Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: Kona Swizzle

This time of year I always crave a trip to the tropics...it would still be hot, but at least I'd be on the beach with a cocktail by my side.  But since Hawaii or Tahiti aren't in the cards, I'll have to settle for the cocktail.

Get your swizzle sticks ready...this one simply screams for an umbrella garnish.

Kona Swizzle
Makes one cocktail.

4 tablespoons spiced rum
1 1/2 tablespoons orgeat syrup (almond syrup...Monin makes a great one.)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon simple syrup (or 1 sugar cube)
2 mint sprigs

Gently muddle all ingredients in a shaker.  Pour into a collins glass filled with crushed ice. Top with 2 dashes Peychaud's bitters and 1 dash Angostura bitters.  Garnish with a couple of mint sprigs.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Classic Pesto

My basil plants are thriving in this heat.  (Unlike our St. Augustine lawn...)  So much so that I have to pinch it back regularly to keep under control.  No worries there, just gives me an excuse to make a batch of classuc pesto to slather on tomatoes or a grilled chicken breast or toss with hot pasta. 

Keep it coming, basil.

Classic Basil Pesto
Makes about one cup.

1/4 cup pine nuts (I prefer this classic ingredient, but you can sub in walnuts or pecans if you don't have pine nuts on hand.)
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves (I like to blanch the leaves for mere seconds in boiling water and then shock in cold water...helps the pesto keep a vibrant green color when stored.)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves (optional)
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Combine first four ingredients in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped.  Add the olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt and process until smooth.

Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the Parmesan.  Adjust seasonings with salt to taste.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Carrot Spinach Soup with Dill

Did you overdo it this weekend?  Too many burgers and dogs on the grill?  A margarita or two too many?  Make a batch of this soup for lunches the next couple of days.  I will admit it's not the most exciting recipe in the book, but it's quite healthful and Whole Living magazine says it's cleansing.

P.S. It makes three servings because this is supposed to be the dinner portion of a three-day cleanse.  Check last Sunday's post for the lunch-beet and avocado salad.

Carrot Spinach Soup with Dill
Makes three 3-cup servings.
From Whole Living magazine.

Soup Base:
1 large onion, diced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
7 carrots, diced (about 5 cups)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon coarse salt
8 ounces green beans, cut into 1/2-inch piece

For each serving:
1 packed cup baby spinach
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons lemon juice

In a pot over medium heat, cook onion in oil until tender, about 6 minutes. Stir in carrots, turmeric, and salt. Add 10 cups water, bring to a boil, then simmer, 30 minutes. Add beans and cook until just tender, about 2 minutes.

To serve, fill a bowl with spinach and dill. Ladle 3 cups hot soup over greens, cover with a plate, and let steep 5 minutes. Add lemon juice and serve.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Corn Chowder Salad

I've always liked the idea of corn chowder.  Who can find fault with a combination of corn, bacon and potatoes after all?

But I've never made it.  When corn is at its peak, it's hotter than hell here...who wants to make and eat hot soup???

Here's a nice compromise...the same flavors in salad form.  It's makes a great side dish and the leftovers are perfect for lunch. (You might add the bacon right as you serve it so that it stays crisp.)  Found the recipe in People magazine courtesy The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook. Cookbook looks like it's worth a purchase.

2 teaspoons olive oil
3 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces
8 ounces Yukon gold or red potato, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 red bell pepper, ribs and seeds discarded, cut into 1/2 inch dice
Kosher salt
3 cups fresh corn kernels
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced (Soak in cold water to remove some of the heat.  Drain before incorporating into salad.)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Crushed red pepper flakes

Cook the bacon in the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel to drain. Drain the bacon grease from the skillet, reserving two tablespoons.

Cook the potatoes in the 2 tablespoons of bacon drippings for five minutes until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Add the bell pepper, season with salt, and cook, tossing occasionally until the pepper and potato are tender, about 5 minutes longer.

Add the corn and cook 3 to 5 minutes until hot.

Transfer to a bowl. Add the onion, vinegar, and bacon.  Season with salt and red pepper and stir to combine. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: Tequila-Mint Smash

Cool and refreshing.  That's all I look for in a drink during these dog days of summer.  And if it's high-octane enough that I can sit an nurse it and not have to expend energy to mix another, all the better.  This one fits the bill nicely.

Tequila-Mint Smash
Makes one cocktail.

1 1/2 ounces añejo tequila
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
3/4 ounce agave syrup
6-8 fresh mint leaves
4 lemon wedges

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice.  Shake vigorously and strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice.  Garnish with a mint sprig and enjoy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Classic Caesar Dressing

The folks at Cooks Illustrated have a great series of "The Best..." cookbooks.  The Best Recipes.  The Best International Recipes.  The Best American Side Dishes. Etc.  They are great reference books and sit on the top left of my cookbook library shelves.

This time of year, as the 100° weather settles in, I crave salads more than ever.  Crisp and cool, they are the perfect meal requiring little to no heat and not too much energy-draining time in the kitchen.

And while I will make a chef's salad, spinach salad or farmers market salad any old day, the classic Caesar deserves a turn in the rotation.  And I found the perfect recipe for it in The New Best Recipe. I guess you could tinker with it to suit your tastes, but I see no reason to mess with perfection.

Caesar Dressing
Makes enough for four salad servings.

2 large eggs
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon minced garlic
4 anchovy fillets, minced to a paste (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Bring 2 inches water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat.  Lower the eggs into the water and cook 45 seconds; remove with a slotted spoon.  Let cool slightly.  When cool enough to handle, crack the eggs open and separate, reserving the yolks and discarding the whites.

Add the lemon juice, Worcestershire, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, garlic and anchovies.  Whisk until smooth.

Whisking constantly, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream.  Season the dressing with salt and pepper to taste as needed.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Maple-Soy Chicken Thighs

No photo for this one since my final product was a little pasty looking.  Turns out I missed the step that calls for you to reduce the marinade to a glaze.  That would have made all the difference in the appearance of the completed dish.  They still had a wonderful flavor though...this is one I will revisit soon.  They would be great with a little couscous or rice and some steamed spinach or stir-fried bok choy.

Maple-Soy Chicken Thighs
Makes 4 servings.
From Cooking Light.

1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sliced green onions

Combine first 7 ingredients in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Place maple mixture in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add chicken thighs to bag; seal. Marinate in refrigerator 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375°.

Remove chicken from bag, reserving marinade.

Place marinade in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Cook until marinade reduces to 1/4 cup (about 5 minutes).

Arrange chicken in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Baste with 2 tablespoons maple mixture; sprinkle evenly with salt.

Bake chicken at 375° for 20 minutes. Turn chicken over; baste with remaining 2 tablespoons maple mixture. Bake 15 minutes or until chicken is done; sprinkle with onions.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Beet and Avocado Salad

Here is an absolutely delicious salad that combine things perhaps in ways you wouldn't think to.  (I certainly hadn't.)  It's crisp, earthy, and sweet all at once.  I made a big enough batch that it was a great lunch two days in a row.

Hint: Don't mix the beets in with the other veggies and lettuce until you're ready to serve.  The beets leach their color into its neighbors pretty quickly.  And sprinkle the sunflower seeds on at the last minute so they stay crunchy.

Beet and Avocado Salad
Makes 3 servings.
Adapted from Whole Living magazine.

2 beets, roasted, peeled and diced
4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 English cucumber, seeded, thinly sliced
2 scallions (green parts only), thinly sliced
3 cups sliced Romaine lettuce
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 avocado, diced
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, toasted

In a large bowl, toss beets, celery, cucumber, scallions, and avocado.

Shake olive oil, Balsamic and salt and pepper in small jar.

To serve, place one cup lettuce in bowl or on plate.  Top with beet mixture and drizzle with dressing.  Sprinkle with seeds and serve.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bacon-Stuffed Yellow Squash

You probably have a lot of squash around.  If you're ambitious, you're growing it yourself.  If you're a locavore, you head to the farmers market.  And if you're healthy-thinking (if a little lazy), you grab it at your neighborhood grocery.

The other half and I love it every which way.  Coated in cornmeal and fried to crispness.  Grilled after a marinade of balsamic and dried oregano.  Even simply boiled with a couple of slices of American cheese melted to gooey goodness.

Here's another version to try. The bacon keeps it just on this edge of healthy, but, heck...make it a main course and feel good about yourself.

Bacon-Stuffed Yellow Squash
Makes 6-8 servings.

12 small yellow squash
6 slices bacon, fried and crumbled (Reserve drippings.)
1 cup chopped onion
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to 325°.

Remove the stems from the squash and cook whole squash in salted boiling water until tender, but still firm, 8 to 10 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly.

Half each squash lengthwise and scoop out seeds.  Discard seeds.  Scoop flesh out of large end of squash, leaving 1/4 inch flesh on skin.  Place squash flesh in a bowl and mash with a potato masher.

Arrange squash shells cavity side up in baking dish treated with cooking spray.

Heat reserved drippings in skillet and add onion.  Sauté until tender, 4 to 5 minutes.  Add mashed squash and Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Stir over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. 

Remove from heat and add bread crumbs, bacon and cayenne.  Stir to combine.

Spoon mixture into squash shells and dot each with a pat of butter.  Bake until heated through and lightly browned, 30-40 minutes.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It's National Hot Dog Month!

Just found out from one of my many cooking/foodie e-mail newsletters that it's National Hot Dog Month.  That means it's the perfect time to repost an oldie but a goodie from last year.  Here's how you construct a perfect Chicago-style dog. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Summer Frittata with Zucchini and Corn

"Clean Out the Refrigerator" Quiche is a pretty regular Sunday night task around here.  I combine any veggies from the fridge are counter that are almost past their prime with eggs, a few herbs and maybe a handful of cheese.  Sometimes with a crust, sometimes without.  It means that tomatoes, onions, spinach, mushrooms and asparagus go into my breakfasts for the week rather than the compost pile.

With that logic, we might as well call this Farmers Market Frittata.  No leftover vegetables here...instead, stars of the summer harvest at the peak of their flavor.  Use the freshest, preferably local, produce you can find and see if you don't agree.

Summer Frittata with Zucchini and Corn
Makes 4-6 servings.
From Whole Living.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
1 zucchini, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh corn kernels
Kosher salt
8 large eggs
Preheat broiler. In a medium ovenproof (preferably cast-iron) skillet, heat oil over medium heat and cook onion and jalapeño, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add zucchini and corn and cook until tender, about 7 minutes more. Season with salt.
In a bowl, whisk eggs with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pour into skillet with vegetables. Cook until sides are just beginning to set, 2 to 3 minutes.
Transfer skillet to oven and broil until just set in the middle and lightly golden and puffed on top, 2 to 3 minutes.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: A Simple Margarita with Simply Limeade

Everyone has their favorite margarita recipe.  (Mine actually involves a drive to Gloria's and the ordering of a Cointreau meltdown or two.) I posted one that I found in a fun little cookbook recently as a matter of fact.

Here's a formula for those evenings you simply don't want to try too hard.  I love the "Simply" brand of products...lemonade, raspberry lemonade and limeade.  I put the limeade to use in this simple, but tasty 'rita.

Simply Limeade Margarita
Makes 2 cocktails.

4 ounces Simply Limeade
2 ounces tequila
1 ounce triple sec
Juice of one lime (optional, but adds a nice tang)
Splash of mescal (optional, but do it if you have it...I have grown quite fond of the smokiness it brings to the cocktail party.)

MIx all ingredients together in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and strain into two ice-filled glasses with salted rims.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

El Fenix Enchilada "Gravy"

The other half had a craving for beef enchiladas the other day.  He makes a pretty good version using canned sauce.  But I had a hankering for cheese and onion enchiladas about the same time and decided I wanted them El Fenix-style.  (For those of you out of the Dallas area, El Fenix is a decades-old family run restaurant here in town.  Not the best food in the world, but quintessential Tex-Mex.)

Scoured the Internet for a copy cat recipe of their enchilada sauce and found this one.  It gets pretty close...mine was a little darker both in look and taste, but I think that's probably because I was using some really high-quality chili powder.  Next time, I'll experiment with that particular ingredient to see if I can get it closer.

In the meantime, this one is worth a try.  Those of you who are El Fenix aficionados, test it for me and let me know what you think in the comments below.

El Fenix Chili Gravy for Enchiladas
Makes enough for a full casserole of enchiladas

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon mexican oregano (optional, but very much worth using if you have)
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 cups chicken broth  (I might try beef broth next time.)

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-hi ghheat. Stir in flour and continue stirring for 3 - 4 minutes until it makes a light brown roux. Add all remaining dry ingredients and continue to cook for 1 minute, constantly stirring and blending the ingredients. Add chicken broth, mixing and stirring until the sauce begins to thicken. Turn heat to low and let sauce simmer for 15 minuntes. Add water as necessary if sauce becomes to thick. (Consistency should be like a gravy).

And you do know how to make enchiladas, right?  For cheese-onion, put some grated cheese and minced onion on a corn tortilla you've softened in some hot oil or chicken broth.  Roll, place seam-side down in a baking dish and cover with the sauce and some additional cheese.  Bake at 350° for 30 minutes until cooked through and bubbling.  To make beef enchiladas, sauté some chopped onion and ground beef in a pan until browned.  Add a little taco seasoning if you'd like but it's not critical.  Assemble just like you do the cheese-onion enchiladas.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Macaroni Salad

This is just as good as you remember from your trips to the cafeteria.  Maybe even better.  It's a perfect addition to a picnic or barbecue dinner menu.

Macaroni Salad
This recipe makes a whopping 10 cups.  Adjust amounts downward for a family dinner-size portion.

1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked, drained and cooled
1 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced green pepper
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup diced dill or sweet pickles, optional

1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons coarse-grain mustard
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all dressing ingredients together in a large bowl.  Stir in the macaroni and vegetables and mix well.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Chill before serving.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Housemade Sweet-and-Sour Mix

If you follow this silly little blog, you know I believe in using quality ingredients in my cooking.  I believe the same thing about cocktails.  Not only good-quality spirits (which, by the way, doesn't always mean the most expensive) but fresh juices and herbs and mixes.  Here's a perfect example. 

Don't use that nasty neon green stuff that you can buy at stores that they call sweet and sour mix.  It's nastily sweet and reminds me of antifreeze.  Instead, mix up a batch of this and keep it in the fridge.  Your next margarita will thank me.

Housemade Sweet-and-Sour Mix
Makes 2 cups.

1/2 cup simple syrup
3/4 cup fresh lime juice
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup water

Mix all ingredients together and store in a jar or bottle in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Basil

It's that beautiful perfect time of year when tomatoes are abundant and delicious. (I'm concentrating on that piece of summer so I don't obsess on the hellaciously hot temperatures we'll endure for at least the next six weeks.)

I've used tomatoes from the farmers market and from a work colleague's garden plot to make mozzarella and tomato salad, bacon and tomato sandwiches and a big batch of salsa (that recipe still to come).

Last night, I had an assortment of a few tomatoes of different sizes and shapes: a pear tomato or two, a few cherry tomatoes and a big beefsteak with a couple of bruises.  Used them to make this wonderfully tasty dinner.  Italian summer on a plate....

Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Basil
Makes 6 servings.

(The quantities here are really just guidelines.  You could use the same ratios to make smaller batches, or adjust things if you'd like a little more basil or a bit less garlic.  A pinch of red pepper flakes might also be just what the doctor ordered if you'd like a hint of heat.)

2 1/4 pounds ripe tomatoes
3/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 pound cooked spaghetti or angel hair
Grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Finely chop tomatoes, basil and garlic and mix with olive oil.  (You can also process everything in a food processor to a rough chop or finer puree if you'd like things easy.  That's what I did.)

Toss sauce with hot pasta.  Drizzle a little more olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese before serving.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Basil Pesto

Summer is about fresh.  Tomatoes.  Squash.  Peaches.  All prepared with a minimum of fuss and very little heat.  So while the rest of our yard withers, I take advantage of the big bushy basil plants and whip up a batch of this delicious pesto.  With a tomato and a hunk of mozzarella, dinner is served.

Basil Pesto
Makes 1 1/2 cups

2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 cup pine nuts (or walnuts or even pecans)
Generous pinch of kosher salt
2 cups fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan (optional)

Prepare a saucepan of boiling water and an ice water bath.  Working in batches, blanch the basil leaves for 15 seconds and immediately plunge into the ice water.  Let cool, then drain thoroughly and pat dry to remove as much extra water as possible.

With the motor running, drop the garlic cloves into a food processor to mince.

Turn the processor off and add the walnuts and salt; pulse to coarsely chop the nuts.  Add the basil and process until finely chopped. 

With the machine running, drizzle the olive oil through the feed tube until pesto forms a puree.

If desired, add the Parmesan and process until pureed and incorporated fully.

(It's easy to freeze this in an ice cube tray and then dole out as necessary.  The blanching should keep the pesto a bright green.)

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Banana Nut Bread

We have fleas.  There...I said it. And, not literally, "we," but our yard and our pets.  The mild winter has meant an explosion of all sort of bugs.  We've got most of them under control but are still battling the fleas.

We try to be organic as much as possible and read that fleas are repelled/killed by banana peels.  So we've thrown them around the yard and under the deck.  Left me with quite a few bananas.  Time for this classic.

Banana Nut Bread
Makes one loaf.

2 ripe medium bananas, mashed
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans if you prefer)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325°. Butter and flour a 9x5x3 loaf pan.

Whisk bananas and eggs in large bowl to blend. Add remaining ingredients and stir to blend well.

Transfer to pan. Bake until top is golden brown and tester comes out mostly clean (a few crumbs is good). This will take anywhere from 1 hour to 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then finish cooling on rack.