Friday, October 23, 2009

Perfect fall supper

Tonight's Menu

  • cider-braised pork with onions
  • baked sweet potatoes
  • warm apple-pear sauce
Hot damn, I love me some fall food, y'all. I don't know why I associate pork with fall -- maybe because it goes so well with apples? Whatever, this dinner definitely put me in a fall mood!

My sucky supermarket has pork loin on special for $1/pound from time to time, and when they do I buy a HUGE one and portion it out to freeze for later. So, this was a pork loin roast, cut down from a huge loin. Here's a recipe of sorts, based on what I did to it:

1 boneless pork loin roast (about 2-3 lbs.)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
olive oil
1 sweet yellow onion, chopped
1 to 1.5 cups apple cider (I didn't measure it)
1 sprig fresh sage
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme

Season the roast with salt and pepper and, in large pot or dutch oven, brown it on all sides in olive oil. Remove pork from pan and add onion, sauteing until it barely starts to go translucent. Add pork and any accumulated drippings back to pan, along with apple cider. Tie the herbs into a bundle with kitchen twine and tuck them into the pan alongside the pork. Cover and simmer for about 2 hours, turning the pork halfway through cooking time.

When pork is done, remove from pan and tent with foil. Remove herb bundle, turn heat to medium high and cook cider-onion mixture until reduced by at least half (watch so it doesn't burn). Slice pork and serve with cider-onion sauce.

The sweet potatoes were just baked in the microwave, then topped with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Or scooped up plain, if you're the boy child. He says they taste like candy even without the added sugar. What is WRONG with this kid? Heh.

The apple-pear sauce was SUPER easy. The hardest part was peeling the pears and apples and cutting them into chunks. I used some teensy pears ("sugar pears", I think they were called?) that I bought at Sam's the other day. They are SO sweet and delicious and almost at the point of being overripe now, so I wanted to use them up. I peeled and chunked maybe six of them (again, they were TINY -- the size of small plums!) along with two small-ish Granny Smith apples. I just plopped them into a pan with a little bit of water and let them simmer, covered, for about an hour. Then I went at them with my immersion blender to break them down just a bit (I left them a little bit chunky but you could do a totally smooth sauce by pushing them through a sieve). I tasted to see how sweet they were and added sugar as needed. And that's it!

I don't have a timeline for you per se, but I can tell you that I started the pork first since it had to cook for two hours. After it had been going for half an hour, I started prepping the apples and pears and I put those on for the last hour of the pork's cooking time. Since the sweet potatoes were cooked in the microwave, I put them in about half an hour before everything else was done and then wrapped them in foil and let them sit until serving time.

You all know I love to grill, but I'm so excited that fall is here and I can starting braising and stewing and roasting again. Yay, fall!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Soup weather

Tonight's Menu

  • Portuguese soup w/sausage, cabbage and potatoes
It's been really damp and chilly the past few days here -- perfect soup weather! This is one of my favorite soups for fall and winter. It's not heavy but it really warms you up and is very satisfying. The original recipe made a TON and included kidney beans, which I love but DH and the girl are allergic to. So here's my version:

1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 pound kielbasa or smoked beef sausage, sliced into half-moons
1/2 head of cabbage, chopped
about 6 red-skinned new potatoes, cut in chunks
4 cups beef broth
1 cup water
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

In a large soup pot or dutch oven, saute onion and garlic in some olive oil over medium heat until softened and translucent. Add sausage and brown it just a bit. Add cabbage, potatoes, broth, water, ketchup and vinegar to the pot and bring it to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes or so. Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving.

Really yummy and even better the second day!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Stupid easy food for a (small) crowd

Tonight's Menu

  • oven-cooked beef brisket
  • whole-grain tortilla chips w/bottled salsa
  • coleslaw
Hey, so tomorrow is my birthday and today we had my parents over to celebrate. Which presented a TINY conundrum -- I don't really feel like I should HAVE to cook on my birthday, but throwing that duty to DH kind of stresses him out since he only cooks dinner maybe three times a year. (Which is fine; we divide our labor this way ON PURPOSE because I like to cook. Just not on my birthday.)

So, I wanted to feed everyone, but I didn't want to go to any real TROUBLE about it, you know? Which is why this particular thrown-together dinner was perfect! Ten minutes of work early in the day, and then all I had to do was slice the meat and throw a bunch of stuff on the table. Yay!

For the brisket, I made a dry rub of brown sugar, chili powder, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and dry mustard. Just dump and stir -- way easy. I rubbed this all over both sides of the brisket, then put it fat-side-up on a rack in a roasting pan. I filled the bottom of the pan with water, covered it tightly with heavy-duty foil, and stuck it in the oven at around 10:00 a.m., while my coffee was brewing. It cooked unattended at 200 degrees F for about 7 hours, then I uncovered it and boosted the heat up to 400 for about 15 minutes to crisp up the fat. Sliced thinly across the grain, it was fork tender and delicious!

The coleslaw was the usual -- shredded cabbage tossed with a mixture of mayonnaise, white vinegar, sugar and celery seeds. I made this earlier in the day, too, and just stuck it in the fridge. Easy!

Here's the timeline for this incredibly easy meal:
  • At least 6 hours before serving time, prepare the brisket w/rub and stick it in the oven.
  • Make coleslaw and stick that in the fridge.
  • Welcome birthday party guests, open presents, play a couple of cutthroat games of In A Pickle and Skip-Bo. (Assuming it's your birthday, that is.)
  • 20 minutes before dinnertime, uncover the brisket and turn up the heat for 15 minutes.
  • Take brisket out of oven and let rest.
  • Break out the coleslaw, chips and salsa.
  • Slice the brisket thinly across the grain and serve.
  • Follow up with birthday cake, if you can manage it!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Back in the saddle again

Tonight's Menu

  • grilled boneless lamb leg steaks
  • couscous
  • green salad "bar"
Oh, people. I am very sorry for not posting much at all this summer. It was brutally hot here (SIXTY EIGHT days with temperatures over 100 degrees F)(and the other days it was like 99 or 98 degrees) and I just felt so uninspired the whole time. Now that the seasons are changing, I can feel my cooking mojo returning ever so slowly. The sun is moving south, the back patio (where my grill is located) is once again in full shade during dinnertime, cool breezes are blowing in the evening, and I'm getting excited about cooking some fall food!

Er, not that there was anything particularly fall-ish about this dinner. I'm just sayin'.

Okay, so these were boneless lamb leg steaks. Think like a ham steak, but with lamb. And no bone. Am I overexplaining this? Probably so. Anyway, I put them in a plastic zipper bag, pressed a couple of smashed garlic cloves (not smashed to smithereens, just sort of flattened/squashed and peeled) and a sprig of fresh rosemary up against both sides of the meat, then drizzled in a little olive oil and smooshed it all around before sealing the bag and sticking it in the fridge for a few hours. Before grilling, I sprinkled each side of the steaks with some coarse sea salt. Then I just grilled them over high heat for about four minutes per side. They came out medium, which is how the boys like their steaks, but when I make this again with steaks this thick (about 3/4 inch) I'd only cook one of them for maybe 3 minutes per side and then rest it longer. I like mine a little more pink, yo. Anyway, they were really tender and super delicious! DH thought they tasted just like a really good cut of beef.

The couscous was boring and plain. Just 1.25 cups of water brought to the boil with some butter and salt, then dump in 1 cup of dry couscous, cover and take off the heat. Leave it for at least 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork, adjust the seasonings and serve. BORING. But I can make a salad or something out of the leftovers.

The salad bar tonight was chopped romaine with little bowls containing shredded carrots, sliced cucumber and tomato wedges. Also boring, but everyone likes it.

Here's the timeline:
  • Earlier in the day, prepare the meat (with the garlic and whatnot) and stick it in the fridge. You can do this the night before if you prefer.
  • About 30 minutes before serving time, take the meat out of the fridge and prepare the salad.
  • About 20 minutes before serving time, preheat the grill (this is for a gas grill; adjust accordingly if you're using wood or charcoal).
  • Make the couscous, cover and remove it from the heat.
  • Put the meat on the grill (about 3-4 minutes per side, depending on thickness).
  • Take meat off grill and tent with foil to rest.
  • Fluff couscous, season and dump into serving dish.
  • Carve meat into serving-size pieces (I did two steaks for four people) and ring the dinner bell!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Very southern

Tonight's Menu

  • grilled ham steak
  • cornbread
  • spinach w/bacon and pinkeye peas
Well, this was NOT a cool-kitchen supper, I'm sorry to say. But it was very yummy and easy and I'm not sure you can get much more southern than ham, cornbread, and greens with peas, y'all.

The ham steak was easy -- just drain off the water in which it's usually packed and slap it on a grill over high heat for 3 minutes per side (more or less, depending on thickness).

The cornbread was homemade, using my usual recipe. I SWEAR this is not much more trouble than those mixes you buy at the store, and you can control how sweet it is (DH likes it SWEET) and what sort of fat is in it (this time I used an extra-light olive oil).

The spinach and peas were the real stars of this meal, though. One of the weird things I planted in my garden this year was purple-hull pinkeye cowpeas. They look a lot like blackeyed peas, if you're familiar with those (you can see the pods here, and the peas here). Of course, my garden is tiny and I don't usually get enough peas all at once to feed the four of us. I had collected maybe two tablespoons worth over the past week and had no idea what to do with such a small amount, but I definitely didn't want them to go to waste!

So, here's what I did: I brought a little pot of water to a boil, dumped in my tiny amount of homegrown pinkeye peas, and boiled them for maybe 15 minutes until they were nice and tender. Then I drained them and set them aside.

In a large skillet, I browned off some chopped bacon and then added the drained peas and a big bunch of fresh baby spinach. I tossed the spinach around until it had wilted, then I seasoned it with salt and pepper and added a tablespoon each of brown sugar and vinegar (this time I used a raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, but in the past I've used red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar and it's all good!). Stir that around for a bit until some of the liquid has evaporated, then serve. So yummy! If you think you don't like spinach, try it like this -- it's all smoky bacon and sweet-sour sauce. Mmm!

Here was the timeline for this simple, delicious meal:
  • Put the peas on to boil.
  • Mix up the cornbread and stick it in the oven.
  • Light the grill (if you're using gas; for charcoal you might want to do this first).
  • Remove peas from heat after they're tender, drain and set aside.
  • While grill is heating, chop bacon and have the spinach, sugar & vinegar nearby.
  • Put ham steak on grill for 3 minutes per side; remove and tent with foil to rest.
  • Remove cornbread from oven.
  • Make spinach/pea dish (it's fast).
  • Cut ham into serving pieces, ditto cornbread, serve it on up!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cool kitchen supper #3

Tonight's Menu

  • grilled garlicky flank steak
  • grilled flatbread
  • grilled romaine salad
Hey! I haven't posted in over a month! How'd that happen? I have no idea, y'all. With the kids home for the summer and not only making their own damn dinners, but breakfasts/lunches/snacks as well, the kitchen is always an absolute mess and I've sort of lost my cooking mojo. If you click on the "grilling" link over there in the right-hand sidebar, you can see some of what we've been eating -- the usual summer fare around here.

However, this is the first time this summer that I've made my grilled garlicky flank steak, which has been a staple in summers past. I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to make it this season, because it's so easy and delicious! Just bash up a few cloves of garlic in the mortar and pestle with some kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, the juice of one lemon and some extra virgin olive oil. Make some diamond cuts in a nice piece of flank steak, then rub the garlic slurry over both sides of the meat, smooshing it into all the cuts and crevices. You can let it sit like this for a bit but there's really no need -- just whomp it right onto the grill and cook it over high heat for 4-5 minutes per side. Let it rest for 5 minutes or so, then slice thinly across the grain. So yummy!

I'm not sure what took me so long to throw some raw bread dough on the grill, either. I'd heard of people grilling flatbreads and pizzas and whatnot like this -- just slapping the uncooked dough right onto the grill grates -- but I guess I had to see it with my own eyes to believe it really worked. And it does! Honest! I used a hunk of the master recipe dough from ABin5, lightly flouring it and rolling it out into an oval about 1/4-inch thick. Then I really did just toss it right onto the grill grates! The grill was nice and hot and the dough started bubbling pretty quickly. When it looked sort of dry around the edges (like a pancake), I flipped it over with a pair of tongs and cooked the other side. I would say it took maybe 5 minutes total to grill up a nice big hunk of flatbread, which I then cut into squares for serving. The kids love this -- they say it tastes just like pizza crust!

I've made grilled lettuce before but it's been quite a while. I love lettuce this way -- it has such a sweet, earthy flavor when it's cooked. All I do is take a head of romaine lettuce, remove the tough outer leaves (sometimes I just buy packaged "hearts of romaine" in the produce department and have done with it) and give it a good rinse. After drying it thoroughly, I cut it in half lengthwise, drizzle it with a bit of EVOO, then slap it on the grill. You have to watch it closely and turn it with tongs every minute or so -- what you want is just a WEE bit of char and wilting, but with the inner leaves of the lettuce still retaining a lot of body. Take it off the grill and slice it crosswise, then toss in a bowl with some fresh lemon (or lime) juice and a bit of salt and freshly ground pepper. That's the simplest treatment, but you could also whip up a vinaigrette (something mustardy would be nice) for it. Serve warm and enjoy!

Here's the timeline for this quick and easy cool-kitchen supper:
  • Light the grill about 30 minutes before serving time (for a gas grill -- adjust accordingly for charcoal or wood) and set to high heat.
  • While grill heats, prepare the garlic slurry and rub it over the meat.
  • Wash, dry and halve romaine; set aside.
  • Put meat on grill.
  • Flip meat after 4-5 minutes.
  • Roll out dough for flatbread (I use a silpat, but you could put it on a pizza peel or a foil-covered cookie sheet or whatever). I've found that it's better to do this at the last minute if you're using a wet dough, because it gets sort of gooey if it sits for too long before cooking.
  • Take meat off grill and cover to rest.
  • Put flatbread dough on grill.
  • Watch bread closely and flip when needed, then remove from grill when done (about 5 minutes total).
  • Drizzle romaine with EVOO and put on grill.
  • Watch closely, turn when needed and remove from grill when just barely charred/wilted.
  • Cut bread into squares or wedges.
  • Slice lettuce and toss w/lemon juice and seasonings.
  • Slice meat thinly across grain.
  • Serve it on up!

Monday, June 15, 2009

And ANOTHER cool-kitchen supper

Tonight's Menu

  • grilled lamb patties
  • whole-wheat pita
  • lettuce and tomato
  • quick pickled onions
  • herby yogurt dressing
Here's another supper that will keep your kitchen nice and cool, assuming your grill doesn't run out of propane halfway through cooking the lamb like mine did. Oy. (I finished them under the broiler for a couple of minutes, and they were fine. But still.)

I think I've told you that we've been eating a lot of lamb lately, and we've discovered that we really kind of love it. For the patties, I mixed ground lamb with some minced onion and garlic, chopped fresh parsley and cilantro, a bit of olive oil (the ground lamb I buy tends to be VERY lean), salt, pepper, chili powder, and some whole coriander and cumin seeds that were toasted in a dry skillet and then ground to a powder with the mortar and pestle. (Hey, if you've got ground cumin and coriander in your spice cabinet and you can't be bothered to toast and grind whole spices, use what you've got. I'm not here to force anyone to toast and grind spices, though I do think that adds a nice extra layer of flavor.)

The lamb mixture was formed into balls slightly bigger than golfballs and then flattened into patties. Think of them as mini lamb burgers, if you will -- slider sized, rather than burger sized. I grilled them for about 5 minutes per side over medium heat, or I would have if I hadn't run out of propane. Grrr!

The pita was purchased, and the lettuce and tomato was (were?) just leaves of romaine and sliced vine-ripe tomatoes (from the store, because my garden sucks this year AGAIN).

I've made these picked onions before and they are seriously addicting. All I did was whisk together a tablespoon or so of red wine vinegar, maybe a third as much olive oil, and a tiny bit of sugar. Then I tossed in some thinly sliced red onions and just let them sit, stirring/tossing occasionally, while the meat cooked. So good!

For the dressing, all I did was mix some plain Greek-style yogurt with some minced garlic, chopped fresh herbs (mint, cilantro and parsley) and fresh lemon juice.

You can assemble these however you like, but I like to stuff a pita with a couple of lamb patties, some romaine and a couple of slices of tomato, then top it with the pickled onions and drizzle the yogurt dressing on top. This is seriously one of my favorite dinners that I've ever made, people. It beats takeout any day!

Here's the timeline. A LOT of this can be done ahead of time, like even the day before.
  • Up to one day ahead, make the yogurt dressing and stick it in the fridge.
  • Also up to one day ahead, make the pickled onions (you CAN wait until pretty much the last minute on these, if you don't want to make them ahead).
  • And hey, while you're at it, you could totally make the meat mixture ahead of time and form it into patties, refrigerating it on wax-paper-lined cookie sheets until you're ready to grill.
  • For that matter, you could wash and portion out the lettuce ahead of time, too! Wow, this timeline is pretty useless, eh?
  • Okay, at some point you will need to grill the lamb patties. This will take about 10 minutes total.
  • While the lamb is grilling, slice your UNREFRIGERATED tomato. You know not to refrigerate your tomatoes until after they're sliced up or in a mixed salad or something, right? They'll retain a lot more flavor if you keep them out of the fridge as much as possible. So yeah, do this one at the last minute.
  • Take the meat off the grill, lay everything out so folks can build their own pita, and serve it up!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A cool-kitchen supper

Tonight's Menu

  • grilled shrimp
  • garlic bread
  • grilled asparagus
  • green salad "bar"
Oh people. It is already SO HOT here in central Texas. Too hot to sit outside while the food grills, unfortunately. The good news is, this meal pretty much cooked itself on the grill while I sat inside in my nice, cool, air-conditioned kitchen! Yes!

I deviated from the script a bit with this shrimp. We love our usual recipe, but I've been making it like once every 10 days or so and wanted something just a little bit different. So I mixed together about 1/2 cup of canola oil, 1/4 cup EVOO (I would have done ALL EVOO, but I was running low), a few glugs each of Worcestershire and hot sauce, a tablespoon or so of honey, the juice of one orange, one lemon and one lime, a bunch of minced fresh garlic, a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper and poured it over two pounds of peeled jumbo shrimp. This marinated in the fridge for about 4 hours before I threaded the shrimp onto skewers and grilled them for 5 minutes per side over medium heat. They were really good!

The garlic bread was purchased at the store. I wrapped it in foil and stuck it on the top rack of the grill to warm up while the shrimp was cooking.

The asparagus was dead easy. I grilled it on a grill screen after I'd pulled off the shrimp. I drizzled it with EVOO and sprinkled it with salt and pepper, then grilled it for maybe 8 minutes total, tossing it around with tongs to brown it all over. Yum! This is my favorite way to eat asparagus (roasting it in the oven is a close second).

The salad bar was just chopped romaine, sliced carrots, sliced cucumber, and wedges of tomato.

Easy dinner, and the house stayed nice and cool! Good thing, because it was about 98 degrees out on the patio -- yikes!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

More lamb!

Tonight's Menu

  • grilled boneless leg of lamb
  • red onion & rosemary focaccia
  • green salad "bar"
I have no idea what possessed me to buy this boneless leg of lamb at my new neighborhood farmers market last weekend. At $9 a pound, it's by far the single most expensive piece of meat I've ever purchased or prepared. As such, I was terrified of screwing it up, so I turned to Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything, my go-to cookbook when I'm preparing something unfamiliar for the first time. And he didn't steer me wrong!

Guided by Bittman, and adapting based on the flavors my family likes and the ingredients I had on hand, here's what I did. First I butterflied the leg out so it was a bit more even in terms of thickness and whomped it into a Pyrex baking pan. Then I mashed up several garlic cloves (seriously, like half a head) with some kosher salt and freshly ground pepper in my mortar and pestle. I dumped the garlic into a bowl, then added a giant handful of chopped fresh herbs: parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, fennel fronds and cuban oregano. All but the parsley was from my own herb patch (my parsley has gone completely to seed -- boo!). I mixed that together as best I could, then drizzed in some EVOO until it formed a loose paste. Then I rubbed this mixture all over both sides of the lamb, being sure to get it into all the nooks and crannies. I covered the lamb tightly with plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge for a few hours, then I brought it back up to room temperature before grilling it over high heat for about 13 minutes per side. After letting it rest for about 5 minutes, I sliced it very thin to serve.

Oh. Mah. Gawd. It was SO GOOD. The thinner ends were done medium and the thicker bits were medium-rare. The whole thing was SO flavorful and tender! The boy thought it tasted a bit like beef, and it really kind of did, but it was like really GOOD beef. So yummy! This is definitely going on the menu at my next big backyard barbecue! (Sorry, vegetarian peeps. I'll have stuff for you too, I promise!)

I've made the focaccia before. It's from the bread book. I made it with the olive oil dough and it was tender and delicious.

It's been a while since we had a green salad up in here! There are so many other good veggies to be had right now, but our cupboards were kind of bare so salad it was. This was romaine with sliced carrots & cucumbers and little grape tomatoes. Kind of boring, but it worked well with the rich meat.

Here's the timeline:
  • Earlier in the day, mix up the garlic & herbs, rub it into the lamb, and refrigerate.
  • About 45 minutes before serving, pull the lamb out of the fridge and prepare the focaccia from refrigerated dough.
  • Make the salad while the focaccia is resting.
  • Preheat oven; light grill.
  • Put focaccia in oven and set timer for 25 minutes.
  • IMMEDIATELY put lamb on grill.
  • Turn lamb halfway through the 25 minutes.
  • When timer goes off, take focaccia out of oven and lamb off grill.
  • Rest lamb for 5 minutes (the focaccia will be fine sitting during this time).
  • Slice lamb thinly.
  • Slice focaccia into wedges.
  • Serve it up!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day "picnic"

Tonight's Menu

  • bbq pork spareribs
  • grilled garlic toast
  • potato-artichoke salad
  • coleslaw
Okay, so it was too hot to eat outside. But I grilled a lot of stuff! Does that count?

The spareribs were my usual, finished on the grill (meat side down over medium heat for 4 minutes, meat side up and slathered in Carolina-style barbecue sauce for 4 minutes, rest before cutting into riblets).

I grill everything from meat to veggies to fruit, but I think this might have been my first time grilling bread! We had some leftover boule (yes, from the book -- I SWEAR I don't have any relationship with the authors/publisher) so I cut that into half-inch slices, brushed it on both sides with olive oil (LIGHTLY -- you don't want to soak it), and grilled it over high heat until it picked up some grill marks, which didn't take long at all. Then I rubbed a cut garlic clove over both sides of each slice of bread. So easy, yummy and fresh tasting! The girl particulary loved this bread. Of course, she lives on bread, so take that with a grain of salt, maybe.

The salad was my favorite summer salad. It's finally summery enough to serve this again, yay!

And the coleslaw was my usual, except I used savoy cabbage because that's what I had.

Here's the timeline:
  • Three and a half hours before serving, rub the ribs with spices and put them in the oven at 325 degrees F, TIGHTLY covered with foil.
  • Make potato salad and coleslaw after putting ribs in oven; put both salads in fridge.
  • Thirty minutes before serving, light grill and pull ribs out of oven.
  • Grill ribs as described above.
  • Remove ribs from grill; cover with foil and let rest.
  • Grill bread and remove.
  • Cut ribs into riblets.
  • Pull salads out of fridge.
  • Serve it up!

Friday, May 22, 2009

I had a craving

Tonight's Menu

  • lamb kofta kebabs w/minted yogurt
  • za'atar bread
  • marinated red onions and cherry tomatoes
We've been eating a lot of lamb lately, owing in part to the fact that the new farmers market that just opened in my neighborhood (yay!) has a vendor that sells local, pastured lamb in a variety of cuts. I like to load the ground lamb with spices and make little meatballs out of it, but tonight I had a craving for lamb on the grill. Kofta kebabs were just the ticket!

Bear with me, because as usual I don't have an actual recipe, but I can tell you what I did. First, I stuck a heel of stale bread into the food processor and whizzed it up until I had fresh bread crumbs. I was afraid dry crumbs would make the meat too crumbly. To the bread crumbs, I added some chopped fresh parsley, kosher salt, garam masala, chili powder, paprika and grated onion (fresh onion, not dried -- just peel it and run it over the large holes of a box grater). I also ran a good-sized garlic clove over my microplane zester (love this tip -- no need to peel the garlic!) and added that as well. I pulsed it for a bit to blend the ingredients, then added a pound of ground lamb and one large egg. Whiz it around until it's all combined, then form the meat into sort of oblong sausagey shapes and thread a metal skewer through each one (or a soaked bamboo skewer). Then grill them over high heat on well-oiled grates for about 4-5 minutes per side or until done through.

The yogurt sauce was easy -- just mix some greek-style yogurt with chopped fresh mint, a tiny bit of lemon juice, and a tiny bit of minced garlic. It makes a nice accompaniment to the meat.

I have made za'atar bread before. We all love this as an alternative to focaccia, and again, it went so nicely with the flavors of the meat.

For the little marinated salad I served alongside, all I did was cut a red onion in half lengthwise and then slice it VERY thinly crosswise, dumping the little onion slivers into a non-reactive bowl. I added halved cherry tomatoes (actually, I think these were grape tomatoes, but it doesn't matter) along with some chopped fresh parsley and oregano. Then I mixed some red wine vinegar with a TINY bit of sugar and a small amount of EVOO (use more vinegar than oil), poured that over the onions and tomatoes, seasoned with a bit of kosher salt, and tossed it all together. I just let this sit on the countertop at room temperature while I made the rest of the meal. It was very refreshing!

This whole meal was freaking fantastic, if I do say so myself! I had such a craving for something Middle Eastern or Mediterranean and this was perfect. The lamb kofta reminded me very much of a Romanian dish called mici, and I am half convinced that my occasional craving for spiced meat on the grill is an ancestral memory of some kind (I am one-eighth Romanian on my Dad's side). Every now and then, I need a little garlic and paprika in my life, you know?

Here's my suggested timeline for this meal. This is not exactly the one I followed, but it's the one I WOULD follow when I made this again.
  • Earlier in the day, make the minted yogurt and stick it in the fridge.
  • Also earlier in the day, make the meat mixture and put it in the fridge. It's easier to work with when it's cold.
  • About an hour before serving time, make the marinated onions and tomatoes and let them sit on the countertop while you do the rest.
  • About 40 minutes before serving time, prepare the za'atar bread (it has to rest for 20 minutes while the oven gets hot, then it cooks for 15 minutes or so).
  • About 20 minutes before serving time, light the grill and put the meat on skewers while it heats.
  • Put the za'atar bread in the oven.
  • Put the meat on the grill. Turn after 4-5 minutes.
  • Take the meat off the grill and the bread out of the oven.
  • Slide the meat off the skewers so no one ends up in the emergency room (I speak from experience with metal skewers, here -- those suckers get HOT).
  • Slice the bread into wedges, pull the yogurt out of the fridge, give the salad another toss and serve it all up!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A (mostly) make-ahead meal

Tonight's Menu

  • oven-cooked beef brisket
  • fresh bread
  • tangy coleslaw
  • grilled apricots
My day today was such that my afternoon and early evening were insanely busy, but my morning was relatively calm. So 90% of the work for this meal was done well before the after-school frenzy, and I was still able to get dinner on the table at a decent time. YAY for mostly make-ahead meals!

The brisket was my usual. I made a dry rub of sugar, chili powder, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, dry mustard, dried oregano, salt and freshly ground pepper. Then I rubbed it all over the brisket on both sides and put the meat fat-side up in a roasting pan. You could put it on a rack but I no longer have one, so I wad up some tin foil into balls and line the bottom of the pan with those, then place the meat on top. Works great! Add a bit of water to the bottom of the pan, then cover tightly with heavy-duty foil.

The cooking time and temperature can vary quite a bit, depending on the size of your hunk o' meat, the amount of time you have to work with, and how you like your meat cooked. We like a very tender, melt-in-your-mouth brisket with crispy fat; my roast was about 2.5 to 3 pounds, and I had all day, really. So I cooked this at 225 degrees F for about five hours, then uncovered it and boosted the heat up to 400 for 15 minutes or so to get the fat nice and crispy. Then I let it rest for about 10 minutes before slicing it thinly across the grain. You could do this same size roast for maybe two hours at 375, as long as there's water in the pan and it's tightly covered. It won't be quite as tender, but you can make up for that by slicing it nice and thin.

The bread was plain boule from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I am STILL loving that book! The authors have a blog where they share recipes, too!

For the coleslaw, I whisked together 1/4 cup each of sugar and apple cider vinegar until the sugar was mostly dissolved, then whisked in a tablespoon of canola oil and about a teaspoon of celery seed. Pour it over half a head of shredded cabbage, toss to coat, and stick it in the fridge for several hours or overnight. I like this version of coleslaw over the creamy mayonnaise type when I'm serving a fairy rich, fatty meat -- the acidity really helps cut the richness.

The apricots could not have been easier -- just cut a few in half, make sure to oil your grill grate, and grill them cut-side down until they pick up some grill marks and get SLIGHTLY soft. Don't overcook these or they will go mushy. I really like apricots with spiced beef -- something about that flavor combination just works for me!

Okay, so here was the timeline I followed:
  1. Make the bread in the morning (or the day before)(or just buy some damn bread, already!).
  2. Prepare the brisket and stick it in the oven (I did this five and a half hours before I planned to serve it -- see above).
  3. Make the coleslaw and stick it in the fridge (you could do this the night before).
  4. Thirty minutes before serving, uncover the brisket and turn up the heat to crisp the fat.
  5. Wrap the bread in foil and slice the apricots in half, removing pits.
  6. Light the grill for indirect heat (for my grill this means two burners on, one off).
  7. Put the foil-wrapped bread on the unlit burner to warm it as the grill heats.
  8. When the grill is hot, take brisket out of oven, re-cover and let rest.
  9. Put apricots on grill; remove bread from grill.
  10. Slice bread and re-wrap in foil to keep warm.
  11. Take apricots off grill, cover to keep warm.
  12. Slice brisket and put on serving platter.
  13. Remove coleslaw from fridge and give it another toss or two.
  14. Soup's on!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Timing is everything

Tonight's Menu

  • grilled garlicky pork tenderloin
  • whole-wheat couscous
  • garlic-kissed carrots and peas
Hey, everyone! Sorry for the long break in posting there. I haven't been making much of anything new, and it seems boring to write about the same meals over and over when all of the recipes are already available on the right-hand sidebar there. I didn't make much of anything new tonight either, but ... well, I kind of missed the ol' blog! What can I say?

So, the tenderloin! All I did was mash up some garlic cloves, kosher salt, fresh oregano (from my herb patch), freshly ground pepper, fresh lemon juice and EVOO in my mortar and pestle, then pour it over a couple of pork tenderloins in a plastic zipper bag. These only marinated for about an hour, but you could certainly do them much longer than that. I grilled them over high heat for a total of 20-23 minutes or so, turning every few minutes to brown them all over. Then I sliced them into 1/2-inch slices before serving. Yummy!

The couscous was just done according to the package directions. I far prefer quinoa to couscous and think it tends to pack more of a nutritional punch, but DH and the boy child like couscous. I compromise by buying the whole-wheat variety, which I can only find at, of all places, my local liquor store! They sell specialty foods there, too. (Spec's, for those of you in Texas.)

The carrot dish was the only relatively "new" thing I cooked tonight. I peeled a bunch of carrots and cut them into chunks, then steamed them in the microwave until they were tender. Then I sauteed them in a bit of butter, along with some fresh green peas from my garden (I picked and shelled them while the pork was grilling) and one tiny minced garlic clove. Season with salt and pepper and you're done! The boy had thirds of this dish! It was really yummy -- I will definitely make this again.

I don't know if I've ever talked about this before on the blog, but I am kind of anal about my meal prep and making sure everything is done at more or less the same time. This can be a HUGE challenge for the home cook when making an entire meal from scratch and it was a real source of frustration for me when I first started cooking whole meals for my family of four. I don't know if this will help anyone, but here were the steps I took to get this meal on the table:
  1. Prepare marinade for pork (at least an hour ahead of time; can do this the night before if you want) and stick pork in the fridge.
  2. Light grill about 40 minutes before you want to serve the meal (for gas; if you're using charcoal then adjust your time accordingly).
  3. While grill is heating, peel and cut carrots and steam them in the microwave (do not remove from microwave until ready to saute).
  4. Put water on to boil for couscous.
  5. While water is boiling, mince a clove of garlic for the carrots and set aside.
  6. Put couscous in boiling water, cover and take off the heat (this can sit for quite a while).
  7. Make a gin & tonic to take outside with you. Hee! What?
  8. Put pork on grill.
  9. Pick peas.
  10. Turn pork.
  11. Shell peas.
  12. Remove pork from grill, tent with foil and let rest.
  13. While pork is resting, saute carrots and peas with garlic. Remove from heat and cover.
  14. Slice pork and put on serving platter.
  15. Fluff couscous with a fork and put in serving bowl.
  16. Dump veggies into serving bowl.
  17. Soup's on!
It doesn't seem like that many steps when you're doing it, I swear. Or ... that might be the gin & tonic talking.

Do you guys want me to do this for all the meals I post? Would it be helpful at all, or is it information overload? Let me know!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Tough cuts

Tonight's Menu

  • grilled marinated steaks
  • roasted potato wedges
  • caramelized brussels sprouts
The steaks I made tonight were labeled "chuck shoulder steaks" and were dirt cheap, which is why I bought them. They were large but cut really thin, maybe a third of an inch. I had never worked with chuck shoulder steaks before, though I have cooked chuck roasts and shoulder roasts, and I wasn't quite sure what to do with them. Tougher cuts like this tend to need either slow cooking at a low temperature for a long period of time, or really fast cooking over really high heat for a really short period of time. I decided to go with the latter and grill them.

First, I marinated them for about three hours in a mixture of red wine vinegar, olive oil, chopped garlic, salt, pepper, a tiny bit of sugar, and a small amount of Worcestershire sauce. I think this went a long way toward helping tenderize the meat. Then I grilled them over high heat for only three minutes per side (did I mention they were SUPER thin?), letting them rest for about five minutes before serving. I'm really happy with how these came out -- they had a fantastic flavor and weren't tough at all! Success!

For the potato wedges, I just cut some russet potatoes into fourths lengthwise, plopped them onto a foil-lined baking sheet, drizzled them with olive oil and sprinkled them with salt and pepper. Then I stuck them in the oven at 425 degrees for about 45 minutes. This turned out to be a tad too long, actually -- they were chewier on the outside than I would have liked. Tasty, though! Next time I'll knock back the time or the temperature, or both.

The brussels sprouts were trimmed and cut in half, then steamed in the microwave until crisp-tender. I melted a couple of tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then added the sprouts along with just a bit of red wine vinegar and sugar to help speed the caramelization along. Once they had gone golden, I sprinkled on a bit of salt and pepper and served 'em up! I LOVED brussels sprouts prepared this way!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Homemade lasagna

Tonight's Menu

  • beefy lasagna w/homemade noodles
  • green salad "bar"
Is there anything more comforting than a big ol' pan of lasagna? I think not, people. This one featured homemade noodles and sauce, and I'm not going to lie and say it was fast and easy. But it did seem a whole lot less fiddly and meticulous than the ravioli experiment, which made it FEEL easy. Ish.

Okay, for the noodles I made my usual pasta dough and just rolled it into sheets and let them dry on the counter for a couple of hours. That part WAS easy, now that I've gotten the hang of my cheap-ass pasta machine.

For the sauce, I chopped up an onion and minced several cloves of garlic and cooked them in a big pot in a little EVOO until they were soft. I kept them on a low-ish heat because I didn't want them to brown or anything, just soften. Then I dumped in a large can of tomato paste (the ones that are about the size of a soup can) and stirred that around a bit until it started to smell kind of toasted. I thinned it out with a bit of red wine (pinot noir -- it's what I had), then dumped in a huge can of crushed tomatoes. (It would have been helpful if I'd noted the ounces on these cans before I chucked them, huh? This one was about a quart, maybe? I dunno.) I was worried the sauce was still too thick, so I thinned it out some more with water, then stirred in a couple of tablespoons of sugar, some dried oregano, basil, salt and pepper and let it simmer uncovered for maybe 30-45 minutes.

For the meat, I browned some ground bison (feel free to use beef, turkey, whatever floats your boat) over medium heat in a skillet, then turned the heat down to low and stirred in a couple spoonfuls of sauce to moisten it. Then, just for the heck of it, I stirred in whatever was left of the ravioli filling from the other night (would you believe I STILL had some left, even after stuffing mushrooms with it?).

Then I just layered the noodles, meat, some fresh mozzarella (you could use ricotta, but DH doesn't like it) and the sauce in a 9 x 13-inch pan and baked it uncovered for about 40 minutes at 375 degrees F. It was super tasty and definitely worth the time it took to make it.

The salad bar was the same as last night.

Remind me from now on to BUY my cheese ravioli, but make my lasagna from scratch whenever possible, okay?

Monday, March 23, 2009

The long-awaited reappearance of trout

Tonight's Menu

  • sauteed trout fillets
  • ricotta-stuffed mushrooms
  • green salad "bar"
It's been forever since I made fish for dinner and I'm not really sure why. We were eating a lot of tilapia for a while there, and I guess I kind of got sick of it. Anyway, my supermarket had some really nice rainbow trout fillets today, so I bought a couple and just seasoned them with a bit of salt and pepper before sauteing them in EVOO on the stovetop. I always start them skin-side down but I have no idea if that even matters. They were delicious and the boy had seconds and made a point of telling me how good they were. Remind me to start cooking fish more often!

I had a bunch of cheese filling leftover from when I made ravioli the other day and was looking for a way to use it up. I figured I could either make more ravioli (um, no), make lasagne (maybe, but that would involve the making of a meat sauce, which takes a while) or stuff mushrooms with it (bingo!). I modified the cheese filling slightly by mincing the mushroom stems and a couple of cloves of garlic and cooking those together in a skillet with some EVOO until soft. Then I cooled them and mixed them with the leftover ravioli filling, stuffing the mushrooms from whence came the stems and baking them in a foil-lined pan for about 30 minutes at 375 degrees F. I thought they were absolutely delicious, but DH is not a huge fan of ricotta and prefers the cream cheese-based mushroom stuffing. WHATEVER. More mushrooms for me!

The salad bar tonight was chopped romaine, sliced cucumbers and the last of the carrots from my garden (sliced). Time to make way for the spring veggies!

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Tonight's Menu

  • grilled bratwurst
  • grilled potatoes and onions in a foil packet
  • steamed broccoli
I did not notice until I was putting them in water to parboil them before grilling that I had actually bought BRATWURST at the store instead of Italian sausages. Heh. It's hell getting old, man. But it didn't really matter, because I cook them pretty much the same way -- simmer them on the stove in a big pot of water for about 15 or 20 minutes, then grill over high heat until the skins are nice and brown and crispy. The kids said they actually liked these better than our usual Italian sausages and both had seconds!

For the potatoes and onions, just slice some red-skinned potatoes (or some other waxy potato) and some onions into quarter-inch slices and layer them on a big piece of heavy-duty foil with some little hunks of butter, salt and pepper. Just for the heck of it, this time I stuck a wad of whole herb sprigs (parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme -- the song doesn't lie!) on top before tightly sealing the foil packet on all sides. I stuck this on the top rack of my grill when I lit it, and just let it hang out there while the grill warmed up and the sausages browned. It cooked for maybe 30 minutes total. Then just (CAREFULLY) open up the packet, chuck out the herbs, and dump everything else into a bowl! Easy and delicious!

Broccoli was steamed in the microwave.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Even MORE adventures in homemade pasta

Tonight's Menu

  • homemade cheese ravioli
  • green salad "bar"
I will be honest with you: I don't know that I'll be making homemade ravioli all that often in the future. It's not that it was difficult at all, but OMG, it was SO TIME-CONSUMING. I'm not sure the results were worth all the time that went into this dish. I mean, the ravioli was really good, but I don't know that it was two hours worth of good, you know?

ANYWAY, what I did was mix up a batch of pasta dough (two cups flour, one teaspoon salt, three eggs, whizz it all up in a food processor then wrap it in plastic and stick it in the fridge) and roll it out into sheets. That part was easy.

For the filling, I combined some whole-milk ricotta (if yours is runny or weepy, drain it first) with some shredded parmesan (NOT the stuff in the green can), chopped fresh parsley, salt and pepper. Also easy.

Then, I think I may have done something stupid. I'm pretty sure most people who are crazy enough to make ravioli at home dollop the filling onto the pasta sheets and then lay another sheet on top, sealing everything around the dollops of filling and then cutting the raviolis apart. But I'm such a doof, I wasn't sure I'd be able to get everything spaced out right. So I cut my pasta sheets into squares and made my raviolis one at a time and OH MY GOD, never again. It just took FOREVER, and they were kind of jacked-up looking. Maybe I just need practice.

But whatever, I boiled them in salted water for about five minutes and served them with my usual tomato sauce and they were fine. Really good, even! But holy cats, y'all. My back is killing me from all that ravioli assembly.

The salad bar was just romaine lettuce, sliced cucumbers, and sliced carrots from the garden.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Lamb pita FTW!

Tonight's Menu

  • tiny spiced lamb meatballs w/tzatziki
  • whole-wheat pita
  • green salad "bar"
Hey, so I cooked lamb for the first time ever tonight and it was surprisingly (because as you longtime readers know, I don't have such a great track record with kitchen experimentation) delicious! It almost tasted like I knew what I was doing! Weird!

What I did was take a couple of cloves of garlic and some fresh herbs from my garden (mostly parsley, with a bit of oregano and mint -- my mint is JUST NOW coming back from winter) and whiz them up in a little mini food processor that I always forget I have. It made a sort of paste, which I added to 1.5 pounds of ground lamb, some salt and pepper, dried cumin and coriander, chili powder, garam masala, an egg and some dry bread crumbs. I formed it into teeny tiny meatballs, using about a teaspoon of lamb mixture for each ball, and put them on a foil-lined baking sheet. Then I popped them in the oven at 400 degrees F for about 25 minutes. (Digression -- I ALWAYS bake my meatballs instead of frying them. It's so much easier, and there's less to clean up. Plus they are lower in fat, without the added oil and whatnot. Try it!)

Oh, people. They were so good! Really aromatic without any one spice overpowering another. I only wish I had measured the spices, so I'd know how much to tell you to use if you make this. You'll just have to wing it like I did!

I had never made tzatziki before tonight, either. I know! I love it and could eat it on just about anything, but I've never actually MADE it, and it was so easy! All I did was peel and grate a bit of cucumber (I used the seedless kind, but if you use the regular just scrape out the seeds before grating) onto a paper towel, then wrap it all up and squeeze it over the sink to get most of the water out. Then I dumped the cucumber into a bowl and added a couple of very finely minced garlic cloves, the juice of half a lemon, and a bit of EVOO. I tossed that around with a fork to combine, then stirred in about a cup of Greek-style yogurt (I found this at my local SuperTarget, believe it or not) and a wee bit of salt to taste. I refrigerated it for a few hours to let the flavors meld before serving. It was really good, but I used a WEE bit too much garlic, I think. I'm sort of breathing fire now. At least I don't have to worry about vampire attacks for the next few days. Hee!

The pita was purchased. I've heard it's easy to make and keep meaning to try it, but not tonight!

The salad bar was chopped romaine lettuce, sliced green onions, sliced carrots from the garden, and the last of the cherry tomatoes.

What I did, and no one else really followed my example, was fill my pita with chopped romaine, top that with some meatballs, and drizzle some tzatziki on top. It was pure heaven, people. Thank goodness there were leftovers!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

One of the few meals everyone will eat

Tonight's Menu

  • pork spare ribs, spiced & sauced
  • homemade cornbread
  • coleslaw
Seriously, this is one of the few meals I make that everyone in the family will happily eat (with no substitutions of cheese for meat or mundane vegetables for the coleslaw). It's one of those meals that require a bit of advance preparation, but then very little actual work at mealtime. Everyone's happy!

The spare ribs (which are cheap at my local grocery, and very few meats are these days) were rubbed with a mixture of brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, smoked paprika, dried oregano and garam masala. Then I stuck them in the oven, in a pan tightly covered with heavy-duty foil, for about 3 hours at 300 degrees F. I usually cook them longer on a lower heat with a bit of liquid, but they tend to fall off the bone when I do that and I wanted these to have some structural integrity so I could finish them on the grill. Which I did! I put them flesh-side down over high heat for about 4 minutes, then bone-side down over low heat for maybe 7 minutes, slathered on both sides with bottled Carolina-style (think mustard-based) barbecue sauce. They came out tender and extremely delicious, if I do say so myself!

I've already given you the recipe for the cornbread. I swear this isn't much more trouble than those "just add water" mixes. This particular cornbread was leftover from last week. It freezes really well! To reheat, I drizzled it with a bit of water and then stuck it in the oven, tightly covered, for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees F. It tasted freshly baked! Honest!

The coleslaw was my usual -- half a head of green cabbage, shredded, tossed with a mixture of mayonnaise, white vinegar, sugar and celery seed. Even the girl will eat this, and she doesn't like ANYTHING.