balthazar, I tried to get her to take a taste of some seared tuna. She said she would if I ate a bite of her steak. Touche - point taken. I guess even at 31 years old, there are still a few things you can learn from your mother.

So, instead of boiling all the ingredients for a Nicsoise salad like usual, I summer-ed up this recipe and grilled everything. It was a huge hit with the parents (even if they snubbed my gorgeous French vinaigrette and used Ranch dressing...whatevs), and I even got to serve the salad out of the beautiful bowl my mom bought for me in Mexico!

For dessert, I made Lemon Mousse, from last week's Serious Eats column, written by Kris from the Cheap, Healthy, Good blog (which I love!). I was concerned that it wouldn't firm up, but it turned out light and fluffy, sweet and lemony, and all around hugely impressive!

Grilled Chicken Nicoise Salad
2 chicken breasts, butterflied (or 4 cutlets)
2 yukon gold potatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
2 cups green beans, cut into 1 inch lengths
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup nicoise or kalamata olives, sliced
4 eggs, hard boiled and sliced
1 head romaine lettuce, chopped

Drizzle the chicken with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill on medium-high heat 5 or so minutes on each side or until cooked through. Remove to a plate and cover with tinfoil.

Par-boil potatoes for 5-6 minutes. Then drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill on medium-high heat 2-3 minutes on each side until grill marks appear.

Par-boil green beans (if using fresh) for 2 minutes. Then drizzle with oil, salt, and pepper and grill for 2-3 minutes or until hot and charred.

Put romaine in a large bowl. Arrange hard boiled egg slices, grilled potatoes, grilled green beans, tomato halves, sliced olives, and sliced grilled chicken in concentric circles on top of lettuce.

Serve with a sliced French baguette, French Vinaigrette, and a nice French wine (I had white, but a rose would be fabulous with this!).

French Vinaigrette
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 shallot, diced finely
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to a jar and shake to emulsify.

Greek Yogurt Lemon Mousse
I used my homemade yogurt and added strawberries - it was amazing.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Grilled Spring Panzanella

It's so tacky when people compliment their own cooking, isn't it? Well, I don't really care. I made a really great dinner tonight.

I made a panzanella (Italian tomato/bread salad) but with a bunch of great spring veggies and everything nicely charred on my grill pan. Then I decided I needed some protein so I added a jar of white beans from my freezer. The dressing on this salad is so tangy and delicious with the capers and red wine vinegar. But the grilled bread balances out that tang for a great plate of spring goodness.

Traditional panzanella salad recipes instruct you to let the toasted or grilled bread sit in the dressing for 30 minutes to let the flavors soak in. Since I'm non-traditional, I like to eat mine right away after tossing everything together so the bread is still crunchy.

This ingredient list looks long and intimidating, but I'm just telling you how I made it. You can add your own veggies, bread, protein (beans, grilled chicken, or maybe even canned tuna?) and vinaigrette (even bottled!) and you'll have a killer panzanella.

Grilled Spring Panzanella Salad
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 Tbsp capers
salt and pepper to taste
a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
1/4 cup kalamata olives, sliced
1 can or jar of white beans, drained
a handful of baby greens
a handful of parsley, chopped
5 slices bread (I used ciabatta)
1 zucchini, sliced into long planks
1 yellow squash, sliced into long planks
1 bunch asparagus
finely grated parmesan cheese

Whisk together: red wine vinegar, dijon, capers, salt and pepper, and olive oil to make a vinaigrette. Add the chopped onion, garlic, tomatoes, olives, beans, and parsley to the vinaigrette and let sit while you grill your veggies. This will take the sharp bite out of the onion.

Drizzle the bread, zucchini, squash, and asparagus with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill on high heat until charred. Chop into bite sized pieces.

Mix everything together, add a handful of baby greens for extra color, and top with finely grated parmesan cheese.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fava, Leek, and Morel Pasta

I have no idea how, but Terrin's husband FOUND real morel mushrooms while turkey hunting last week. I saw them for about $50/lb at the co-op last week so that's pretty cool. She generously offered a few of them up for a beautiful Friday night dinner al fresco at Alicia's house.

Morels are just such a fleeting spring delicacy that I wanted to pair them with other elusive and complementary items. I would have loved to have found ramps (wild leeks) but struck out and substituted regular leeks.

Also, I have always wanted to try fresh fava beans. They're labor intensive - you have to peel them twice. Once you get the bright green peas out of the pod, you blanch them in salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes.

After boiling, rinse with cold water and pinch the emerald green beans from their shells.

Marry all these lovely spring things together with some whole wheat fettucini noodles and a huge pile of finely grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese (the real stuff!). The soft leeks, cheese, and pasta water trick you into thinking there's some kind of fatty cream sauce on the pasta!

Try a version of this meal and you'll have a hearty, healthy, flavorful bowl of spring goodness that is best enjoyed with great friends, great wine, and the great outdoors.

Fava, Leek, and Morel Pasta
1 lb fresh fava beans
3 leeks, diced and cleaned
Morel mushrooms (or other wild mushrooms - I added a package of criminis also)
3/4 package whole wheat fettucini noodles
1 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
lots of freshly ground black pepper

To prep the fava beans: remove each bean from the pod. Boil for 2-3 minutes in salted water. Pop green beans out of light green shells. Set aside.

To prep the leeks: cut off root end and dark green tops. Slice lengthwise then chop into smaller pieces. Soak in a large bowl of cold water and separate all the pieces. The dirt should fall to the bottom of the water bowl.

To prep the mushrooms: wipe with a dry paper towel or brush to remove dirt. Slice.

Heat 2 Tbsp butter and 2 Tbsp olive oil in large skillet. Add leeks and mushrooms. Cook until leeks are soft and mushrooms are cooked, about 10 minutes. Add fava beans, a pinch of salt, and lots of black pepper.

Cook noodles according to package instructions. Reserve 2 cups of pasta cooking liquid. Add pasta to leek/mushroom/fava mixture. Add cheese and enough pasta water to melt cheese and keep everything moist.

Enjoy immediately!

ONE YEAR AGO: Succotash

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sloppy Lentils

In general, I like to eat and post about beautiful and colorful food. But tonight I'm going to reveal some seriously ugly food. I apologize to your eyes that the visual aspect of this site is suffering so greatly right now, but your stomach will thank me if you make this super healthy and tasty sandwich! Also, I think this would be a good way to trick your kids into eating a good healthy meal since it tastes like a sloppy joe but has no bad fats or animal products.

I even tried to mitigate the ugliness of these lentils by adding onions, carrots, and red bell pepper for color. Hhhhmmmm, STILL super ugly but now even tastier with that hint of sweetness from the carrot and red pepper. Score.

To add insult to injury, this meal - in addition to being truly ugly - is also messy! But messy food is fun. I needed to eat my sandwich open-faced with a fork and it was awesome. The flavors reminded me of summer weekends eating sloppy joe's with pickles and potato chips.

For the sauce, I used a cup of homemade barbecue sauce. But my mom always just used to dump ketchup, mustard, and brown sugar into her browned hamburger and onions so you could try that if you want to I guess.

Finally, I am a huge advocate of toasty buns. Regular buns are just sad. Toasty buns are the only way to go - unless you want to get really wild and crazy. If that's the case you could serve your sloppy lentils in a pita pocket or even a tortilla. Badass!

Sloppy Lentils
1 cup dried lentils (mine were French lentils but I think you can use any color)
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced fine
1 small red bell pepper, diced fine
2 large carrots, peeled and diced fine
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup homemade barbecue sauce, or however you usually make your sloppy joe sauce

Boil lentils in 4 cups water for 30-45 minutes or until soft. Drain.

Saute onion, pepper, and carrot in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper until soft (about 5-7 minutes).

Add cooked lentils to sauteed veggies. Add sauce. Mix and serve on toasty buns.

ONE YEAR AGO: Grilled Romaine

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Potato Crusted Halibut with Sauteed Spring Veggies

Hello from FABULOUS New York City!

I'm visiting Cassandra for a few days and the weather is cooperating beautifully. We walked the entire Central Park trail today in the sunshine and it was perfection. Even though we are tired and I'm blistered, we decided to do a Sunday Supper tonight because it's so fun cooking with friends! Here are Cass and I in her adorable kitchen.

We toasted the beautiful evening with a bottle of extremely pale rose.

The recipe we were inspired by is from Anne Burrell but we made so many substitutions that I'll write it how we made it below. This serves 2.

Sauteed Spring Veggies
1 bulb fennel, sliced thin
1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves removed from ribs and both chopped separately
1 bunch spring onions (or ramps), greens removed from white parts and chopped separately
olive oil (we used the leftover infused garlic from the recipe below)
salt and pepper to taste
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
juice of 1 lemon

Heat olive oil and add fennel, chard ribs, and white parts of ramps. Add salt and pepper to taste plus a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. Saute over medium heat 5-6 minutes or until soft.

Add chopped greens from chard and ramps plus lemon juice. Cover and steam for 3-4 minutes then remove from heat until ready to serve.

Potato Crusted Halibut
2 halibut filets
1 Russet potato, sliced as thin as possible (preferably on a mandoline)
1/3 cup olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, smashed
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Bring oil, garlic, fennel seeds, and thyme to a boil. Turn off heat and let the flavors infuse into the garlic for a few minutes.

Slice your potato into rounds as thin as possible. Lay them out on a piece of parchment paper overlapping in a 4x6 inch square (they're supposed to look like fish scales).

Brush the potato scales with the olive oil mixture and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add your halibut filet on top of the potatoes and season with more salt and pepper. Use the parchment to wrap the potatoes around the fish. Chill for a few minutes.

Add potato-wrapped fish to a grill pan or non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook 4 minutes on each side. Carefully flip (I used a spatula and tongs to do it). Then throw the pan in the oven for 5 minutes.

Serve fish on top of a pile of your spring veggies and ENJOY!

End your meal with some cannolis from the new shop on the block. Pictured here: chocolate banana and frangelico cannolis.

Thank God for good food and thank God for great friends to enjoy it with!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Avocado Boats

The resort I stayed at in Ixtapa 3 months ago had really great food. It wasn't fancy, but it was fresh and presented beautifully.

One of my favorite things from the lunch buffet was tuna salad stuffed into a wedge of fresh avocado. It was one of those things where I slapped my forehead and wondered why I hadn't thought of it first. They also stuffed hollowed out plum tomatoes with tuna salad. Cute, tasty, and fun.

I had planned on making this as soon as I got back from vacation. But it was cold and snowy and I forgot all about fresh avocados in my excitement over roasted veggies and such. Now, however, it's a different story.

Also, ever since watching Alton Brown's episode of Good Eats where he demonstrates his favorite lunch (Sherried Sardines on Toast), I've been all over sardines. They taste like canned tuna, only BETTER. Also, I have heard that sardines are the most sustainable fish on the planet, contain little to no mercury, and have more Omega-3's than other fish. Sardines are worth trying!

I'm still a beginner sardine-eater so I buy the boneless, skinless type of sardines. They really do flake up just like tuna and you can use sardines in place of tuna in any recipe. However, if you are still a little leery, you can put chicken salad, tuna salad, or crab salad in an avocado and have this same meal.

After you get your cute little plate of food ready to go, you just scoop out a spoonful of avocado and sherried sardines to spread on a bite of grilled bread with a glass of white wine. FABULOUS.

Avocado Boats with Sherried Sardines
1 ripe avocado, cut in half and pit removed
1 tin boneless and skinless sardines
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp dijon mustard
handful chopped parsley
1 Tbsp capers, chopped
3 Tbsp sherry vinegar (or white wine or red wine vinegar)
salt and pepper to taste

Drain sardines, flake with fork and mix with lemon zest and juice, mustard, vinegar, parsley, capers, salt and pepper. Scoop half the mixture into half an avocado.

Eat with grilled bread.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Lemon Yogurt Cake

If you're looking for a classic and fail-proof dessert recipe, there are really only two people to turn to: Martha Stewart and Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa). Neither of these ladies will let you down.

My mom requested a lemon dessert for Mother's Day so I made the Barefoot Contessa's Lemon Yogurt Cake. It's a simple cake mix with lemon zest baked into a batter that's also spiked with homemade (or store bought) yogurt. Then you SOAK the freshly baked cake in a mixture of sugar and lemon juice to make it ultra moist and dense. Finally, if that wasn't enough tartness to pucker your lips for an hour, you top it with a lemon sugar glaze.

I followed the recipe exactly, just using a Bundt pan instead of loaf pan - for presentation's sake. Also, instead of pouring the soaking juice over the cake, I punched a thousand holes into the warm cake with a toothpick and used a pastry brush to apply the mixture. It worked perfectly and every drop was absorbed into the cake.

The picture is from my cell phone. But even through it is of poor quality, I think even an idiot can tell that this cake was beautiful AND delicious.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mango Avocado Salad with Grilled Shrimp

I'm on a Mexican food kick this week. The funny thing is that I no longer equate Mexican food with fried chips and excessive quantities of cheese. Mexican food CAN be healthy!

I had an extra mango leftover from a mango salsa I made the other night to go with some fish tacos. And an avocado left over from that chipotle salad.

It seemed obvious that the two should be combined for dinner tonight. I know avocado and mango taste good together, because some of my favorite sushi rolls have both in them.

So the next thought was - which type of fish/seafood should go with them? I contemplated canned tuna but wisely picked shrimp instead (insert self-congratulations here). This was really good with the crappy little frozen shrimp I had on hand, so imagine how amazing it would be with good fresh jumbo shrimp from Coastal Seafoods!!

Also, I tried it simply with lime juice and salt as a dressing and it was great. However, I had some of that chipotle salad dressing left over so I added some and this salad shot into hall of fame territory with that spicy tangy sauce.

Mango Avocado Salad with Grilled Shrimp
Romaine lettuce or other greens
1/2 mango, peeled and sliced
1/2 avocado, sliced
1 Tbsp diced red onion
lime juice
salt and pepper to taste

Chop lettuce and top with sliced mango, avocado, and diced onion.

Lightly brush shrimp with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill on outdoor grill or grill pan (I skewered my small shrimp to make turning them easier) until done. Squirt cooked shrimp with lime juice and put skewers on top of your salad.

Squirt more lime juice over entire salad and add more salt and pepper to taste.

If you have some chipotle salad dressing on hand, add a bunch.

Enjoy with a crisp chilled white wine.