Tuesday, February 26, 2008

MORE grilling in February

Tonight's Menu

  • grilled chicken drumsticks & thighs
  • grilled sweet onion
  • green salad "bar"
Oh dudes. This very nearly went terribly wrong.

Remember when I said it was really warm this weekend? Yeah, yesterday it got up into the 90s. Which is just insane, but it made me want to grill that much more. Now, I read the weather forecast. I knew a cold front was supposed to come through last night, and that today it would be chilly and windy. I just didn't realize HOW chilly and windy. But I had promised my kids grilled chicken for dinner (DH the poultry-allergic guy was working late) and I was determined to deliver.

So, it took forever to light the grill because of the wind. And also because of the wind, the inside of the grill didn't get nearly as hot as I really needed it to. And so everything took FOREVER to cook, but it all worked out okay in the end.

First I rinsed and dried the chicken parts, then I sprinkled them on both sides with Jane's Krazy Salt and freshly ground pepper. Long story short (I had to check them A LOT for doneness, and of course every time I opened the grill, the temperature dropped FURTHER) I ended up cooking them for about 18 minutes skin side down, and another 20 or so skin side up. They actually came out really juicy and delicious with crisp, flavorful skin, but it took about twice as long as usual to get them to that point.

The onion was a good idea in theory. In practice, the lower temperature of the grill kind of worked against me. What I did was peel and slice a sweet yellow onion (a 1015 or Walla Walla or Maui or something like that), layer the slices with dabs of butter, salt and freshly ground pepper, wrap it in heavy-duty foil, and cook it alongside the chicken, turning it halfway through the cooking time. It ended up not cooking and caramelizing as much as I was hoping. Maybe it would have worked better if I'd laid it out in a single layer inside the foil instead of re-assembling it into a round onion shape. Oh well. It was still flavorful, and even the girl child, who NEVER eats onions, thought it was good. Go figure!

Tonight's salad bar was mixed greens, sliced carrots, sliced cucumber, and grape tomatoes.

Come back, warm weather! I'm not done grilling!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Grilling in February

Tonight's Menu

  • grilled boneless pork chops
  • steamed red potatoes
  • grilled asparagus
It was a gorgeous weekend here in central Texas -- brilliantly sunny and in the 70s both Saturday and today -- so I rather sheepishly asked DH to pick up some propane when he was out running errands this morning (I had used the last of ours back in October). This led to a super easy, if not exactly seasonal, dinner.

The thick, boneless pork chops were just sprinkled with Jane's Krazy Salt and garlic pepper and then grilled about 4 minutes per side over high heat. Easy-peasy.

I cut some small red-skinned potatoes in half, then tossed them in a bowl with a bit of water, covered with plastic wrap, and steamed them in the microwave (I used my microwave's "smart" setting for hard fresh veggies). When they were done steaming I just tossed them with a little bit of butter, salt and freshly ground pepper.

For the asparagus, I just snapped off the woody ends, tossed them with some EVOO, salt and pepper, and grilled them on a veggie screen over high heat, tossing them around every couple of minutes. It took maybe 7 minutes total for them to reach the crisp-tender stage.

So easy, and SO yummy! I can't promise I won't be grilling from here on out -- it's been a REALLY warm winter around here and I'm itching for some summery dinner fare. Of course, now that I've said that and we've bought the propane and all, it'll probably snow next week!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Eat your cabbage

Tonight's Menu

  • grilled NY strip steaks
  • chuffed potatoes
  • steamed cabbage
Super easy dinner tonight, y'all.

I had some nice, thick NY strip steaks that I just seasoned with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, then grilled over high heat on my IKEA grill pan. Since the boys like their steak cooked medium, I stuck theirs into the oven for a couple of minutes at 350 degrees to finish them off. They came out tender, juicy and SO yummy. We haven't had much beef the past couple of weeks and I think we were all going through withdrawal!

The chuffed potatoes were the usual -- small red potatoes parboiled for 15 minutes, then drained and chuffed up in a hot pan with butter until golden brown and crispy on the outside.

I usually saute the cabbage, but I had two burners going already so I did things a little differently this time. I just cut about half a head of green cabbage into roughly 1-inch chunks, stuck them in a bowl with a bit of water, covered with plastic wrap and steamed them in the microwave. Then I tossed them with a bit of butter (REAL butter), salt and freshly ground pepper. The cabbage doesn't caramelize this way, but it does come out really tender and sweet.

I swear, I could eat cabbage at every meal. It's so incredibly cheap and believe it or not, it's REALLY good for you. For real. Common green cabbage is packed with fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A, B vitamins, calcium, potassium and all sorts of cancer-fighting phytonutrients. It's a nutritional powerhouse, yo!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Tonight's Menu

  • red beans and rice with sausage
  • cornbread
  • sauteed spinach
  • banana bread pudding with caramel-rum sauce
  • hurricanes (virgin, or not)
So hey, everyone! It's Mardi Gras! And I am SO STUFFED. Let's get right to it.

The red beans and rice were from a mix (Vigo). I KNOW. Shut up, it's only once a year. I've tried making them from scratch and I actually like the mix better. I did add half a pound of sliced beef sausage to them, though.

I've given you the cornbread recipe before.

Fresh baby spinach was just sauteed in a skillet with EVOO until wilted, then seasoned with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

Okay, now the bread pudding! This was sort of an experiment. I was going for Bananas Foster flavors, without having to flambe anything. This is how I made it:

1 loaf stale French bread, cubed
2 bananas, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup butter, melted
5 eggs
1/2 - 3/4 cup brown sugar (I didn't measure it)
1/4 cup dark rum
1 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt
2.5 cups hot milk

Okay, toss the bread cubes and bananas into a casserole dish, pour the melted butter on top, toss with your hands or a big spoon, and set aside.

In a mixing bowl beat the eggs until well combined. Beat in the brown sugar, rum, vanilla and salt. Slowly add the hot milk, beating constantly. Pour this mixture over the bread cubes and bananas, pushing the bread down into the egg mixture to make sure it's all covered. Let sit for about 5 minutes so the bread can absorb the eggs/milk.

Sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg, then bake uncovered at 375 degrees F for about 35 minutes or until set. It will poof up like a souffle and be a bit jiggly, but it shouldn't be runny once it's cooked.

For the caramel-rum sauce, just combine one can of sweetened condensed milk with a tablespoon or so of dark rum in a saucepan. Put it over VERY low heat (or use a double boiler) and stir occasionally until the mixture has thickened and become a light golden brown. This will take a while. If it gets lumpy (mine did), just push it through a sieve. Serve alongside the bread pudding. This is a really easy way to make caramel sauce if you don't have any heavy cream lying around.

The hurricanes were also kind of an experiment because I didn't have some of the necessary ingredients (like passion fruit syrup). So here's how I made those.

6 oz. pineapple juice
6 oz. orange juice
4 oz. guava nectar
juice of one lime
2 oz. grenadine

Combine all of the above for a "virgin" version of the drink. Strain over crushed ice into a hurricane glass and garnish with a wedge of orange and a maraschino cherry. This makes a couple of servings.

For the non-virgin version, add 1 oz. each dark and light rum to each glass and stir.

I am not claiming that this is in any way an "authentic" Mardi Gras meal, but it was yummy!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Crispy chicken

Tonight's Menu

  • pan-fried chicken tenders
  • leftover sweet potato fries
  • green salad "bar"
When I made tilapia breaded in panko recently, the girl child mentioned that the same treatment might be good with chicken. She was so right! I used raw chicken tenders but you could easily use boneless, skinless breasts -- just cut them in long strips. I made them the exact same way I made the tilapia, but this time I seasoned the flour with salt, pepper, dried thyme and a dash of paprika. They were SO GOOD and both of the kids went back for seconds.

I'm not going to lie; this is more trouble than dumping a bunch of frozen, breaded chicken nuggets or strips or whatever onto a cookie sheet and sticking them in the oven. HOWEVER, just like the pan-fried tilapia vs. frozen fish sticks, you control what's in these things. (Seriously, READ THE LABEL on the frozen, breaded chicken bits the next time you're at the store.) Cut back the salt, adjust the seasonings, use whole-wheat flour, use whatever kind of oil you feel comfortable with -- whatever you're into!

Do try the panko, though. I think it makes all the difference in terms of crispness.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Salmon and sweet potatoes

Tonight's Menu

  • baked salmon
  • oven sweet potato fries
  • green salad "bar"
I love salmon but I am pretty much the only one in the family who does, so I don't make it very often. However, last night I made a double batch (er, can you call it a "batch" if it's meat?) of spiced pork tenderloin (broiled for 20 minutes instead of grilled) and decided that anyone who didn't want salmon tonight could have leftover pork. So there!

Anyhoo, the salmon was one of those big fillets, so I just sprinkled it generously with Jane's Krazy Salt and some garlic pepper, then popped it into the oven for about 20 minutes (it was thick -- do 10 minutes per inch) at 450 degrees F. This is my favorite way to make it. I'm not fancy with my fish, as you all know.

Sweet potato fries were made the same way as usual. I took them out of the oven before I cranked it up for the fish.

A couple of people have asked about the salad bar idea, and I explained it in the comments but I'll clarify it here, too. All I do is put the greens/lettuces in a big bowl, then put all the other salad ingredients in separate bowls alongside, kind of like a restaurant salad bar (but on a much smaller scale). That way everyone can mix their salad however they like.

This came about when the boy child, who apparently got tired of picking the stuff he didn't like out of our tossed salads, requested it. It does use up more dishes (and table/counter space) than simply tossing all the salad ingredients together in one large bowl, but aside from that it's really no more trouble to do.

An interesting side effect of this has been that sometimes the kids ignore the lettuce/greens altogether and just pile their plates with the raw chopped veggies/fruits instead. In fact, I think they've both been eating more fruits/veggies at dinner since we started this!