Monday, May 31, 2010

Cocktail of the Week: Blackberry-Ginger Spritzer

With the arrival of Memorial Day, summer is unofficially here. (And it's hotter than heck right now in Big D.) So time for grilling and chilling. And by chilling, we mean cocktails. Why not take advantage of the summer blackberry bounty and fix this refresher?

Blackberry-Ginger Syrup
This is the backbone of the cocktail. This is a doubling and adaptation of the original recipe I found. Keep it in a jar in the refrigerator for a week or so.

2 cups blackberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes or so. Cool and strain, discarding the solids.

Blackberry-Ginger Spritzer
To make the cocktail, in an ice-filled highball glass, combine 1 1/2 ounces gin, 1 1/2 ounces blackberry-ginger syrup, and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Stir and top with club soda. Garnish with a blackberry or two and a lemon wedge.


Sunday, May 30, 2010


It was pizza night last night here at home. No, we didn't call our local delivery joint. We made it ourselves. Armed with a ball of frozen dough from the market that I thawed overnight and a pantry/fridge full of ingredients, we got busy.

One used the grilled veggies that I had made last week. After spreading the dough out on a greased cookie sheet, I topped it with tomato sauce (bottled sauce gussied up with garlic pepper and Italian herb seasoning), grilled vegetables, prosciutto and goat cheese.

But for variety's sake, made another pie. This one with pesto, big slices of juicy farm-grown tomatoes and chunks of mozzarella. (And a drizzle of good olive oil for good measure when it came out of the oven.)

Both went in a pre-heated 550° (yes, 550) oven for 10 minutes. Delicious.

My head's spinning with other ideas for the future...might not ever buy pizza again.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Veggie Squares

I was challenged to make something easy and transportable for a twilight sailing excursion this past weekend. Flipping through my mental recipe box, I remembered this one. It comes across a little tacky on paper, but is delicious in its execution.

Veggie Squares
Serves 6-8.

1 can refrigerated crescent rolls
1 block (8 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature (Low-fat version is fine.)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 packet Ranch-style dressing mix (You can use a little less to keep things from getting overly salty.)
2 cups finely diced or grated vegetables (I use a combination of broccoli slaw mix, grated carrot, red pepper, and green onions. You could also add tomatoes, radishes or cucumbers as you see fit.)

Spread the crescent roll dough into an 11x 13 baking dish, pinching the seams together as necessary so you have one large piece of dough. Bake in a pre-heated 350° oven for 12-15 minutes until lightly golden brown. Set aside to cool.

Stir together cream cheese, mayonnaise and dressing mix. Spread over cooled crust.

Sprinkle vegetables over top. Chill for at least two hours. (Makes it much easier to cut without destroying.)

Cut into serving size pieces and enjoy.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Grilled Vegetables

Sometimes the easiest dinners are the most delicious. So this posting is not so much a recipe as a technique. Grilling vegetables brings out their sweetness and their earthiness all at the same time. With a simple marinade and a "bed" of something, it's a delicious and healthy meal. And, since the grill is already going, fell free to throw a pork chop or chicken breast on there if you're in the mood for some protein.

Here's how you do it.

Prep your favorite vegetables in thick slices that you can put on a skewer. (I think that is the easiest way to much easier to turn them and keep them from slipping through the grate.) Things like: bell pepper (I'm partial to red.), zucchini or yellow squash, mushrooms, leeks, onions (Spring onions are particularly delicious.), eggplant, asparagus, or tomatoes. You can also briefly parboil chunks of potatoes or sweet potatoes to start the cooking process before you grill them. If you're feeling adventurous, how about jalapenos or whole cloves or garlic?

Throw all these veggies into a large bowl and season them up. I use olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic pepper and a pinch of kosher salt. But make it your own. Worcestershire. Rice wine vinegar. Louisiana hot sauce. Fresh herbs. Whatever you and your family are into...

Thread the veggies onto metal skewers. (Think about cooking time...more delicate veggies like tomatoes and eggplant might go on a different skewer than hunks of squash so you can pull them off as they are finished.) Place on a pre-heated grill and cook until done to your liking.

Like I posted earlier, I love these on a bed of starch. Seasoned white rice with a bit of butter is my favorite, but a more healthier choice is wild rice or couscous.

Try it and see what you think. Post any suggestions or tricks you have in the comments below.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Cocktail of the Week: The Leland Palmer

It's quite appropriate that the night after so many of us watched the final twists and turns of LOST I found this delicious cocktail recipe named after a character from that other (perhaps even more) bizarre television series Twin Peaks.

It's summery and refreshing and we quickly polished a pitcher off with neighbors on the patio this evening.

The Leland Palmer

1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup hot water
3 cups freshly brewed jasmine tea, cooled (I used regular ol' iced tea.)
3/4 cup gin
3/4 cup limoncello
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 cup chilled club soda
Ice cubes

Stir honey and 1/2 cup hot water in small bowl until honey dissolves. Cool completely.

Combine honey water, jasmine tea, gin, limoncello, lemon juice, and grapefruit juice in large pitcher. Add club soda and stir to blend.

Fill six 1-pint mason jars or 6 tall glasses with ice cubes. Divide tea mixture among jars; top each with lemon slice.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips and Walnuts

Three bananas past their prime. Half a bag of chocolate chips. And pecans in the freezer. (Which I substituted for the walnuts in the recipe.)

What does that give us? This yummy breakfast bread that's decadent enough for dessert.

Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips and Walnuts
From Bon Appetit.
Makes one loaf.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
print a shopping list for this recipe

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 9x5x2 1/2-inch metal loaf pan. Whisk first 4 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Combine chocolate chips and walnuts in small bowl; add 1 tablespoon flour mixture and toss to coat.

Beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually add sugar, beating until well blended. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Beat in mashed bananas, lemon juice and vanilla extract. Beat in flour mixture. Spoon 1/3 of batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle with half of nut mixture. Spoon 1/3 of batter over. Sprinkle with remaining nut mixture. Cover with remaining batter. Run knife through batter in zigzag pattern.

Bake bread until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cooking with Books: Red Wine and Feta Vinaigrette

Michael Psilakis' How to Roast a Lamb was in the stack for Cooking with Books month in March, but I didn't get to it. However, now that I'm stocking up on so many veggies from the farmer's market, one of the recipes has come to the rescue.

The other night, my dinner consisted of tomato wedges, thick cucumber slices, and thin slivers of red onion topped with this delicious vinaigrette. With an extra crumble of feta cheese for good measure.

I'm already thinking how else I could use it. Certainly on a traditional Greek salad. But also maybe as a marinade for a chicken breast before grilling it. Or even a dipping sauce for crisp veggies.

Red Wine and Feta Vinaigrette
Makes 1 1/4 cups.

1 small onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for onion
Coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup red-wine vinegar
6 fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
6 cloves garlic, smashed
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons dried Greek oregano

Preheat a grill pan. Brush onion slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place onions on grill pan and cook, turning, until tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl; drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Toss to combine.

Transfer onion to the bowl of a food processor along with vinegar, basil, thyme, feta, mustard, garlic, shallots, oregano, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 tablespoon pepper; pulse to combine.

With the processor running, slowly drizzle in 3/4 cup olive oil until dressing is smooth; season with salt and pepper.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mocktail of the Week: Spicy Veggie Juice

In my continuing quest to lose a pound or two, I have been scheduling several nights a week to be alcohol-free. No cocktail while I'm fixing dinner. And then no wine with dinner. (I know this is shocking to those of you who know me. Hush.)

I'm not feeling neglected though. I still have something "interesting" at happy hour time. Maybe pomegranate juice and some club soda. Lemonade or limeade. Or this one. Follow along...

I fill my martini shaker with ice. (Don't want it to feel lonely.) Pour in a can of Spicy Hot V-8. (And a splash of water...the stuff is pretty viscous.) Add a big pinch of garlic pepper. A teaspoon or so of celery salt. A generous squeeze of lime or lemon. If I'm feeling brave, a dash of Tabasco or cayenne. Then strain into a glass that I've rimmed with salt. (Or even better one of these salt blends.)


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Gratin of Cauliflower with Gruyere

Lots of veggies being eaten around the homestead. This one is not "perfectly" healthy, but it comes from Cooking Light, so it can't be too bad, right?

Who cares anyway? This is delicious.

Gratin of Cauliflower with Gruyere
Makes 6 servings.

1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets (about 2 pounds)
Cooking spray
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
2 teaspoons butter
1/3 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Gruyère cheese, divided
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400°.

Place cauliflower in a 2-quart broiler-safe baking dish lightly coated with cooking spray; coat cauliflower with cooking spray. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt; toss. Bake at 400° for 30 minutes or until almost tender. Cool 5 minutes.

Preheat broiler.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat. Stir in panko. Stir in 1/4 cup cheese and chives.

Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; sauté 4 minutes or until almost tender, stirring frequently. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add flour; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk; bring to a boil. Cook 3 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat; stir in remaining 1/4 cup cheese, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, parsley, and pepper. Pour milk mixture over cauliflower mixture; toss. Top evenly with cheese mixture. Broil 3 minutes or until golden brown and thoroughly heated.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mashed Potatoes Extraordinaire ahve a bag of potatoes in the pantry. Easy side dish? Mashed potatoes, right? Sure, butthe only way they will be an exciting addition to the meal is if you let your kids sculpt with them. Or maybe a food fight?

Sometimes it's the simple things. An addition of a fresh herb and some good-quality cheese and mashed potatoes take on an entirely new (and more delicious) life.

Mashed Potatoes with Parmesan Cheese anFresh Thyme
From Food & Wine.
Makes 12 servings. (But it's easily divisable.)

6 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
4 garlic cloves
1 cup half-and-half
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3 ounces freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (1 cup)
2 tablespoons chopped thyme leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
Kosher salt

In a large pot, cover the potatoes and garlic with cold water and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat until tender, about 20 minutes.

Drain the potatoes and garlic in a colander, shaking out the excess water. Add the half-and-half, butter and cheese to the pot and heat until melted; add the thyme. Remove from the heat. Press the potatoes and garlic through a ricer into the pot and season with salt. Stir over moderate heat until very hot. Transfer to a bowl, garnish with thyme sprigs and serve.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cobb Salad Redux

I love Cobb salad, but it is a fat- and sodium-laden arterial bomb. Here are a couple of tips to make it better for you.
  • Instead of good 'ol bacon, try much leaner Canadian bacon. Pan-sauté with a little cokking spray until nice and crisp.
  • Don't use all of the hard-boile egg. Just the whites. (Save the yolks for your pups. They love them.)
  • Pile on the avocado and tomatoes. The more produce, the better.
  • Don't pour on a bottled blue cheese dressing. Opt for a low-fat version. Or even better, skip the chemicals and make a little balsamic vinaigrette and add a few crumbles of high quality blue cheese.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Almond Butter

I keep a jar of peanut butter in the fridge at work. A small spoonful is the perfect snack...especially on a piece of whole wheat toast or alongside a crisp cold apple.

But next on my list is almond butter. It has about the same amount of calories and fat as the peanutty stuff, but slightly more fiber. It's also supposed to be a great source of magnesium and calcium. Plus it's more likely to be less"processed" than its peanut butter cousin...with less sugar and hydrogenated fats.

I ran across this suggestion for it the other day. Spread a tablespoon and a half on toasted bread and top with half a sliced banana and a tablespoon of honey. Sounds tasty. Another possibility is almond butter on sourdough bread with a layer of turkey bacon and thin apple slices.

Sounds like some experimenting is in order.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Wilted Spinach Salad with Caramelized Shallots

We're back! Refreshed and renewed from a few days out of the next few weeks will be packed with great recipes, tips and resources.

Here's a perfect example. A simple healthy spinach salad/side dish. The other half threw out the idea that it would make a perfect bed for a piece of broiled salmon. It would indeed...

Wilted Spinach Salad with Caramelized Shallots
From Everyday Food.
Makes 4 servings.

4 teaspoons olive oil
4 large shallots, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon whole-grain mustard
3 teaspoons red-wine vinegar, divided use
2 bags (10 ounces each) baby spinach

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, until shallots are sticky and browned, about 8 minutes.

Add water and cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits from skillet, until shallots are dark brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Remove skillet from heat; add mustard and 2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar and stir to combine.

Place spinach in a large bowl an pour warm dressing over top. Add remaining teaspoon vinegar, toss and season with salt and pepper.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Happy May Day!

Hope you've delivered your May baskets and are now frolicking around the May pole.

Things will be quiet around here for the next ten days. We're taking a little time off for realxation/recuperation/refueling.

But don't worry...while we're putting our feet up, we'll also be looking for and trying out new ways to keep all of our Lives Beautiful.

See you on the flip side...