Saturday, September 4, 2010

Mint-cilantro pesto

Cheese ravioli with steamed white rose
potatoes and mint-cilantro pesto.

I am a big fan of the cilantro. And mint ain't half bad either.
So the idea of a pesto that uses both of those, a nice Parmesan cheese and some pine nuts? Yeah, I like that idea. A lot!
This is an easy, versatile sauce.It is great on ravioli (get the pre-made ones from the store for a very quick dinner) and a nice condiment for kebabs (lamb, beef or chicken - I have not tried it with shrimp, that could be good, too).
I like a traditional pesto, made with basil, just fine. But the brightness of the mint and the cilantro just make this shine as a "summer" pesto. Though I will be making this all through the fall and winter.

Grilled lamb and veggie kebabs with mint-cilantro pesto.

Mint-cilantro pesto

1 cup packed, fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
3 tablespoons pine nuts
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (plus more to taste if you like it lemony)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil (I use a fairly good one here since the oil is key to pesto)

Blend mint, cilantro, pine nuts, cheese, garlic, lemon juice and salt and pepper to a coarse puree in a food processor. Keeping the food processor running, slowly pour in olive oil and puree until almost smooth.
Taste and add lemon, salt and pepper to taste, if needed.

Enjoy on your favorite pasta for a really quick dinner (seriously, there are some really good pre-made raviolis and tortellini out there!) as a dip for a good crusty bread, as a dipping sauce for grilled meat or veggies.

Really, just enjoy!

By the way, if you are looking for more ways to zip up that store-bought ravioli, check out these ideas from Real Simple.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Citrus and beer steamed tilapia - on the grill

Well, I am not sure where the warm weather went, but there for a few days we had a hot spell and I was determined to cook everything on the grill that I could.
One of my favorite things to do is to cook using foil packets, and one of the best things to do in those packets is fish. In this case I went for tilapia because it was cheap, it looked nice and fresh and it just sounded good.
This was an easy prep and a short cooking time on the grill, which was really just a bonus to how good it tasted.
This is from an Epicurious recipe that I modified. They called for flounder. I called for tilapia.

Before cooking.

Citrus and beer steamed tilapia - on the grill

(two servings)

2 small shallot bulbs, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 thin slices of lime
2 thin slices of orange
2 tablespoons butter
2 tilapia fillets
4 sprigs fresh thyme
cayenne or black pepper
6 tablespoons beer (I used Sam Adams, because that is what I had - white wine works, too)

two pieces of aluminum foil, each twice as long as the pieces of fish (maybe 14-inches long)

Arrange foil pieces over a shallow baking dish or pie pan, sort of lining the pan to create a bowl-like space for your ingredients, leaving an overhang that will be sealed up to create your packet.

Divide shallots and garlic equally and sprinkle into the foil "bowl."
Put two slices of lime and one slice of orange into each packet.
Put 1 tablespoon of butter into each packet.
Set a piece of tilapia on top of this and season lightly with pepper and salt.
Arrange thyme sprigs on top of fish.
Pour 3 tablespoons of beer into each packet.

Gather excess foil and roll to seal the edges.
When your grill is heated on medium-high heat, put the packets (seam side up) on the rack and cook 10 minutes.

After cooking.

I think if you don't like beer, you can definitely use white wine.
If beer or wine is not an option, a little broth of some type probably would work. Or maybe clam juice. I figured there is so little alcohol in the beer and what is there cooks off anyway.

The beer and butter make for a nice little sauce that steams the fish beautifully.
The cayenne adds just a touch of heat. And the citrus is, well, citrusy and lovely.

I served this with grilled white corn and red potatoes that I also had roasted on the grill.
My only regret was that I did not have a lovely, crusty piece of bread to sop up that extra cooking sauce.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Steak bun - nope, not a sandwich!

Looking for a cool dish for a hot day, I came across this recipe for a Vietnamese noodle salad in the newest issue of EatingWell.

It did involve a fair amount of chopping and prep at the front end. But nothing was complicated and I was able to get this together in about 35-40 minutes.

It turned out to be a good option for a warm day.

The recipe from Eating Well called for pan-cooking the steak. I opted to grill it. I think I made the right choice. First of all because it meant not having to clean that pan later. Also because I prefer grilled steak.

I also added a hit of Sriracha chili sauce to the dressing because I like a little heat. That is up to the maker, I suppose.

Here is my version.

Steak bun (Vietnamese noodle salad)

makes about 6 servings

1 tablespoon canola oil
2 large NY strip steaks (1-1 1/4 inches thick), trimmed of fat
6 ounces wide rice noodles (I used the Thai rice noodles from Trader Joe's since I had them.)
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
4 cups shredded napa cabbage
1 1/2 cups shredded carrot
1 cup thinly sliced radishes
1 cup slivered fresh basil and/or mint (I used a combination of these and it was good.)
1/2 cup finely chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
1 tsp Sriracha or chili paste (I started with a little and added until I got the heat level I wanted)
Salt and pepper

Heat grill over high heat.
Season steak with salt and pepper.
Cook, turning once, until cooked through to your liking. Let rest on a clean cutting board for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook rice noodles according to the package directions, until just tender. Drain the noodles and rinse under cold water.

Whisk vinegar, fish sauce, sugar and Sriracha to taste in a large bowl until the sugar is dissolved.

In a large bowl, toss the dressing with the noodles, cabbage, carrot, radishes, herbs and peanuts.
Then plate up your portions.

Slice the steak into thin strips and serve it on top of the noodle salad. (I cooked two steaks, but each portion only had about half a steak each sliced on top of it since they were big steaks. Then I had some left to eat later without any meat.)

Grilling the meat was the way to go. The EW version also mentions sirloin as a possibility.
I think this would be good with grilled chicken or shrimp, too. Or even just as a meatless option.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Low-and-slow baby back ribs

Sorry the picture is not the best. I forgot the real camera,
so this was taken with my phone. And I was anxious to sink
my teeth into those ribs, so I kind of rushed the shot.

Living in Southern California, it is pretty much barbecue weather all year long.
But summer is, of course, prime season for grilling.
And ribs are always a favorite at any cookout.
I have tried several methods for making barbecued ribs.
The method that yields the most tender, flavorful ribs for me is a combination of a long briny soak, a low-and-slow roasting in the oven then a quick trip around the grill.
I also like to use a dry rub after brining and before roasting.
Sauce or no sauce is up to the cook. Sometimes I like no sauce, letting the brine and rub shine through. Sometimes I like to use a little sweet, spicy sauce.

So yes, these take a while from start to finish, but most of the time is not active time.
If you plan on making these, allow overnight to brine and a good 2-3 hours of roasting before you need to grill them.
They can be brined and roasted ahead of time and then grilled later. I have done this where I have cooked them on a Saturday and grilled them on a Sunday. It works just fine.

Low-and-slow baby back ribs

4-6 servings (depending on how hungry you are!)

for the brine:
8 cups water
1/2 cup kosher or sea salt
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons black peppercorns, cracked (I use a mortar and pestle to crack the spices)
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, cracked
2 tablespoons coriander seeds, cracked
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried marjoram or oregano
3 garlic cloves, smashed or split horizontally
4 pounds pork baby back ribs (I cut the racks in half so they will fit in the pan I use)

for the rub:
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

make the brine:
In large pot combine water, salt, sugar, spices, herbs and garlic. Simmer and stir until sugar and salt dissolve.
Either arrange the ribs to fit into the pot with the brine, making sure they are fully submerged, or arrange them in a single layer in a roasting pan and pour the brine over them.
Refrigerate, covered, for 8-12 hours.

make the rub:
Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container until needed.

once the ribs are brined:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove the ribs from the brine, rinse and pat dry.
Divide the rub evenly over the ribs and rub it into the meat.
Arrange the ribs in a single layer on a baking sheet or sheets and cover with foil.
Roast for about 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender.

Either grill the ribs now, or put them in the fridge to grill later.

grill the ribs:
Get the grill started, it is ready at a medium-high heat.
If you use sauce, brush the ribs lightly with your favorite barbecue sauce.
Grill the ribs for 5-10 minutes, turning occasionally, until they are done to your liking.

I like these with and without sauce, probably a little on the longer end of grilling time. I like them to get a little crispy outer crust on them and the meat inside stays very tender and moist from the roasting.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bacon-y tomato soup with red peppers and goat cheese

I am that person who can eat soup pretty much any day of the year.
I like it in cold weather and I like it in hot weather.
I am a soup person.

Lately I have taken to making a simple dinner at least one night a week. Often this involves some combination of soup, salad and/or sandwich.

I enjoy all sorts of soups, but really like a puree.

Combining several favorite flavors and using ingredients I already had on hand, I made a lovely puree:
Bacon-y tomato soup with red peppers and goat cheese

Serves 4
8 slices bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces - I like the Nieman Ranch bacon from Trader Joe's
1 small white onion
3 garlic cloves
6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
3 stalks celery, diced
3 carrots, diced
14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes, with the juice
8 ounces roasted red pepper, drained and chopped
15 ounce can of white or pinto beans, drained
4-5 cups chicken broth
3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
creme fraiche or sour cream, optional

Cook the bacon in a large stock pot. Once bacon is crisp, remove from pan and set aside.
Discard all but about 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat.
In the remaining bacon fat cook the onion, garlic and thyme until soft.
Add celery and carrots and cook on medium heat about 10 minutes, until soft.
Add tomatoes with juice, red peppers and beans.
Stir in 4 cups of the chicken broth and cook on medium heat about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat.

Using an immersion blender, puree soup until it is smooth (or to the texture you like). Add more broth as needed to get the texture you like.
(If you do not have an immersion blender, puree in batches in a food processor or blender. Return soup to pan when done.)

Put soup back on medium heat and add goat cheese, stirring until cheese is melted.
Salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, ladle soup into bowls. If you like, add a small dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream.
Divide chives and sprinkle on top of soup.
Finally, sprinkle bacon pieces over the whole thing.

I, of course, added the creme fraiche.
I actually got five decent sized servings out of this.
For dinner for two at home I paired this with grilled white cheddar sammies on sourdough.
The remaining three servings went to my mom, sister and brother-in-law.
They all raved about the soup.
I am guessing it was even better the next day when they ate it. It is just that kind of soup.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fig and goat cheese tart with arugula salad

I saw a version of this on the Whole Foods blog and immediately knew that I wanted to try it.
I have had their Adriatic Fig Spread before, and it is perfect with strong cheeses.
Plus, Marcona almond crust made with honey?

The differences in my version and the Whole Foods version is that I used a slightly larger tart pan, but I doubled the recipe. So you get a thicker crust, more fig, more cheese ...
And I added pine nuts to my version and served the arugula salad on the side so people could take it if they wanted it.

A note: Marcona almonds are a Spanish almond. They are sweeter than the standard almond and are lightly fried in oil and salted with a little sea salt. I got these at Whole Foods, but I believe they also have them at Trader Joe's.

Fig and goat cheese tart with arugula salad

1 cup Marcona almonds
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
5 tablespoons honey
8-ounce jar of fig spread (I like the one from Whole Foods)
5 1/2 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup pine nuts
4 cups packed baby arugula
4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Equipment: 10-inch fluted tart pan - the kind that is the fluted sides and the flat bottom piece

Steps: Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Grind almonds and 1/2 cup flour to a coarse powder in a food processor. Add remaining flour and process until well blended.

Add butter to nut-flour mixture and pulse until blended.

Add honey and pulse until clumps of dough begin to form, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.

Lightly spray tart pan with non-stick spray.

Press dough into the bottom of the pan, building it evenly up the sides. Freeze 15 minutes until firm.

Bake crust for about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. (Crust can be made the day before and kept covered until you are ready for the next step.)

Spoon fig spread evenly over the crust and evenly distribute crumbled goat cheese and pine nuts on top.

Bake about 10 minutes longer until crust is golden brown and goat cheese is softened. Allow to cool slightly.

While tart is cooling, toss arugula with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Top tart with arugula and serve.

I took this to a girls night gathering. It was a great choice to have with red or white wine (I have to say, it really was great with the 2002 Lamborn Napa Valley Zinfandel that I brought.)

The arugula adds a nice, cool crunch and the balsamic on the salad really complements the fig and cheese.

The best part other than how good it tasted? It was really pretty easy to make.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Crock-pot braised short ribs with mushrooms and carrots

Continuing in my attempts to make dinners that are easy but still amazing, I am trying to use the slow cooker a little more often.

I also am trying to save myself some time by buying things that are already prepped to some degree. So for this recipe, I bought pre-sliced mushrooms. I used canned tomatoes. For the side dish of sauteed greens, I bought a bag of mixed greens from Trader Joe's that are already cut and cleaned. The jasmine rice came from Trader Joe's freezer case and was nuked hot in just a few minutes.

Really, the toughest thing about making these braised short ribs was chopping an onion. Oh, and waiting all day at work to get home and eat dinner!

Crock-pot braised short ribs with mushrooms and carrots
(makes 4 servings)

8 boneless beef short ribs
kosher or sea salt
black pepper
1 cup beef broth
1 cup dry red wine
14.5 ounces canned, diced tomatoes (with juice)
4 bay leaves
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 small white onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
8 sprigs Italian parsley
8 carrots, peeled

Season the ribs with salt and pepper and place in an even layer in the slow cooker.
Add broth, wine, tomatoes and bay leaves.
Mix onions, mushrooms and garlic and add to slow cooker.
Layer Italian parsley sprigs over the top.
Arrange carrots on top of parsley.
Cook in crock pot on low heat for 8 hours.

Remove bay leaves and parsley before serving.

I served this over jasmine rice with some of the extra juice from the crock pot.
Also on the side were the mixed greens that I sauteed with some sliced onions and veggie broth.

This is like pot roast from my dreams. And it makes terrific leftovers.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Jalapeno mac n cheese n cheese n cheese

Somehow I made it to the ripe old age of 38 without ever making homemade mac n cheese.
I decided to give it a try for a potluck at work.
How did I never know how easy this stuff is?

Jalapeno mac n cheese n cheese n cheese

1 pound elbow macaroni or shell pasta
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
6 tablespoons flour
3 cups half and half or whole milk

1 package (5.2 ounces) Boursin garlic and herb cheese
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
8 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded
2-3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped (I used 2, but could have used 3)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs (I used half panko, half fine bread crumbs)
3 tablespoons melted butter

Grease or spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray or baking dish. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the pasta in boiling water following package directions. Drain and rinse; set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt butter. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until smooth and bubbly. Add the milk or half-and-half and Boursin cheese. Cook, stirring, until hot and thickened. Add the cheese and peppers. Cook, stirring, until cheese has melted. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Combine the sauce with the pasta and stir to blend. Spoon into prepared baking dish.

Toss melted butter and bread crumbs together and sprinkle over the casserole. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until bubbly and lightly browned.

I like the bread crumbs to be pretty toasty, so I gave it a few minutes under the broiler to get them very golden and toasty.

This seemed to go over pretty well at the potluck. I made a big pan of it for that and a smaller pan for Nick and I to have for dinner with a salad on the side.

There were no leftovers at all.

I used two jalapenos in this, but I think one more would have been good for a little more heat.

Or, if you want more chile flavor but not more heat, maybe add in some roasted red pepper or a small can of chopped ortega chiles.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

grilled lamb chops with smoked paprika and garlic (and a link to lemony chick pea salad)

I got a nice little package of lamb at Trader Joe's and decided that I wanted to do something different than my normal grilled lamb chops with redcurrant glaze.
I really like the flavor and aroma of smoked paprika, so I decided to try a simple rub with garlic and smoked paprika and then cook the chops in the grill.

The chops I used are the small, lollipop type chops.

This recipe fits into the 3-4 ingredient category even though it is not from my 3-4 ingredient cookbook.

Grilled lamb chops with smoked paprika and garlic
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
8-10 small (lollipop) lamb chops
salt and pepper

Combine smoked paprika, garlic and olive oil in a small bowl.

Season chops with salt and pepper.

Rub the chops all over with the paprika-garlic rub and let sit for at least 30 minutes.
Grill on high heat about 3-4 minutes on each side.

Boom. Done. Simple.

These were really good and really tender. It was a nice change from the sweeter redcurrant chops.

I served the lamb with lemony chick pea salad from Food & Wine's Web site and some sauteed mixed greens.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

salmon with arugula and warm lentil salad

Since I had the baby, dinner is all about what is easy. But it also still needs to be up to my dinner standards.
This dish fits the bill perfectly.
The lentils are very flavorful and hearty as a side dish. They could be a meal if you are as big a fan of lentils as I am.
They also would go great not just with the salmon, but with most main dishes. I think a grilled or roasted chicken would be good with the tangy mustard flavor of the lentils.

Salmon with arugula and warm lentil salad
(modified from a Real Simple recipe)
makes 4 servings

1 pound cooked lentils (I cheated and used Trader Joe's steamed lentils)
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
4 pieces skinless salmon fillet
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 bunch arugula, torn (about 4 cups)
1 lemon, cut into wedges
kosher salt
ground black pepper

heat lentils microwave or on stove top until very warm
mix together 2 tablespoons oil, the vinegar, mustard, onion and parsley
season to taste with salt and pepper
stir in lentils and set aside

heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in a skillet on medium-high heat
season salmon with salt and pepper
cook salmon about 4 minutes on each side, or until opaque

To serve mound about 1 cup of arugula on the plate, spoon lentils over arugula.
Serve fish on the side with a wedge of lemon.

I also served this with some lemon-herb poached baby artichokes that I had left over from the previous night.