Friday, September 26, 2008

Grilled Chicken Fajitas

Aren’t I creative with my recipe names?

This fajita marinade is my favorite, and I use it often on both chicken and steak. I actually prefer the steak version, but the chicken was healthier and handier. (It was late, I was in my jammies, the chicken was in the kitchen while the steak was all far away in the garage freezer … stay tuned for more confessions of a lazy cook!)

The marinade is a yummy combo of garlic, soy sauce, lime juice, and a few other elements that add flavor and kick. As an added bonus, my friend Jenn sent me some fresh garlic that she grew with her very own hands in her very own garden. So I had delectable fresh garlic and fresh veggies to work with.

I typically grill the chicken outside, but I encountered a mighty wind on my way home from work, so we threw the chicken on the grill pan, instead. You can either grill the onions and peppers or cook them in a frying pan.

Grilled Chicken Fajitas
Serves 4

¼ c. lime juice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. liquid smoke
½ tsp. cayenne
¼ tsp. black pepper

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken
1 onion, sliced
2 bell peppers, cut in thin stripis
2 Tbsp. water
1 tsp. soy sauce
½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Flour tortillas
Lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and other toppings

1. Combine marinade ingredients. Add to chicken in a resealable bag. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.

2. Remove chicken from marinade. Cook chicken on grill or grill pan until cooked through.

3. Meanwhile, cook onions and peppers in frying pan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until peppers are softened and onions start to brown. Remove from heat.

4. Combine water, 1 tsp. soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, ½ tsp. lime juice, and salt and pepper. Pour over onions and peppers.

5. Slice chicken in thin strips and serve on tortillas with onions, peppers, and toppings.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Grilled Veggie Sammiches

I love vegetables, but I don’t typically condone making a meal of them. I love my meat. In fact, I can probably count the number of vegetarian-type meals I make on less than one hand. (Grilled veggie sammiches, grilled cheese and tomato soup, eggs and toast, and a bag of Old Dutch Sour Cream ‘n Onion chips with a side of Cadbury chocolate).

But today, in a coincidence to top all others, the hubby and I were both craving grilled veggies and not much else. So we threw some veggies on the grill pan with some balsamic vinegar, piled it onto bread with some fresh mozzarella, grilled the sammiches, and voila!

Of course, I’ll probably be gnawing on a frozen ham in about an hour.

Grilled Veggie Sammiches
Serves 3-4

1 bell pepper, cut in four pieces
1 red onion, cut in thick slices
1 large zucchini, sliced
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper
Additional balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper
8 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced
16 leaves fresh basil, minced
Additional salt and pepper
1 large loaf French bread, cut in four pieces
Optional: Butter and Italian seasoning

1. Combine veggies in a large bowl. Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

2. Grill on a grill pan over medium-high heat 5-10 minutes – the peppers will take the longest to cook, followed by the onions, then the zucchini.

3. Remove veggies from grill and cut peppers in smaller pieces. Sprinkle with additional balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.

4. Slice bread. If using a panini press, butter outsides of bread and sprinkle with Italian seasoning.

5. Layer zucchini on bottom half of bread, followed by peppers and onions.

6. Add the cheese and basil, and the top half of the bread. Grill sandwiches in a panini press or grill pan until cheese is melted.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Clean-Out-the-Fridge Scrambles

The hubby and I have been out of town for the past several days, sleeping in, shopping, and packing ourselves full of restaurant food, so we wanted something lighter for supper. And returning home is always hectic – luggage is strewn about, the laundry has piled up, and (gasp!) the Tivo is full. We certainly didn’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen, but we also don’t keep a lot of convenience foods on hand.

So 7:45 found me standing in front of the fridge, wearing jammies and pigtails (me, not the fridge), gazing at the sad emptiness of the shelves. We have veggies. And … more veggies. No milk, so my Cheerios would have to wait. No bread, so no grilled veggie sammiches. The grocery store isn’t far. But the switcheroo to jammies is irreversible.

Thankfully, we had eggs.

And thus, I present to you Clean-Out-the-Fridge Scrambles, written in the prose stylings of one Peter Spier, whose book I read aloud to my little brother 1,037 times one summer.

Note: The following is not fine dining. It’s not even a recipe. But it was yummy. Also, if you’re not familiar with Peter Spier, no, I’m not drunk.

Hungry. Nothing to Eat.
Let’s make a scramble.

Need 4 turkey breakfast sausages, cooked and chopped.
Need 1 green pepper, chopped.

Need 4 eggs.
Need salt and pepper.

Need 2 green onions, chopped.
Need 2 ounces pepperjack cheese, shredded.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Chicken Curry

I’m a bit of an idiot savant in the kitchen. (OK, so not just in the kitchen.) Among the Things I Cannot Cook, even if my life depended on it:
  • Rice Krispie treats
  • Macaroni and cheese from a box
  • Rice (of any kind)

Luckily the list of Things I Can Cook is still the longer of the two, and I now can add chicken curry to that list.

I’ve tried making several chicken curries in the past, but none was quite right. Too bland. Too dry. Too curryish. While talking with my friend Angie the other night, she mentioned that homemade curry powder can be far less overpowering than your usual curry powder. Smart gal, that Angie. Sounded like a swell idea.

This recipe is an amalgamation of ideas from a few recipes, mixed with my own techniques. I found the seasoning and sauce ideas, and adapted them to use boneless, skinless chicken. I decided to simmer the chicken in the sauce so it stayed tender, and then thicken up the sauce toward the end so we didn’t lose it all over the plate (it was some darn good sauce).

This turned out to be the best chicken curry I’ve eaten. Lest my ego get inflated, I served it with the worse basmati rice ever made. (And the ever-present flatbread, made from some dough I’d frozen.) So there you have it. I make the best chicken curry in the world! And I can’t make rice from a box.

Chicken Curry
Serves 3-4

½ Tbsp. garam masala
1 tsp. turmeric
1½ tsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. hot pimentón or paprika
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in chunks
Salt and pepper
2 tsp. vegetable oil
1 c. onion, chopped
Additional salt and pepper
1 tsp. garlic, minced
1 small tomato, seeded and chopped
1 tsp. gingerroot, grated
1½ c. chicken broth
1 tsp. arrowroot powder or slurry (corn starch mixed with water)

1. Combine the garam masala, turmeric, chili powder, and hot pimentón or paprika. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and then pour seasoning mixture on chicken, mixing chicken until thoroughly coated.

2. Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Add chicken to pan, browning slightly on all sides, about 5 minutes.

3. Remove chicken from pan. Add onion to pan, cooking until slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add garlic, ginger, and tomato. Cook about 1-2 minutes.

4. Add broth to pan, scraping up any bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan. Return chicken to pan and bring mixture to a boil.

5. Lower heat to medium, and cook at a high simmer about 25 minutes, until chicken is tender and sauce is starting to reduce.

6. Add arrowroot powder or slurry to pan, stirring quickly with a small whisk, until sauce starts to thicken. Reduce heat to low until serving.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Steak Sammiches

Some women like roses. Some prefer diamonds. For others, flowery sonnets are the key.

Me? I like this:

Yes, the way to my heart is through my tummy, preferably a tummy full of steak. And my hubby grills up the best steak; it’s why we’ll be together forever and ever. There’s no real recipe, aside from patience, love, and Montreal Steak Seasoning. About once a week, when the grillin’ weather’s fine, we throw on a couple of steaks, along with an extra for sammiches the next night.

The sammiches are quite simple. You just need a good steak, some excellent bread (because great bread a great sammich maketh), and your favorite cheese. We like this:

Assemble it all together, and serve warm – toast in the oven, use a panini press, even microwave it.

If you don’t try these sammiches, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon, and for the rest of your life.

And what about us? Well, we’ll always have this:

Here’s lookin’ at you, you gooey mess of grilled goodness.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Oven-Fried Chicken Sammiches

I’m a big fan of anything fried, especially chicken. And cheese. But mostly chicken. Unfortunately, my metabolism doesn’t like fried food nearly as much as I do, so I try to keep it to a minimum.

I clipped this recipe from a Light & Tasty magazine many moons ago, because the picture looked so yummy. (I’m a sucker for a good recipe photo.) It’s very simple: just marinate chicken breasts in some buttermilk, coat them with a seasoned cornmeal mixture, and bake. No oil or butter needed. I like mine on a Kaiser roll with lettuce, straight up, no mayo.

It doesn’t taste exactly the same as the deep-fried goodness that is a chicken filet, but when I’m craving one, this recipe is a pretty darn good fake-out. Of course, that might have more to do with the toasted Kaiser roll. Always toast your buns!

Oven-Fried Chicken Sammiches
Serves 4-6

4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded to about ½” thin
1 c. 1% buttermilk
½ c. reduced-fat baking mix (Bisquick)
½ c. yellow cornmeal
1½ tsp. paprika (I uses 1 tsp. paprika and ½ tsp. hot pimentón, just for extra heat)
¾ tsp. salt
¾ tsp. poultry seasoning
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
Cooking spray
4-6 kaiser or other rolls, toasted before serving

1. Combine the chicken and buttermilk in a resealable bag. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

3. Combine the baking mix, cornmeal, and seasonings in a shallow dish.

4. Coat the chicken in the seasoning mixture and place in a baking dish coated with cooking spray.

5. Wash your hands, unless you can cook like this:

6. Bake the chicken about 15 minutes, then flip. Continue baking about 12-15 minutes, or until cooked through and no longer pink. Serve on rolls. (Did I mention you should toast them?)

Saturday, September 13, 2008


A few years ago I was reading a novel that took place in Morocco, and the descriptions of the food in the book entranced me. (I’m easily amused.) I woke up one morning and, after conducting several hours’ worth of Internet research, cooked up a North African feast. I loved that the food was warm and spicy without having a lot of heat. I eventually picked up a copy of Cooking Moroccan by Tess Mallos, which has become one of my favorites, and my harira is a slightly modified version of hers.

This dish is kind of a chili-like soup with a beef and tomato base, and plenty of chickpeas (garbanzo beans, if you will). I served it with grilled zahtar flatbread, using my flatbread pizza dough recipe and my indoor grill pan. Zahtar is a seasoning mix that includes sumac, thyme, sesame seed, and sea salt, and it’s genius. Whoever made the call on that sesame seed thing receives my undying devotion.

I got a late start on supper – nothing interrupts my nap – so my hubby whipped up some roasted red pepper and eggplant bruschetta for us to munch on in the meantime. (Alas, his secrets are not mine to share.)

He’s a good man, my hubby. Think I’ll keep him around. Even if he thinks my food looks weird.

Serves 6-8

3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 small onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. steak, trimmed and cubed
Salt and pepper
1½ tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. hot pimentón (Spanish paprika; can substitute regular paprika)
1 tsp. smoked pimentón (can substitute regular paprika)
1 bay leaf
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
4 c. beef broth (about 2 14½-oz. cans)
2 15-oz. cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
¼ c. fresh cilantro, finely chopped
¼ c. fresh parsley, finely chopped
¼ to ½ tsp. cayenne pepper, to taste
Additional salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add beef, seasoning with salt and pepper. Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring, until beef begins to brown.

2. Add cumin, pimentóns or paprika, and bay leaf. Stir and cook until fragrant, occasionally wiping the drool from your chin.

3. Add tomato paste and cook about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add beef broth. Stir well and bring to a boil.

4. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, cilantro, and parsley. Stir, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 1½ to 2 hours, or until beef is tender. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and cayenne.

5. Serve with flatbread.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Grilled Country-Style Pork Tacos

Tacos are good. Soft shell, hard shell, grilled meat, shredded meat, with toppings, without. I will eat almost anything in a tortilla, so I make many a taco recipe. This evening we had a taco porkstravaganza, with boneless country-style ribs that were rubbed, grilled, and sliced up. (Also, I may start shouting “PORKSTRAVAGANZA!” from my deck every time I grill pork, just to see if the neighbors notice. They already look at me strangely for photographing my food.)

The spice mixture I use is a wet rub from a Weber cookbook, but to lighten things up, I just lightly drizzle the pork with some olive oil and use this as a dry rub, instead. If you’ve never grilled boneless country-style pork ribs, give them a try. If they’re well trimmed, they’re quite lean, and they grill up nice and juicy, like pork loin. (But they’re usually even more economical.)

This gives us enough for a couple of meals, and then some. The leftovers are great in quesadillas or burritos. Or as puppy snacks. Puppies love pork tacos.

Grilled Country-Style Pork Tacos
Serves 6-8

1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1½ tsp. oregano (preferably Mexican)
1½ tsp. dried minced garlic flakes
1½ tsp. ancho chile powder
1½ tsp. brown sugar
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1½ - 2 lbs. boneless country-style pork ribs, well trimmed
Olive oil, for drizzling
Tortillas and taco toppings

1. Combine rub ingredients until well mixed.

2. Drizzle pork with olive oil and add half the rub mixture. Using your hands, rub into pork. Flip pork and repeat with additional olive oil and remaining rub. Cover and refrigerate 4-8 hours.

3. Grill pork on medium-low until cooked to medium or medium well, about 20 minutes.

4. Thinly slice, and serve on tortillas with toppings.

Note: It is not easy to photograph the inside of a taco.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Grilled Pizza with Ham and Pepperoni

You know how sometimes when you’re sick and you kind of lose your appetite, and then you start to get better and you realize that you’re REALLY hungry, but only for one specific food? (Or maybe that only happens to me?) Anyway, today I was hungry for grilled pizza, and nothing else would do.

Earlier this year, I decided that my goal for the summer was to make world’s best grilled flatbread pizza. (Yes, I really reach for those stars.) This posed two main challenges for me: I’d never grilled pizza, and I’m terrible with doughs.

The latter took quite a bit of trial and error, and many packages of active dry yeast. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the little yeasty dudes to do their little yeasty thing. Apparently the water temperature really is important; you need the water warm enough to activate the yeast, but not so hot that you kill the poor suckers where they sit. Kudos to my super-smart, dough-proficient hubby for showing me the perfect temp. I now use water that’s about the temperature of a baby’s bathwater, rather than a steaming hot tub. I also discovered that I lack the patience (and strong forearms) to knead dough for long periods of time. So I highly recommend a stand mixer with a dough hook.

The grilling was much easier than I expected. You can actually put the dough directly on the grill grate without dire consequences. (I had visions of the dough somehow adhering to the grill, and I’d spend the rest of my summer scraping off the charred remains.) Just be sure to brush both sides with a light coating of olive oil, and all will be well.

As far as toppings go, the world is your oyster. When I crave grilled pizza, I crave this version – a very basic mix of ham and pepperoni, with a few different cheeses, and some fresh basil.

Grilled Pizza with Ham and Pepperoni
Makes 3-4 small pizzas

1 pkg. active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 c. warm water
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 c. flour
Olive oil, for coating bowl and brushing dough
Italian seasoning, for sprinkling on dough
Pizza sauce (homemade, or your favorite storebought brand)
Diced ham
Diced pepperoni
Fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Shredded white cheddar cheese
Fresh basil, finely chopped

1. Put yeast and sugar in stand mixer bowl. Add warm water and let sit 15 minutes. Add salt and olive oil. Start mixer on low with dough hook attached, and gradually add flour. Turn mixer to medium for 5 minutes. Check dough. If it’s still a bit too sticky, add a tablespoon or two of flour and mix thoroughly.

2. Remove dough from mixer bowl and knead by hand a few times. Form a ball and place in a bowl coated with olive oil. Cover bowl with a dishtowel and put in a warm, draft-free place. Let rise 1 hour.

3. Remove dough from bowl and cut in three or four pieces, depending on whether you like thicker or thinner crust. Form each piece into a ball. Return to bowl, cover, and let sit 15 minutes.

4. Remove a piece of dough, leaving the others covered. Roll out to desired shape and thickness. (I prefer mine very thin, and because of the width of my grill grates, an oblong shape works best.) Place dough on a sheet of waxed paper brushed with olive oil. Brush olive oil on top side and sprinkle with Italian seasoning. Repeat with other pieces of dough.

5. Heat grill on medium-low and place dough directly on grill grate. Grill until dough starts to puff, then flip.

6. Add sauce and toppings to cooked side of dough.

7. Grill until crust is baked and cheese is melted, moving to indirect heat if necessary. (I move mine to the upper grate after a few minutes so the toppings can heat through without the crust burning.)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Ham, Zucchini and Potato Soup

How to spend a beautiful Saturday when you’re sick and didn’t get groceries:

Put on jammies and cozy socks. Put together pot of Ham, Zucchini and Potato Soup (courtesy of Rachael Ray). Use last bit of energy to contemplate merits of adding dill to soup, as per recipe. Boldly opt for parsley, instead.

While soup simmers, ensure that DVD sets, books, remote control, and cell phone are within arm’s reach of couch. Pile extra blankets on floor next to couch. Fluff pillow.

Eat soup with cheese, crackers, and juice. Leave dishes for later. Return to couch for third nap of day.

Ham, Zucchini and Potato Soup
Serves 6

1 Tbsp. butter
1 large or 2 medium onions, finely chopped
3 medium potatoes (about 1 lb.), peeled and cut in ¼” cubes
2 medium zucchini (about 1 lb.), cut in ¼” cubes
Salt and pepper, to taste
32 oz. chicken broth
8 oz. ham, diced
Pinch fresh-ground nutmeg
A few Tbsp. minced fresh parsley

1. Melt butter in a pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden (about 8 minutes).

2. Add potatoes and zucchini to pot, stirring. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add broth, stirring to loosen up any bits on the bottom of the pan.

3. Bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer about 20-30 minutes, or until potatoes and zucchini are tender.

4. Blend about half of the soup, using an immersion blender or regular blender.

5. Add ham, nutmeg, and parsley, and heat through. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste. (This can vary quite a bit, depending on the saltiness of the ham.)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Pork Ragu

Every time a storm is headed our way, I take comfort in throwing a pot of something on the stove, and watching Mother Nature’s best from the safety and comfort of my warm little house. So despite the fact that it was still 88 degrees when I started my sauce, I’m now reaping the benefits as the rain pours outside.

This sauce was one of those clean-out-the-fridge recipes, so all measurements are approximate, especially since I kept adding things as I went along. The pork is quite good with this sauce; it’s nice and tomatoey, and while you can’t noticeably pick out the pancetta, you can taste something just a bit different in each bite. And because it’s slow simmered, the pork just falls apart. I believe this shall be added to my pantheon of pasta sauces.

Pork Ragu
Serves 4-6

1 Tbsp. olive oil4 oz. pancetta (Italian cured bacon), chopped
1 lb. boneless pork, cut in 1” cubes
½ onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large sprig rosemary, leaves stripped and finely chopped
¼ c. dry white wine
¾ c. chicken broth
1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand, or 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 15-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper, to taste
Italian seasoning, to taste
Dash of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

1. Heat oil in a pot over medium heat and add pancetta. When pancetta is nearly brown, add pork. Season with salt and pepper and cook until pork is starting to brown, about five minutes. Add onion, garlic, and rosemary, and saute until onion starts to brown, about 4 minutes.

2. Add wine and broth to pan, and then add tomatoes and tomato paste. Add a bay leaf.

3. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover and reduce heat; simmer 2-3 hours, or until sauce is at desired consistency and pork is tender. Season as needed with salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and crushed red pepper flakes.

4. Serve over pasta.