Thursday, June 30, 2011

Grilled Vegetable Salad

If you've been asked to bring a salad to a party this weekend, and want to avoid the typical coleslaws and potato salads (or even not so typical versions), consider this grilled vegetable salad.  It's colorful, full of fresh produce, and has just enough bacon to make you forget you're eating healthy stuff. 

Quantities, and even the vegetables themselves, can be adjusted depending on your tastes and what's available.  As an alternative to a grill basket, grill slices of sweet potato and zucchini, and then dice them.  Everything can be grilled in whatever order works for you.  If you make this ahead, do check the seasonings before serving- the acidity from the vinegar can fade a little, and just a little more on top can brighten things back up.

Grilled Vegetable Salad

What's in it:

2-3 sweet potatoes, diced into 1/2" cubes
2-3 zucchini or summer squash, diced into 1/2" cubes
3-4 ears of corn, shucked
Olive oil
Salt, pepper, and other seasonings to taste (I like cumin and chili powder)
2 bell peppers
3-4 scallions, or garlic scapes if you can get them
4 slices of bacon, cooked and finely diced
2-3 Tbsp red wine vinegar, to taste
More salt and pepper, to taste

How to make it:

In separate bowls, stir the sweet potatoes and zucchini with olive oil, using just enough to coat the vegetables.  Season with salt, pepper and any other desired spices.  Do the same for the corn, wrapping in foil for the grill.

To cook vegetables, heat grill to medium high heat.  Put the bell peppers on and roast until charred, turning occasionally, and place in a zip-top bag or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid when done.  Grill the corn to your desired doneness- I like mine still a little crunchy.  Cook sweet potatoes and zucchini in a grill basket, until cooked through and starting to brown (the sweet potatoes can be given a head start in the microwave- just cover with plastic and give them about 3 minutes on high).  Briefly cook the scallions, just enough to tone down the onion flavor and get a touch of brown on them.

When all vegetables are cooked, finish prepping them.  When cool enough to handle, slice the corn kernels from the cobs, remove the peppers' skins and dice the flesh, and thinly slice the scallions.

Combine all vegetables and bacon, and season to taste with red wine vinegar, salt and pepper.  Serve warm or at room temp.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Berry Trifle with Lime Pound Cake and Ricotta Whipped Cream

Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays. Not only does it fall a few days after my birthday, guaranteeing a long weekend to enjoy it, but it's a holiday dedicated to the appreciation of a country where we can cook over an open flame by choice, booms and flashes of light are fireworks and not missile strikes, and people can gather for parties or protests without fear of persecution.

If you're headed to a cookout where all sorts of good things are cooked over that open flame before you ooh and aah over those fireworks, this red, white and blue trifle would be a great addition to the evening. Summery berries, rich pound cake with just the slightest hint of tartness and barely-sweetened cream whipped with thick ricotta are layered together to make a cool summer evening treat.

Berry Trifle with Lime Pound Cake and Ricotta Whipped Cream

What's in it:

1 c heavy whipping cream
1 c ricotta (part-skim works well here)
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

Lime pound cake (recipe follows), diced into 3/4-1" cubes
2 lbs strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 pints blueberries

How to make it:

Whip the cream with beaters or the whisk attachment if using a stand mixer. As the cream starts to fluff, add sugar and vanilla. When the whipped cream holds a peak as you pull the whisk out, add the ricotta and continue to whip until combined

In a steep-sided clear bowl*, place a layer of cake cubes in the bottom, followed by a layer of berries. Spread a layer of the whipped cream mixture over the berries. Repeat layers, and garnish with a few leftover berries. Chill until ready to serve

*Depending on the height and diameter of your bowl, you can make two or three repetitions of the layers, just make sure you decide ahead of time how deep you want the layers!

Lime Pound Cake
adapted from Serious Eats

What's in it

6 oz butter plus more for the pan, at room temperature
1 1/2 c flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
zest of one lime
1 1/2 c sugar, plus 1 Tbsp for the pan
3 large eggs, at room temperature

How to make it:

Heat oven to 325°F. Generously grease a light-colored 9x5x3" loaf pan with butter. Add the 1 tablespoon of sugar; turn pan to coat evenly with sugar, tap out any excess, and set aside. (The inside of the pan should be smoothly and evenly coated with butter and sugar, with no clumps or gaps.)

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a measuring vessel with a pourable spout, combine milk, vanilla extract, and lime zest. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter at medium-low speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and beat until satiny smooth, about 3 minutes.

Add 1 egg at a time to the butter mixture, beating 15 seconds before adding another, and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Reduce mixer speed to low and alternately add the flour and milk mixtures in 3 batches, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down sides of bowl; beat just until batter is smooth and silky but no more.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and firmly tap on a counter to allow batter to settle evenly. Bake until light golden and a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out moist but clean, about 1 hour. Let cake cool in pan on a rack for 30 minutes. Turn out cake onto rack; let cool completely before cutting.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Food for Thought: How Much Beef Do You Eat?

This isn't in the same vein as my usual Friday posts, but I had to share.  We recently went in on half a cow from a local farmer with friends again, and picked up the vacuum-packed, flash-frozen beef this week.  The cow we got this time was nearly twice as large as last time, with two families splitting it instead of four.  Since we only eat beef once a week on average, our share last time lasted us about six months, so we're expecting to get at least eighteen month out of this order.

I think the best example of the scale of the amount of meat here is the amount of ground beef: 77 lbs.  That's all of the meat in the door in the photo, some on the middle shelf, and what's in the small cooler in front of the freezer.  The rest is broken up into steaks and roasts (our share is on the top shelf), and bones for soups and stocks (on the bottom shelf).

How much beef do you eat?  Have any good recipes using ground beef?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Salmon and Quinoa Salad

For Mother's Day this year, part of my gift from Vince and Alexa was a bag of beautiful heirloom variety black quinoa.  This might not seem like a big deal, but I took it as a sign of Vince's surrender to the addition of less-than-mainstream ingredients to our diet.  Since then, I've been keeping an eye out for quinoa recipes, so when I saw the combination of quinoa and salmon on The Way the Cookie Crumbles, I added it to our weekly menu.

I used fresh salmon rather than the smoked salmon Bridget used, omitted the dill and cucumber and added sliced scallions.  This was a hit in our house, surprisingly so with Alexa.  She sneaked salmon from the mixing bowl while we were waiting for the quinoa to cook, and practically ate her weight in "funny rice."  With a side of lightly steamed sugar snap peas, this was a delicious, healthy dinner that the whole family enjoyed.

Salmon and Quinoa Salad

What's in it:

1 c quinoa
2-3 c chicken broth
1/2 tsp salt
16 oz cooked salmon, flaked

1 lemon, juice and zest
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
4 oz feta cheese, chopped or crumbled

How to make it:

Rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer until water runs clear and foaming stops.  Cook the quinoa according to the package directions, using chicken broth in place of water and adding the salt and the zest of the lemon.   Drain off any unabsorbed water.

Let the quinoa cool slightly, then mix in the salmon and remaining ingredients.   Let sit for a few minutes, then serve.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rosemary-Lemon Beef Kebabs

When I first saw this recipe at the Kitchn, I was a little surprised to see that it was for beef, not chicken.  For some reason, the familiar combination of garlic, rosemary and lemon seemed too delicate for beef.  But letting the tender chunks of beef sit in the marinade for a bit, the flavors definitely become strong enough to show through.

Better yet, this whole meal came together on the grill.  We tossed asparagus and leftover pepper pieces with some reserved marinade and sauteed them in a grill basket, warmed a couple of tortillas on the top rack, and everything was ready to go.  I didn't follow the original recipe's suggestion for grilled pita this time, but I think that it would be a great addition to the meal.  

Rosemary-Lemon Beef Kebabs

What's in them:

2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped finely
1 tsp salt
zest and juice of half a lemon
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb. sirloin, cut into 1" chunks
1 bell pepper, any color

How to make them:

Mix garlic through olive oil, then toss beef and bell pepper with it to evenly coat.  Let sit for 1-2 hours.

Thread beef and bell peppers onto metal skewers, alternating each.  Grill over medium-high heat, for about 15 minutes, turning the skewers every three or four minutes.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Food for Thought: Are Farmers' Markets More Expensive?

An recent article in The Atlantic called The Farmers' Market Myth contended that the general opinion that produce and other goods at the farmers' market were more expensive than their grocery store counterparts was in fact just that: a myth.  Over the last couple of months, I've been paying a little more attention to prices, and was a little surprised to find that this was true.  I'd always assumed that what little extra I might pay at the market was worth it for a fresher, better tasting product.  For me, the real luxury seems to be the time to go to both the farmers' market for produce, meat and other fresh items, and the grocery store for the rest of my list.

What's your experience?  Do you save or spend more at your farmers' market?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lamb Burgers with Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Spread

Growing up, my mom often made lamb patties, usually served with couscous or tabbouleh.  I can't remember if I was particularly enthusiastic about them (I know I wasn't about tabbouleh), but I sure am now.  But now that it's getting hot out, boiling water and heating skillets just isn't appealing.  Lucky for me, though, anything patty-shaped can be turned into a burger and cooked outside. 

These were so good.  A little rich, but a lemony Greek salad kept the meal from being too heavy.  I used thyme, but I think that oregano, parsley or even a little mint would be delicious as well.

Lamb Burgers with Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Spread

What's in them:

1 lb ground lamb
1/4 c finely diced red onion
2 garlic cloves, minced, divided
2 Tbsp fresh thyme
2 tsp + 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/3 c crumbled feta cheese
2 tsp lemon juice
2-3 Tbsp mayo, to taste
1 red bell pepper, or 1/2 c jarred roasted red peppers
4 hamburger buns
fresh spinach for topping burgers

How to make them:

Combine ground lamb with red onion through black pepper, using 2/3 of the garlic and 2 teaspoons of the balsamic vinegar.  Form the mixture into four patties.

Stir feta, remaining garlic and balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and mayo together, making a chunky spread.

Grill lamb patties and bell pepper, if using, until burgers are medium well and pepper is well-charred.  Let burgers rest, and place pepper in a zip-top bag or paper bag to loosen skin.  When the pepper is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and seeds, and slice into strips. 

Stack a patty, then spinach then pepper on each bun.  Spread some of the feta mixture on the top half of each bun, place on top, and enjoy!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Strawberry Basil Sorbet

Yes, this is the second strawberry post in about a week.  Once they're here, I can't resist them.  And there's an herb hiding in here, too.  But the difference is that you can enjoy this sorbet by the spoonful.  Because let's face it, as good as strawberry jam is, you don't really get to eat it with a spoon. 

This is a pretty basic sorbet recipe, but the basil gives it some depth.  Like the jam, the herb flavor is subtle, but it's enough to provide some interest, and enhances the bright strawberry flavor beautifully.

Strawberry Basil Sorbet
adapted from The Perfect Scoop, via Annie's Eats

What's in it:

1 1/2 lb fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled and sliced
2-3 large basil leaves, chiffonade
1 c sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
Pinch of salt

How to make it:

Combine strawberries, basil and sugar in a medium bowl, and stir until sugar dissolves.  Let stand for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

Pour the strawberry mixture, lemon juice and salt into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Press the mixture through a strainer to remove the seeds if desired.

Chill the mixture thoroughly (for ice creams and sorbets, I make the base the night before I plan to freeze it), then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Crab and Avocado Melts

Weekend lunches are often an afterthought for me.  I'm all over leisurely weekend breakfasts, Saturday night pizza and Sunday dinner, but lunch seems to get lost in the shuffle of outings, errands and general relaxation.  Last weekend, though, we were home between two out of town trips, and I was missing being in the kitchen.  Suddenly, lunch seemed like a lot more fun.  Always a sucker for a dressed up sandwich, I went with these crab and avocado melts.

Inspired by a sandwich special I had at Brick Alley on a work trip to Cape Cod a few months ago, I made a pretty classic crab salad, using red bell pepper instead of celery, and included a layer of creamy avocado.  Topped with sharp cheddar and broiled just long enough to melt it, these knife-and-fork sandwiches made a Saturday lunch a little more special.

Crab and Avocado Melts

What's in them:

1/2 small red bell pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp mayo
1 Tbsp sour cream
8 oz. crab meat, picked over for shell pieces (I used fresh claw meat, but feel free to use anything from canned to lump crab here)
salt & pepper
2 tsp butter
2 English muffins
1 avocado, sliced
1-2 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded or thinly sliced
4 thin red onion slices
4 tomato slices

How to make them:

Combine bell pepper through crab meat, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Split English muffins, butter each half, and toast under the broiler for a few minutes, until just slightly golden.  Divide avocado between the muffin halves, using a fork to lightly mash so that avocado is spread evenly.  Top each with a quarter of the crab salad, red onion, then cheese.  Put back under the broiler, and toast until cheese is melted and just starting to bubble.

Serve immediately, with tomato slices.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Balsamic Strawberry Jam with Thyme and Black Pepper

Summer is officially here.  The weather is hot, and sometimes muggy, schools are starting to go on break, and the pools are open.  But my favorite sign of summer is the abundance of fresh strawberries at the farmers market.  These berries are sweet, dark red when you cut into them, and make the whole car smell like strawberries on the drive home.  To keep a little bit of summer for this coming fall and winter, I decided to make jam out of some of my strawberry stash.

This jam is really delicious.  It's subtly herby from the thyme, with just a little bite from the pepper.  The balsamic vinegar gives it just enough acidity to keep the jam from being too sweet.  But even with all of these flavors, it's still the strawberries that take the forefront here, tasting just like summer.  The savory-sweet combination lends itself equally well to Saturday morning scones or spread with goat cheese on crostini for a quick appetizer.

Balsamic Strawberry Jam with Thyme and Black Pepper
adapted from Serious Eats

What's in it:

2 lbs 10 oz granulated sugar (about 7 cups)
3 lbs stemmed, hulled, and sliced strawberries (about 8 cups)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
5-6 fresh thyme sprigs
1-2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 (1.75-ounce) package regular powdered fruit pectin
1/2 teaspoon olive oil

If canning:

8 half pint-size canning jars with lids
boiling water canner
 How to make it:

Prepare canning jars.  Measure granulated sugar into large bowl. Set aside.

Combine crushed strawberries, balsamic vinegar, thyme and pepper in a heavy 6-8 qt saucepan or stockpot. Whisk in pectin until dissolved. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil (boiling does not go down when the mixture is stirred) over high heat, stirring constantly. 

Add the sugar all at once, stirring until dissolved. Stir in olive oil (this helps prevent too much foam from forming). Stirring constantly, return mixture to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for one minute. Remove pot from heat and skim off any foam from surface of jam.

Ladle hot jam into hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Remove thyme sprigs as you come across them (using tongs would probably be a good idea, or you can pull them out with your fingers and fling them into the sink, yelling "Hot!  Hot!" the whole time like I did).

Wipe rims of the jars, cover with lids, and screw bands on until just barely tight. Place jars on rack in pot and cover completely with water. Cover pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, uncover pot, and allow jars to rest in water for five minutes. Remove jars from pot and allow them to rest undisturbed on countertop for six hours or overnight.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Friday Food for Thought: Do You Measure by Weight or Volume?

Food scales are one of those things that often seems to be all or nothing.  Some people use it exclusively, whether to accurately size food portions or because they like the precision, while others feel like it's an extra step that doesn't make a big enough difference to bother with.  I tend to fall into the latter category, eyeballing the ingredients as I add them or using traditional measuring cups and spoons. 

But this article from Slate is making me rethink this approach, especially with baking.  Michael Ruhlman's point that five cups of flour can be anywhere from 20 to 30 ounces makes it hard to deny that weight, rather than volume, is the way to go, especially in recipes where the proportions of ingredients make a big difference in the final product.

Do you measure by weight or volume?  When do you use a food scale?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chocolate Cherry Birthday Cupcakes

We were in Florida over the holiday weekend to celebrate my grandmother's 90th birthday.  It was a great party with lots of friends and family, but we didn't want to overlook the fact that it was also the day before my dad's 60th birthday!  I asked what kind of cupcakes he would want, and he went with classic chocolate cake topped with cherry buttercream.  Happy Birthday, Dad!

This chocolate cake was surprisingly rich considering that there's not a lot of chocolate in it, and very moist.  The cherry buttercream was delicious- I couldn't find the tart cherry preserves called for in the original recipe, but regular sweet preserves worked fine, since the cake itself wasn't particularly sweet.  I halved both recipes for an even dozen cupcakes, with some frosting leftover.

Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes
cake from Wilton, cherry buttercream from Food Network

What's in them:

For the cupcakes:

  • 2 c all-purpose flour, unsifted

  • 1 tsp baking powder

  • 1 tsp baking soda

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 3/4 c butter, room temperature

  • 2 c sugar

  • 3 eggs (if halving, use 1 egg and 1 egg yolk)

  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

  • 1 Tbsp instant coffee or espresso

  • 1 1/2 c milk

  • 3 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted

  • For the frosting:

  • 4 - 4 1/2 c confectioners' sugar

  • 1 1/2 c unsalted butter, softened

  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract

  • 3 to 4 Tbsp milk

  • 2/3 c cherry preserves

  • cherry halves for garnishing

  • How to make them:

    Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine flour, baking powder, soda and salt. In large bowl, cream butter and sugar with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and vanilla and instant coffee; beat thoroughly. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beating well after each addition. Add melted chocolate and beat thoroughly. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes in pan on rack; remove and cool completely before decorating.

    While cupcakes are baking, make the buttercream.   In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle or whisk attachment, mix together 4 cups of the powdered sugar and the butter on medium-low speed until well blended. Add the vanilla and milk and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Beat in the cherry preserves until well incorporated.  Add more powdered sugar to reach your desired consistency.  I left mine a little on the soft side so that I could gently spread with a spoon for a smooth finish. 

    Frost cupcakes either by spreading or piping the buttercream onto them.  Top each with a cherry half.