Sunday, August 31, 2008

Grilled Veggie-Stuffed Tomatoes

My husband and I first started making these tomatoes a few years ago after seeing a similar recipe in one of the Weber cookbooks. My husband says they're "a cornucopia of flavors." Grilled veggies are combined with basil, balsamic vinegar, and cheese, stuffed inside tomatoes, and then the tomatoes are grilled until they start to soften. The whole mixture kind of smooshes together (yes, that's the technical term) and tastes like summer in a dish.

A grill wok or pan comes in handy with the recipe, both for grilling the veggies and the tomatoes themselves. It's easier to move the potatoes to and from the pan, and if they get too soft and things start to fall apart, the grill pan helps minimize the collateral damage. Not that I know this from experience.

Grilled Veggie-Stuffed Tomatoes
Serves 4

4 large tomatoes
1 medium zucchini, cut in planks
1 red onion, cut in thick slices
1 red or green bell pepper, cut in large strips
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
12 fresh basil leaves
Balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Using a serrated knife, slice the top 1/2" off each tomato. Using a spoon or melon baller, gently scoop the pulp out of the tomatoes, discarding or reserving for another use. Leave about a 1/4" shell in each tomato. Sprinkle tomatoes with salt and lay upside down on paper towels for about 10 minutes to allow juices to drain out.

2. Drizzle olive oil over zucchini, onion, and pepper, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill veggies, preferably in grill work or pan, over medium heat until lightly charred, about 10 minutes. Remove from grill.

3. Chop the veggies into bite-sized chunks and add to a bowl. Tightly roll the basil and slice in thin ribbons, or chiffonade, and add to the veggies. Drizzle with a tablespoon or so of balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and stir in the cheese.

4. Fill each tomato cup with veggie mixture.

5. Add the tomatoes to the grill wok or pan. Cook until tomatoes start to soften, about 8-10 minutes. Gently remove from the grill and serve immediately.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Italian Pork Steaks

It's been a rather lazy Saturday for me, and supper tonight was an unplanned adventure. I scoped out the freezer and pulled out some pork steaks, poked my head outside and nearly lost a contact lens in a wind gust, and decided a stovetop meal was just the thing.

After I thawed the pork, I just did a quick room-temperature marinade and sauteed the steaks, deglazing the pan occasionally with white wine. The pork braised in the pan juices and stayed very tender.

I took some shortcuts with the side dishes. I threw together a caprese pasta salad (just some cooked pasta, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper). I was craving potatoes, and luckily had some leftover mashed potatoes in the fridge. I combined them with herbs and cheese, formed the mixture into patties, coated them in Italian-seasoned bread crumbs, and pan-fried them until they were crunchy on the outside. Yum, yum, yum. They're my new favorite potatoes.

Italian Pork Steaks
Serves 2 humans and 2 hungry puppies

2 pork steaks, about 8 oz. each

4 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped
1 large sprig fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and chopped
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. steak seasoning (preferably Montreal Steak Seasoning by McCormick)
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1 Tbsp. olive oil
White wine, for deglazing the pan

1. Place the pork in a dish and sprinkle with half the marinade ingredients. Flip steaks and sprinkle with remaining marinade ingredients.

2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and sear until brown, then flip and sear the other side. Add a few tablespoons of wine to the pan and stir up any bits that are stuck to the pan.

3. Lower the heat to medium and continue cooking the pork until done, about 15 minutes, deglazing the pan a few more times.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Daeji Bulgogi (Spicy Korean Pork Barbecue)

I adore pork in its many incarnations -- bacon, ham, ribs, bacon, sausages, bacon, and the list goes on. Among the most versatile are pork loin and tenderloin, which we use a lot on the grill because they absorb flavor so well, are healthy, and stay very tender.

This evening we made Daeji Bulgogi, which is a Cooking Light recipe for pork that is marinated and stir-fried on the grill in a grill wok or pan. The marinade is very easy and has incredible flavor. And I love pretty much anything with dark sesame oil.

You can buy a variety of chile pastes, and their heat levels vary. I've tried this with a jarred chile paste with garlic, which I found in the Asian foods section, and this gives the pork a milder flavor. To punch up the heat level significantly, use sambal oelek, a Thai chile paste. You could omit the crushed red pepper flakes in that case, but hey, live a little. And keep a glass of milk handy.

Daeji Bulgogi
Serves 3-4

1 lb. pork loin or tenderloin, halved lengthwise and cut in 1/4" slices
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 1/2 Tbsp. chile paste
1 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
1 tsp. dark sesame oil
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
Cooking spray

1. Combine the sugar, soy sauce, chile paste, ginger, oil, crushed red pepper, and garlic. Add to pork in a zip-top bag. Refrigerate 1 to 4 hours.

2. Heat grill on medium-low to medium.

3. Coat grill wok or pan with cooking spray and place on grill rack. Add pork to wok or pan.

4. Grill about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until pork is cooked through.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Moroccan Chicken Tacos and Spiced-Zucchini Couscous

I love ethnic food, and I try to switch things up a few times a week so we don't get bored. Tonight's offering was North African, because it seemed a good use of our plethora of produce.

We started with Moroccan chicken kabobs and grilled veggies. I prefer mine with flatbread but couldn't find a store-bought version I liked (that whole picky bread thing), so we heated up some tortillas and turned the chicken into a sort of taco with the veggies, tomato, and cucumber. The marinade I used for the chicken and veggies is adapted from a Fine Cooking recipe for Lemony Moroccan-Style Chicken Kebabs, with a some changes to suit our tastes and my timeline. (Speaking of kabobs (kebabs?), I'm terrible at grilling them. I now just put meat on the skewers and grill them, and throw my veggies in a grill wok.)

On the side we had Spiced-Zucchini Couscous that includes some of the same spices as those used with the chicken. I have an old recipe for spiced zucchini, and I always end up mixing it with the couscous on my plate, anyway. I thought I'd save a step.

Moroccan Chicken Tacos
Serves 2-3

Zest and juice of 1 lemon
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp. dried marjoram
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. brown sugar
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. olive oil
6 oz. non-fat Greek-style plain yogurt

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut in large cubes
Wooden skewers, soaked in water for 30 min.
2 bell peppers, any color, cut in large chunks
1 onion, any color, cut in large chunks
Pita bread, flatbread, or tortillas, for serving
Chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, for serving

1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a small bowl. Put chicken in a zip-top bag or a glass dish and add marinade. Store in the refrigerator and marinate 8 hours or overnight.

2. About 20 minutes before grilling, remove chicken from refrigerator. Add peppers and onion to the marinade.

3. Thread chicken on skewers. Thread vegetables on separate skewers, or place in a grill wok. Grill chicken and veggies over medium-low heat until done.

4. Serve chicken and veggies with bread or tortillas, and top with tomatoes and cucumbers.

Spiced-Zucchini Couscous
Serves 4

1 c. chicken broth
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. couscous
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/3 c. onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium zucchini, cut in 1/2" cubes
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt

1. Bring broth and 1/2 tsp. salt to a boil. Pour over coucous in a bowl, and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Set aside.

2. In a small pan, heat oil. Saute onion over medium-high heat until golden, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, zucchini, and spices, and continue cooking over medium heat until zucchini is slightly softened, about 8 minutes. (If the mixture gets too dry, add a little water or broth to the pan.)

3. Fluff couscous with a fork, add zucchini mixture, and stir.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Caprese Steak Panini and Rosemary Garlic Smashed Potatoes

I may be easily amused, but few things make me happier than a good sandwich (or sammich, if you will). And for me, that's a tall order. I don't like mayo. I don't like mustard. I'm picky about my meat. I'm picky about my cheese. And the bread has to be absolutely perfect. I'm a tough crowd.

And this evening, with the help of my panini press, I may have created the perfect sammich.

Paninis are my favorite of all the sandwiches, and I loaded this one with marinated and grilled steak, and a play on the classic caprese salad ingredients -- tomato, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil. I love a crunchy panini, so I lightly buttered the outside of the bread before I added it to the panini press. I then sprinkled on some Italian seasoning to give the bread more of a focaccia taste. My tummy is one happy camper.

If you don't have a panini press, never fear. You can put your sammich on the stovetop or grill, and top it with a cast iron frying pan or a foil-covered brick.

As a side dish, I threw together some smashed Yukon gold potatoes with sauteed garlic and rosemary. My husband helped me, even though t'was his first potato mashing in all his 33 years. Well done, hon.

Caprese Steak Panini
Serves 4

1 lb. steak, preferably sirloin
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, minced (leaves stripped from 2 large sprigs)
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme, minced (leaves stripped from 2 large sprigs)
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 long loaf French or Italian bread
Butter, for outside of bread
Italian seasoning, for sprinkling on bread
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced or chopped
8 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced
15 leaves fresh basil chiffonade*

*To make the basil chiffonade, stack the basil leaves and roll them tightly. Then thinly slice the roll of basil leaves to create thin strips.

1. Add garlic, rosemary, thyme, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper to a dish, and add steak, flipping so that marinade coats both sides. Refrigerate and marinate 1-4 hours. Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before grilling.

2. Grill steak over medium heat until cooked to your liking, preferably medium. Remove from grill, cover with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes before thinly slicing.

3. Preheat a panini press, grill, or pan.

4. Cut bread into four rolls. For each panini, slice the roll, butter the outside, and sprinkle the outside with dried Italian seasoning. On the bottom of the roll, add sliced steak, chopped or sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil. Sprinkle with additional salt and pepper, if desired.

5. Add top of roll and cook panini about 5-7 minutes, or until crispy.

Rosemary Garlic Smashed Potatoes
Serves 4

2 1/2 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed, half of them peeled, cut in 2" chunks
1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. fresh rosemary, minced (leaves striped from 1/2 a large sprig)
1 Tbsp. butter
1/4 c. milk
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tsp. chopped fresh chives

1. Add potatoes to a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Cook until potatoes are fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Drain potatoes and return pot to stove.

2. Add olive oil to pot and heat to medium heat. Saute garlic and rosemary until garlic starts to turn golden.

3. Return potatoes to pot. Add butter, milk, salt, and pepper, and smash to your desired consistency. Top with chives.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Chipotle-Lime Chicken and Grilled Vegetable Salad

Let me start by listing reason #871 why I have the best mother-in-law in the world:

She is a fabulous gardener, and she so generously shares her bounteous harvest. I feel healthier just looking at it. Now, to make use of it!

Tonight we made Chipotle-Lime Chicken, which is a recipe that I found in Gourmet a few years ago. I've used the sauce on both pork and chicken with much success, although I did reduce the amount of olive oil that was originally called for. I recommend using fresh lime juice to achieve the ultimate tang factor, but bottled lime juice will work, as well. A few keys to remember: First, read the recipe carefully. You use part of the sauce as a marinade, and part as a baste. And only the latter contains honey. Secondly, don't baste until the chicken is nearly done, because the honey will burn if you put it on too soon. And thirdly, don't cook the heck out of your chicken. Just cook it low and slow until the juices run clear, but some of them actually remain in the chicken.

And on to the vegetables, for which I tweaked a Sweet Potato Hash recipe from Cuisine at Home. The recipe had the potential for disaster -- I have a poor track record for grilling potatoes, my husband doesn't like sweet potatoes, and neither of us likes corn mixed together with anything -- but it looked pretty and healthy and used some of my fresh veggies. It was much better than I expected. The potatoes turned out well, and Cole really liked them. However, we're still both corn purists. Next time, I'll grill the same veggies but I won't mix them. And I did get clearance to make the sweet potatoes again. Bonus.

Chipotle-Lime Chicken
Serves 4

3/4 c. fresh lime juice (about 3-4 limes)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 1/2 Tbsp chipotle Tabasco
3/4 tsp. salt
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
2 tsp. honey

1. Mix the lime juice, olive oil, Tabasco, and salt.
2. Add 1/3 c. of the marinade to the chicken, and marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes.
3. Add honey to the remaining marinade.
4. Grill the chicken on low heat until nearly done, and then brush with the sauce on both sides, reapplying as desired.

Grilled Vegetable Salad
Serves 6

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled, sliced in 1/4" planks
2 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked
1 poblano pepper or 2 green bell peppers
1 large or 2 small red onions, ends removed, halved
Olive oil for drizzling
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. shredded white cheddar cheese
1/4 c. chopped fresh chives
Juice of 1/2 lime

1. Coat the vegetables with a drizzle of oil and season with salt and pepper.
2. Grill over medium heat until the vegetables have some char and are cooked through, turning them often to prevent burning. This should be about 12 minutes for the potatoes and about 8-10 minutes for the corn, pepper, and onion.

3. Transfer to a cutting board. Dice the potato, slice the corn kernels from the cob, dice the pepper, and cut the onion halves into 4 pieces each.
4. Combine the vegetables in a bowl with the cheese, chives, and lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Zucchini-Beef Spaghetti

Spaghetti is a food that I crave fiercely and frequently, and until a few years ago, I was a spaghetti sauce purist: just the tomato sauce and ground beef, please. I had only recently developed a liking for onions, but was still on the fence about zucchini (I'd only tasted it in bread) and mushrooms (were they ever not slimy?). But I saw a recipe like this in a Southern Living Heart Healthy cookbook, and bravely gave the concept a try because I so desperately wanted to learn to like more vegetables.

Lo and behold, the recipe was a hit. I was a bit nervous when my husband ate his first plate in silence before saying, "If someone asked me to describe how this tastes, I don't think I could explain it." Well, great. But then he got up, helped himself to seconds, and said, "But I like it." With a few more tweaks, it has become one of our standbys.

The recipe is very customizable; you can add the vegetables and seasonings that you like in your desired quantities. I don't think I've made it exactly the same way twice -- I'm forever tweaking my seasonings, adding more water, or whatever. Also, this recipe expands like the loaves and fishes. Regardless of how many people we're feeding, we always seem to have enough for everyone, plus three helpings of leftovers.

Zucchini-Beef Spaghetti
Serves 6-8

1 lb. lean ground beef
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. onion salt
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1 c. onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. zucchini, thinly sliced*
2 c. mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
14 1/2 oz. crushed tomatoes
6 oz. tomato paste (no salt added)
1 c. water
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
Additional salt, pepper, onion salt, and garlic salt, to taste
1 lb. thin spaghetti, cooked according to package directions

* For small zucchini, halve lengthwise and then thinly slice. For larger zucchini, slice in three or four strips lengthwise before slicing.

1. Brown ground beef in a skillet over medium-high heat, seasoning with salt, pepper, onion salt, and garlic salt. Remove ground beef from skillet; cover and set aside.

2. Coat skillet with cooking spray and reduce heat to medium. Add onion, garlic, zucchini, mushrooms, salt, and crushed red pepper. Saute until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes.

3. Return ground beef to skillet. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, water, and additional seasonings. Mix until combined. Bring mixture to a boil, then cover and simmer about 10-15 minutes. Check sauce and add extra seasonings if needed.

4. Serve over hot spaghetti.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

I first discovered Nutella on a high school band trip to Europe (yay, chocolate sandwiches for breakfast!) and was thrilled to find it popping up on shelves in my area a few years later. For those of you who aren't familiar, Nutella is a chocolate hazelnut spread that tastes surprisingly more like really rich, milky chocolate than it does hazelnuts. (Unless it starts to get close to its best-by date. Then it tastes only of burnt hazelnuts. Never fear, my dear co-workers, I bought a fresh jar.)

I would eat Nutella on bread. I would eat Nutella on a spoon. I would eat Nutella here or there. I would eat Nutella anywhere.

And now, I eat Nutella in my cookies.

These cookies are based on a recipe for Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti by Giada de Laurentiis. I made just a few modifications with the amounts of flour and hazelnuts, and also added some milk chocolate chips.

A note about the hazelnuts (also found under their less-appealing pseudonym of filberts): toasting them can be kind of a time-consuming pain. Also, some people just don't like nuts in everything (this means you, JP). If you don't have the time or the inclination, the Nutella dough is exceptional on its own, and you could probably throw in some milk chips and maybe some toffee bits, and have an equally wonderful little creation.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen

1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. Nutella
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 2/3 c. flour
1/2 c. hazelnuts, toasted and chopped*
1 c. milk chocolate chips

*You can use either your oven or stovetop to toast the hazelnuts. I prefer to put them in a small skillet over medium to medium-high heat for about 5 to 10 minutes, or until the outsides start to turn a darker brown. (You'll smell it if they start burning.)

You can rub most of the peels off after the nuts toasted, and then chop the nuts with a knife, chopper, or food processor.

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a mixer bowl, combine the butter, Nutella, and sugars until thoroughly combined. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until the mixture is smooth.

3. Combine the baking powder, baking soda, salt, and flour, and add to the mixer bowl. Stir until combined.

4. Add the hazelnuts and chocolate chips and stir until just combined.

5. Use a tablespoon or cookie scoop to drop rounded tablespoons of dough on ungreased cookie sheets. Shape and flatten lightly with your hands.

6. Bake about 8 to 10 minutes, and let cookies rest on the cookie sheets for about 10 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Red Chileatole Soup

It was a chilly 90 degrees today, and nothing warms you up on a cool summer day like a steaming hot bowl of Red Chileatole Soup.

So my timing seems a bit off, but this soup is a great way to use zucchini, a load of which we recently received from my mother-in-law's garden. (Also, I'd never last slaving over a hot grill when it's 90 degrees.)

This soup is a version of the Red Chileatole recipe published in Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless. The soup is similar to chicken tortilla soup, but it has a slightly different broth -- an improvement, in my opinion -- and includes zucchini and mushrooms. The masa harina and pureed vegetables make the broth slightly thick, and it packs just the right punch in terms of heat and spice.

I like to dress mine up as I would chicken tortilla soup: topped with a squeeze of lime juice, some 3-pepper cheese, and crushed tortilla chips.

Red Chileatole Soup
Serves 4

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 small white onion, sliced 1/4" thick
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 Tbsp. ancho or guajillo chile powder (I prefer 1 Tbsp. each)
1 1/2 Tbsp. masa harina
4 c. chicken broth
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 c. zucchini, cut in 1/4" cubes
1 sprig parsley
2 chicken breasts, cut in 1/2" chunks
Salt, to taste

1. Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until golden (about 7 minutes).

2. Transfer the mixture to a blender. Add the chile powder, masa harina, and 1 1/2 c. broth. Process to form a smooth puree.

3. Return the puree to the saucepan and turn the heat to medium-high. Stir until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens slightly.

4. Add the remaining broth and the mushrooms, zucchini, parsley, and chicken.

5. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.

6. Season with salt to taste. Serve with lime juice, cheese, and crushed tortilla chips, if desired.

Because I like to play with my food

I know, I know. The last thing the world needs is another blog. So let me start by stating that I'm doing this for purely selfish reasons, namely to give myself an enhanced sense of purpose when playing in my kitchen. Also, I'm running out of people I know who let me talk about food all the time.

My caveats: Although my dad makes the best gravy and fudge in the world, I actually grew up in a family that did very little cooking. Because I love to eat, I made it a point to start cooking when I was fresh out of college -- and also to start exposing myself to all the foods I'd missed along the way. I'm entirely self-taught (with nary a Home Ec class to my name) and I definitely have my likes (chocolate) and dislikes (seafood). Some of my recipes originated elsewhere, and I'll do my best to give credit where credit is due.

That being said, I'm pretty fearless in the kitchen. I'll attempt anything; the worst that can happen is it doesn't turn out and we grab a pizza. As my husband says, not every recipe is a winner, but you never find the winners without trying a few losers. I don't think I'm a food snob; I simply like good food.

So we'll give this old-fangled blog thing a try. Big kudos to my friend Dave for getting me out of my slump, and also for patiently taking my pretty pictures.