Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Watermelon Salad

A couple of years ago I was working with Charlie Trotter's Catering around the Chicago area and a this salad popped up at several events during the summer. I am not saying that I have the top secret Trotters recipe, but you can see that it is simple enough to do without one. When you first read the ingredients it sounds odd but they really play well together to make a beautiful light refreshing salad that lends itself to a picnic or BBQ.
As is kind of normal with me there is no real recipe this salad contains:
Watermelon cut into a 1 inch dice
Feta Cheese
Fresh mint
Olive oil
Fresh ground pepper
Kosher Salt
First dice your watermelon and Feta cheese and put those ingredients into a large bowl, then cut the fresh mint into a fine chiffonade and sprinkle on top. Poor on a little olive oil and toss. The olive oil helps all of the ingredients work together. Crack a little pepper on top then add a pinch of salt and you are ready to go.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Island Tea

After all the work I have on the grill lately I wanted to relax yesterday after work with a nice cold cocktail that I could just sip and enjoy. This one makes me think of spending some time on a beach and letting life go by even if it is only for a few minutes. It is simple, refreshing and really good. The ingredients are:

2 1/2 oz Dark Rum
3-4 mint leaves to muddle
1 sprig of mint to garnish
6-8 oz of tea (mine was hot because I just made it)
1 1/2 tsp simple syrup
Put the Mint leaves in a Pint Glass and Muddle with a wooden spoon
fill glass with ice, add Rum Simple Syrup and Tea Garnish with Mint Sprig.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Grilled Pizza

OK, I start this post a little defencive, it looks like this is becoming a grilling blog instead of a general foodie nerd blog. In my defence after I had made a few grill related posts already the temperatures in the Chicago area jumped from spring like and pleasant to downright Floridian (upper 90s and so HUMID) so the thought of turning on my oven is just out of the question. So please bear with me for a few out door related posts, I will bring it back inside soon.

I wanted to make pizza, without heating up my kitchen and in the process really my entire house the obvious answer is to make it on the grill. My preference for home made pizza crust has always been French Bread Dough. It is sturdy enough to hold up to generous pizza toppings and the recipe is forgiving enough to allow me some leeway with ingredients, below is the basic recipe that I used:

2 Cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp distilled white vinegar

1 tsp dry active yeast
1/2 + 1/3 cup water

Put the yeast and 1/3 cup warm water (105-115 F) and set aside for about 5 minutes until it begins to activate (gets foamy)

Put the flour and salt into a mixing pan then add the yeast mixture while stirring with dough hooks, add the splash of vinegar and continue to mix until it forms a ball that pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl.

Cover the bowl with a slightly damp towel and let it sit in a warm spot for an hour or so kneed it a few times to deflate during that hour.

For the sauce I have to admit that I almost bought a pre-made sauce, because I was feeling a little lazy, but decided against it. The pre-made Pizza sauce that I found was $4.97for a 10 oz package where the 15 oz can of diced tomatoes was $ .87 and I knew would taste better in the end. I have some Basil an Oregano growing in the "garden" so the rest of the ingredients would be easy.

3 cloves fresh garlic
1 small onion
1Tbs Olive oil
1Tbs chopped fresh Basil
2 tsp chopped fresh Oregano
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
15 oz can of diced tomatoes
1/2 can of tomato paste
pinch of pepper
pinch of brown sugar

Start by mincing the garlic and dicing the onions then put into saucepan with hot olive oil. Saute for a few minutes until soft. Then add the Diced Tomatoes (you can use any kind of tomatoes as this all goes into a blender) and keep over medium heat then add the Basil, Oregano, Salt and Pepper. Let this simmer for a while then put into a blender or food processor and puree. Put it all back into the sauce pan and add about 1/3 can of tomato paste and just a little brown sugar. Be careful I like just a little sugar but it is easy to over do. Let it cook for a few more minutes taste and make any adjustments then remove from heat.

First light the grill and when the coals are ready spread them to the edges so you will be cooking with somewhat indirect heat. Now is when the fun begins! Flour a work area and your ball of dough then roll out to about 1/4 inch thick or so. It doesn't seem like too long ago (ok it was about 18 years ago) that I could take a pound and a quarter of French bread dough and roll out a perfect 16 inch circle, obviously I am a little out of practice. In the end the shape doesn't matter as long as it fits on the grill top.

Once it is rolled out put on the grill top and close the lid for a few minutes to cook. The dough should have slight grill marks and start to brown just a little, don't let it go too far it is only half done when you take it off the grill. To do that grab the edge with tongs and pull off the grill onto an inverted baking sheet and return to your floured surface cooked side up. Splash a little Olive Oil onto your crust then add the pizza sauce as much as you like I used a little more than half of what I made. Add any toppings that you like, we (you can see the little hands that obviously aren't mine) used mini pepperoni and Italian sausage. Then topped with cheese, this is a five cheese blend. Slide the pizza back onto the grill top and cover for about 10 minutes, check a few times it is done when it looks like pizza, melty cheese that is slightly brown at the edges with bits of tipping poking through.

I put it on the only pan in our house big enough to hold it and cut. You can tell it is different from an oven baked pizza right away you can hear the crunch of the crust as you cut it and get just a hint of smokey aroma from the pizza as you serve it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

(The Basics) Chiffonade

I understand that all of us come from different backgrounds and
I use Kitchen Language or technical terms that maybe not everyone is familiar
with so I have composed this series of posts to show what I am saying. That way
I don't have to reference Wikipedia when I use culinary language.

Chiffonade is a cutting technique that is used for leafy vegetables or herbs such as Spinach or in these pictures Mint. Using this technique they are cut into long strips. To do this usually the leaves are stacked, then rolled tightly like a cigar then cut into long fine strips with a sharp knife.

"Chiffon" is the French term for "Rag" which refers to the rag like strips that are produced by this technique.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Smoked Ribs

I wanted to try smoking ribs for Father's day, yes the gift to myself was to spend a few hours making dinner. Sometimes a meal that takes awhile to prepare is a bit of a luxury for me so I appreciated the chance to do this. I picked up a full rack of Baby Back Ribs while I was out shopping. On Sunday Morning I put a spice rub on them and let them sit in the refrigerator for about 6 hours. The rub consisted of:

1 TBS Paprika
1 TBS Garlic Powder
1 TBS Cumin
1 TBS Cayenne Pepper
1 TBS Kosher Salt
1 TBS Fresh Cracked Pepper
2 TBS Brown Sugar

about 2 1/2 hours before I was ready to eat I started the grill I used a little less charcoal than I usually use to grill out. Once the coals were hot I pushed them to the sides of the grill and put a drip pan in the center so I could cook with indirect heat. I put a little water into the drip pan so it wouldn't burn too much. I had soaked a large handful of Mesquite woodchips in water for about an hour then put some (about a cup) of them on either side on top of the coals. I had cut the rack of ribs into 3 pieces and put them over the drip pan. Since I was slow cooking I could stack them as you see in the picture. I covered the grill for about 1/2 an hour while they were smoking I made a Mop sauce to put on the ribs as they continued to cook.

The Mop Sauce consisted of:
3/4 cup Cider Vinegar
1 TBS Dijon Mustard
1/2 tsp Salt

It couldn't be easier, after 1/2 hour I spread some sauce on the ribs then rearranged them so they would cook evenly added some wood chips to either side and covered again. If I wanted the grill a little hotter I would open the vents more to cool it some I would close them a little. After another 1/2 hour I set the Ribs on a plate for a minute while I added about 10 Charcoal Briquettes to each side of the grill and another couple of tongs full of wet wood chips. Put it all back together, spread the ribs with the Mop Sauce again and covered the grill for the last 1/2 hour of cooking. While they were sitting in the smoke filled grill for that time I prepared the Slaw (see the post below) as my side dish. I knew the ribs were done when the meat would pull from the bone easily and was tender to when poked with a fork

This made for a beautiful plate the slaw was a light and refreshing addition to the ribs that had a smokey depth to the them that was just wonderful.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer Slaw

I went to the produce store the this weekend, I had already decided that I was going to smoke ribs for dinner on Sunday. I wanted a side dish that would compliment that well, I knew the ribs would be hard to compete with on a plate. I decided on a summer slaw. I wanted to use a more delicate cabbage that would really lend it's self to some subtle flavors. I chose Napa Cabbage for the light flavor and the delicate texture that you can see. For the slaw I used :

1/2 Napa Cabbage head with core removed
1 granny smith apple
1 carrot cut into a fine Julienne
small hand full of almonds toasted
the marinate consisted of:
1 Tbs Sesame Oil
2 Tbs Olive oil
1 Tbs Rice Wine Vinegar
1/2 Tbs Sugar
1 tsp Fennel seed, fine ground in a spice grinder
1 tsp Dijon mustard to bind it all.

I put all of the Marinate Ingredients into a small bowl and emulsified with an immersion blender then set that aside until I was ready to toss the rest of the ingredients.

I put the almonds into a saute pan and heated them on high heat while I cut the Napa Cabbage into fine strips and the Apple and Carrot into a fine Julienne tossed those into a bowl together with the Marinate and topped with the sliced toasted almonds. The marinate on this dish complimented the ribs perfectly, one heavy and smokey the side dish light and tangy... I don't say it often but this is hard to describe the slaw is sharp, slightly sweet and tangy. It really is a perfect dish for the outdoor party or picnic.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Cheesy Potatoes

I talked about this dish a few days ago, this is one of my summer staples the cheesy potatoes cooked on the grill. This is one of those simple dishes that always surprises me, because I get so many requests for it, it is so easy to prepare, there is virtually no clean up and it goes along with what ever you are already cooking on the grill. Along with that I have an indulgent starch without heating up the kitchen. I start with, obviously, potatoes pick your favorites in the pictures I used basic Idaho Russets they are a very versatile potato, sometimes I will get Yukon Golds or your basic Red Potatoes, whatever you like.

If it is a thick skinned potato you will want to peel it first, if you choose reds or Yukon Golds you don't have to. Start by cutting up the potatoes into about 1/2 to 3/4 inch chunks then put them into a microwave safe dish add a little salt, pepper and butter and cook for about 10 to 12 minutes (I have 4 potatoes in the pictures) stir them twice while they cook.

While they are in the Microwave chop up a couple of garlic cloves. When the Potatoes come out of the microwave put about a teaspoon of butter onto a foil sheet then add your garlic and set the potatoes on top. Then I add the Cheeses, first is Parmesan, I don't say this often but use the cheapest out there, it is to absorb some moisture so the potatoes don't come out a big gooey mess. Toss these together on the foil then add your favorite cheeses on top... these have Cheddar, Mozzarella and Colby on them then wrap and it is ready to go.

I put these on a cooler spot of the grill a few minutes before any meat goes on to get them started, I would have to say that the packet of potatoes spends between 25 and 30 minutes on the grill before it is done the last 5 minutes I put it on a hotter spot to caramelize the cheese a little. I like it when the cheese has is just a little brown at the edges.

After it comes off, tear open the package and put on a plate. They are easy to make, taste great and nobody needs to run in and out of the house to check on the side dishes it is all on the grill. You can also bring the potatoes with you if you go somewhere to picnic, the foil package can just be thrown on the grill while at the park or tailgating.

Friday, June 19, 2009

(The Basics) Clarified Butter

I understand that all of us come from different backgrounds and sometimes I
use kitchen language or technical terms that maybe not everyone is familiar
with so I am composing this series of posts to show what I am saying. This
way I don't have to reference Wikipedia when I use culinary language.

Clarified Butter is simply butter that has been heated and the impurities removed. Clarified butter has a very high smoke point so it can be used for many applications without browning or burning. I usually keep some clarified butter in the refrigerator and use it for several applications.

When I Clarify Butter I usually start with about a cup and a half of butter and put it in a small saucepan, you can see this is really a 2 cup stainless measure, and heat over low heat until it is melted.

At this point you want to spoon off the solids that float to the surface and discard them. After they are removed I like to let what is left gently simmer for a few minutes so the water at the bottom of the pan evaporates a little. Then I poor what is left into a small dish that I store in the refrigerator. Be careful not to poor any of the impurities from the bottom of the pan into your storage vessel.

after it sits for a few minutes some foam may come to
the surface. simply spoon that off then store in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tomatillo Sauce

I went to the grocery store on Sunday after all of the birthday party festivities the day prior. My son and I went to do the shopping while the girls went to yet another birthday party. There were about 8 things on the family shopping list, but as usual when I get into a produce department I started to wander around to see what else we "need". Tomatillos were on sale, so I bought six of the paper wrapped fruit then picked up a couple of Jalapenos. I already had the rest of what I needed for this dish already at home. Tomatillo Sauce is very easy with only a few ingredients there is almost no work and only a little bit of active time to make this bright sauce to add to anything that you like from Beef Enchiladas to Tacos it adds a light spark to many dishes. This time I used in on marinated chicken breast cooked on the grill.

The marinade was simple:
Juice from 2 limes
Grated rind from one of the limes
1 TBS of Rice Wine Vinegar
2 Cloves of Fresh Garlic
2 TBS of Chopped Fresh Cilantro (I didn't measure, it is most of a store bought bunch chopped)
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
1 TBS Honey

I Marinated two chicken breasts all day.
When we finished all of the days activities I peeled washed and quartered the tomatillos put them in a small saucepan with:
the juice from one lime
2 cloves of chopped garlic and
1 diced Jalapeno

I let them cook together for about 25 minutes until everything was soft. I put this into the blender and blended until smooth. The mixture went back on the stove top. To that I added a Tablespoon of honey and let it cook while I lit the grill. When the grill was good and hot I put the chicken on and cooked, turning once until done, about 3-4 minutes on each side. I plated it with the Tomatillo Sauce you see served above. The Potatoes are the Cheese potatoes that I cook on the grill all the time, later this week I will post that recipe for all of you.

This really is a good summer dish, it has a bright color, and the flavor just pops the tartness of the tomatillo with the sweetness of the honey and the spicy tang of the fresh Jalapeno works well.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Southwest Sausage and Eggs

It was Saturday Morning we had a busy schedule ahead of us, there we had 2 birthday parties to go to one of them we were hoasting (for our 7 year old) and because of a sudden shift in the weather we were about to shift stratigies from the outdoor trampoline and sprinkler party to the indoor space theme party!

My beautiful bride and I both knew that we weren't going to get a chance to eat from the time we left in the morning until after we picked up the last of the birthday presents at 6:30 pm or so. I wanted to have a little heartier breakfast than my usual combination of grazing and coffee. That morning I thought I would have - for lack of a beter phrase - Huevos Rancheros. Not quite, I didn't have some of the ingredients but I made due with a meal that I wasn't really planning. I had some Chorizo in the Freezer so I cooked that off and put a Corn Tortilla directly on my burner for just a couple of minutes. Once the Sausage was about done I put the tortilla on top of it and cooked it in a covered pan you can see it in the picture above. When that was almost done I cooked two eggs in clarified butter turning once. You can see above they were pretty soft and absolutly wonderful! I would have liked some beans to add to the plate, maybe next time...So there we have it a breakfast that took all of 10 minutes to make with that was hearty enough to stick with me for the next 9 hours of birthday fun.
By the way that last present I talked about was a Kitten.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pesto Chicken

I planted basil about two weeks ago then started to read up on how to cultivate it, most of what I read said that I need to prune it back to promote more growth and a better "harvest" plus I have learned in the past that if basil starts to flower it will get a woody texture and will not work as well for anything that requires fresh basil. I mentioned that last weekend I was poking around the kitchen quite a bit so I decided to use my Basil clippings to make Pesto I had a good sized handful, but didn't really measure it, I washed it and put it in a bowl lined with paper towels for a while to dry.

This is one of those times that I annoy people because I did not measure a thing here I toasted off some slivered almonds on the stove top and set those aside. Then I put the rest of the ingredients: Basil, 3 cloves of Garlic, Olive oil and a little Kosher salt, into the blender and tossed the almonds in on top. I chopped it all together until well blended I had about a half of a cup of fresh Pesto Sauce. I put a about a tablespoon of sauce into a bowl and put a small chicken breast (about 3-4 oz) in and flipped it around a couple of times until coated. I left it on the counter until I cleaned up my mess maybe 10 or 15 minutes, then started my water for pasta and lit a burner under my cast iron grill top.

When the water was about to boil I put the chicken on the hot grill to cook then put the spaghetti into boiling water and put the rest of my pesto into a sauce pan. Whenever I cook chicken on the stove top grill I cover it with a pan lid to hold heat and moisture in I did that when I turned the chicken over the first time. When I turned the chicken over again the pasta had been cooking for about 8 minutes so I covered the chicken and drained the spaghetti then turned the heat on under my sauce pan. My pasta went into the saute pan and the kids went into the sauce pan for the Olive Oil, Parmesan Cheese, garlic treatment that they like. After I coated the pasta well over high heat I Julienned the chicken breast and set it on top.

Pesto made with all fresh ingredients has such a bright, for lack of a better word, summer flavor to it I can't resist bragging that this wasn't a disappointment at all! The flavors just popped when I had them the garlic, basil and olive oil are such a perfect blend.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Peaches, Plums and Chicken

I did the weekly shopping trip on Saturday, as usual I brought my youngest with me, he is three years old and had to walk himself. After all he is obviously too old to ride in the cart, in his eyes anyway. I was picking through produce... peaches sound good, bananas, limes... then then I was loudly informed that he needed a bag too, so I gave him one of the plastic bags off the roll and encouraged him to put some lemons in the bag. Of course with that encouragement he picked up some plums, three of them, dropped them and chased the golf ball sized fruit around on the floor, gathered them up again and with a little help got them in the bag. Since the fruit had been picked up dropped, chased, retrieved and bagged I figured that, ethically, I should buy them.

Later comes the question of what to do with the bruised plums, I was poking around in the kitchen that day so I had time to make a fruit BBQ Sauce. I peeled and pitted two of my peaches and the three plums then peeled and chopped up some ginger I would have to say about a tablespoon and put it all in a small sauce pan with some Tequila and Triple Sec and the juice from one lime. I cooked that until the fruit was falling apart (about half an hour). I used an immersion blender to blend it to liquid form then pored it through a screen strainer into a pan. To that liquid I added about t Tablespoons of Honey and cooked it for another 20 minutes or so. When it was about the consistency of... well BBQ sauce it was done.

I lit the grill and started my side dishes going, when the charcoal was hot (I could hold my hand over it for 3-4 seconds) I started the chicken breast. I put it over a coolish spot of the grill and painted my chicken with the Peach Ginger BBQ Sauce closed the cover and let it cook for about 2 minutes to let the sauce caramelize then turned the chicken, painted and covered. I repeated that a couple of times so I could get the crossed grill marks on the chicken and the flavor soaked in well. The flavor was sweet and fruity (no big suprise there I know) the sauce was smooth and easy to enjoy. I was in such a hurry to get it to plate I forgot to take pictures.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Summer Refreshment

A Few days ago I made Agua Fresca for a light refreshing beverage. It is a drink made with fresh fruit like Watermelon, Mangos or Honeydew with a little water and flavor. The first time I had this I remember thinking that it just made me happy and when I found out how simple it was I was sold. That one was made with Watermelon, since then I have learned to shake them up a bit, so to speak.

The easiest is Watermelon:

2 cups of Watermelon cut large

3-4 cups cold water

2 TSP of Simple Syrup really to taste

Juice from 2 limes

Put all the ingredients into a blender and mix, you dont want to put ice in this so be sure to serve it well chilled.

The ones that I made a few days ago were a little different, I had Strawberries Watermelon and Blueberries for our Memorial Day Cookout. I carried the Red White an Blue theme through the meal as much as I could for fun.

1 cup Watermelon

1 cup of Strawberries and blueberries mixed

3-4 cups cold water

2 TSP Simple Syrup

Juice from 2 Limes

Put it all in the Blender and mix. The Strawberries and Blueberries have quite a bit of pulp when blended so you need to put this through a screen strainer before you serve this, make sure it is ICE Cold.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

In My Travels

Last weekend I went to rural Wisconsin to see my oldest children. I do have a culinary event to write about on that journey, I just haven't had a chance to write it down yet... hopefully I will soon, we found a unique restaurant while there. Anyway while I was out of town my 7 year old drew a picture for me because she missed me. You can see "The Martini" pictured here, actually very well done, even though I went through the trouble of getting the correct glassware the last time I made them usually I have my drink in a rocks glass when I get home. This drawing looks like the beverage that I have when I get home from work most days.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Dr. Pepper Wings

Here is one of my favorites this is Chicken Wings done on the Charcoal Grill it is so easy to prepare and always a hit!

They are so easy, first I poor about 12 oz of Dr. Pepper (Coke or Pepsi as long as it isn't diet) into a sauce pan with about 6 oz of hot sauce, (that is most of a bottle) pick your favorite I used "Louisiana Hot Sauce" because it was on sale. Put the Chicken wings in the sauce pan and set on the grill.

After about 10 minutes take the wings out of the sauce and put them directly on the grill top for about 10 minutes, turning once. Then put them back in the sauce repeat the process for about 45 minutes to an hour. As you cook them the sauce starts to caramelize and thicken a little which is exactly what you want. Each time you take them out of the sauce pan and onto the grill it sticks a little more.

In the end the coating is thick, sweet and spicy and the flavor goes all the way to the bone. These I did the traditional dip in Bleu Cheese Dressing and had them for a light dinner.

The sauce that is left in the pan is sooo good! Thick, spicy and sweet, I am not sure what to do with it, but I saved it this time. I will find a good use for it and write about it soon.