Sunday, March 27, 2011

Chicken Enchiladas Verde

Make/freeze ahead?  Check.  Easy?  Check.  Kid-friendly?  Check.  Tasty?  Check. 

(Remember Monica readying for her vacay on "Friends"?  Sadly, I am so her.)

Yay for this 'Real Simple' - literally and figuratively - recipe with instructions to prepare in an up to quadruple batch!  The last time I made this, I did just that and had four trays in the freezer ready for service to others as well as our family.  You may have gathered that food is kind of my love language.

By the way, the bulk recipe left me with a whole lotta chicken bones, which were also tossed in the freezer.  When (if ever?) motivation sparks, I plan to employ these babies in my inaugural chicken stock prep fest.

Back to the topic at hand... Lacking the classic red sauce and corn tortillas, these are not your traditional enchiladas.  They are milder (the kid-friendly part), fresher, and packed with sweet corn.

I like to serve these topped with a dollop of sour cream and alongside Spanish rice and a hunk of cornbread.  A note for my local friends:  after experiencing - and instantaneously falling deeply in love with - Tom Leonard's corn bread, I just cannot imagine attempting my own in fear of inevitable disappointment. This stuff is basically an awesome excuse to call yellow cake a vegetable. 

Click here for the recipe!

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Charleston Verse

Twas a dark and quiet 4 a.m. drive when my heart was consumed with elation. 
Could we truly be airport-bound, destined for a leisurely, kid-free vacation?
Two and a half days of structureless exploring and dining lay ahead.
Tough to fathom, I might possibly be able to dictate the rise from my bed.

Don't misunderstand; it was heartbreakingly sad to leave our babies behind.
Their amazing grandparents' care, however, offered glorious peace of mind.
We were thrilled for the chance to visit this fabulous town for the first time.
To experience it with my love by my side would be, by all counts, sublime.

Sunshine and seventy degrees commenced the perfection of our first day.
A classic celebration, we pigged out on French cheese and Duck Pate.
'Fast and French', recommended by all, packed an authentic, flavorful punch,
with rich, gooey Croque Monsieur rounding out an incredibly delicious lunch.

'Magnolias' greeted us for dinner where our strategy was the small plate.
Cornmeal fried oysters with blue cheese slaw was the star without debate.
Low Country bouillabaisse, seared ahi tuna, and fried meatloaf filled the table.
We also squeezed in warm cream cheese brownies, though I'm not sure how we were able!

For lunch the next day, we visited 'Slightly North of Broad', just down the street.
With such delightfully fresh entrees, this time we actually declined anything sweet.
Pesto flounder, spinach, caramelized parsnips: brilliant imagination.
Blue crab salad with garlic toast points was, too, a tasty combination.

For our final dinner, we chose a seafood feast at 'Hank's', a local pick.
It's a wonder with how we stuffed ourselves that we didn't go home sick.
Raw oysters, a mixed broiled platter, and perhaps the food climax of the trip:
shrimp and grits with a scrumptious tomato sauce for each shrimp's dip.

Barring the fuzzy picture below of Hank's peanut butter pie,
To capture the other dining experiences, it somehow escaped me to try.
I'm overwhelmed reflecting on the trip, in a blissfully happy way.
But speaking of perfect, the highlight was seeing our kids the final day!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

One Fish Two Fish...Three Fish Four Fish

Health articles regularly encourage us to work more fish into our diets.  If you consider the food regimens (at least purportedly) maintained by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Biel, I'll buy it.  No seriously, I deem fish a refreshing departure from weeks that seem to revolve around chicken.  In addition to its flavorful and waistline-friendly qualities, I greatly appreciate the quick-cooking benefit.  Here are a few dishes that have hit our table as of late. 

Garlic and Herb Oven Fried Halibut

This is an easy and yummy dish from Cooking Light, and the kids wolfed it.  (It's just a big fish stick, right?)  By the time it browned, it was nearly done, so I just finished it in the pan rather than heating up the oven.

Grilled Salmon with Sherry Vinegar-Honey Glaze and Spicy Tomato Relish

Bobby Flay rocks my world, once again, with this recipe.  The flavor combinations are just gorgeous.   He obviously appreciates vinegar, and this is a glorious example of how it shines in his dishes.  I love that he uses two different kinds - sherry in the glaze and red wine in the relish.  They marry beautifully and add a perfect tang to the grilled salmon.  I've made this photo extra large, as it is extra tasty.

Horseradish cream mashed potatoes are hiding behind the salmon in the photo, but let that not convey timidity.  I knew I could count on bold flavors in BF's salmon and figured the divine and forthright flavor of horseradish would be a great element to stand up to it.  I started by peeling, cutting and boiling baby red potatoes until fork tender.  Meanwhile, separately, I warmed some milk with a nice pat of butter, 2 fat spoonfuls of prepared horseradish and a couple splashes of cream in the microwave, and then added the mixture to the potatoes before pureeing with a handheld mixer.  Fresh pepper and a handful* of kosher salt finished it off. 

*Gasp on the quantity - I know...  But under seasoned mashed potatoes are the worst, aren't they?

Pan Seared Flounder with Lemon Sauce

No recipe here....this plate was actually inspired by the carrots (please bear with my momentary loss of focus), which looked so beautiful at the store that I couldn't leave without them.  I bought them first, and then picked up the flounder fillets as a convenient (frozen) protein. 

For the carrots (whose loveliness mandated a photograph), I melted a bit of butter in a saute pan and then added a half inch of water.  I dropped the peeled carrots in, threw on the lid and let them hang out for about 15 minutes until tender but not mushy.  A garnish of fresh dill and a sprinkling of kosher salt topped them on the plate.

For the fish, I dusted both sides with flour seasoned with salt and pepper, patted off all the excess, and seared them in about a Tbsp, each, of olive oil and butter.  They cooked for just a minute or two on each side.  I made a speedy (2 minute!) sauce in the hot pan after removing the fish, starting with a couple good glugs - maybe about 1/3 cup - of white wine (we had Sauvignon Blanc open, so that's what went in).  After it reduced for a minute or so, I squeezed in some lemon, turned off the heat, and swirled around a nob of butter until it melted.  Done.

FYI, the other side dish was simply brown basmati rice cooked according to the instructions on the container.  At the end, I stirred in some kosher salt and the remaining bits of chopped dill left on the cutting board from the carrots.  Waste not, want not.

Grilled Salmon Salad

A gem of the Northern Virginia area that we've missed since moving to Richmond is the Great American Restaurant chain.  This group of six-ish (?) restaurants is small enough to rise above the cheesiness of major restaurant chains and, despite its growth, still manages to preserve food and service quality.  These places are always packed, because the food is tasty, interesting, and well priced.  Also, the atmosphere is fun (loud = kid-friendly), and the servers are consistently fabulous.  In a tribute to Coastal Flats, one of the joints that we frequented, we attempted to replicate its grilled salmon salad at home.  This light salad is savory, sweet, salty,  and satisfying.  Mixed greens are topped with these components:

Salmon - brush with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper; grill until cooked to medium - still slightly transparent on the inside.
Potatoes - In advance, roast a whole russet potato at 400 degrees for an hour; allow to cool, then refrigerate until chilled. (We did this step the day before.)
Hericot Verts - Steam/boil until al-dente; shock in ice water.
Balsamic Caramelized Onions - As *enthusiastically* mentioned on numerous occasions, these make anything delicious.  We made these the prior day to top blue cheese burgers, so they were ready to roll.
Champagne Vinaigrette - Roughly equal parts champagne vinegar and extra virgin olive oil (maybe 1/4 cup each),  a Tbsp-ish of honey, 1/2-3/4 tsp kosher salt, 1/4 tsp pepper
Other garnishes - Chopped dates and goat cheese crumbles

This concludes my novel of a fish rant.  If you've got a great recipe/treatment, please share with a comment!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

All Dressed Up

Jazzing up old standby meals like pizza and burgers helps keep the blah from creeping in.  Don't get me wrong; a classic deserves its place in all its original glory.  But if we never tried to push the boundaries, our boundaries would be, well, unchanged.  In the spirit of keeping things interesting, below are two fun takes on popular, go-to, family-friendly meals.

I've had little success in past endeavors of homemade pizza in the oven.  Even with a pizza stone, I can't get the crust crispy or thin enough for my liking.  So naturally I flipped out when we were first introduced to the idea of grilled pizza, courtesy of Bobby Flay's flat bread appetizers mentioned here.  The crust texture is my idea of perfect, with a good crunch on the outside and a satisfying bit of tenderness on the inside. Given how scrumptious, easy (three cheers for store bought pizza dough) and fast these little guys are, we remain on the hunt for new and exciting flavor combinations. 

The ingredient list of this pizza provided inspiration, but I was halted in my tracks by fresh figs (arguably the most exciting component of this dish) not being in season - and thus, available - right now.  Our friends gave us a yummy present of FROG (fig, raspberry, orange and ginger) jam, and I decided to incorporate the fig flavor by making a vinaigrette from it to replace the dressing in the recipe.  I started by melting into a thin syrup.

Next, I added some strawberry basil balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Can I make a heartfelt, but quick comment about dressings?  They should not be feared!  I stopped buying them a while back after I grasped that you just have to add stuff until it tastes good.  If the result is altogether heinous or hopeless, starting it over is still far less expensive than dropping $3 for the bottled stuff.

Anyhoo, while the usual grill prep is to brush olive oil on the stretched pizza dough, I generously spread this dressing on instead.  After grilling the dough for a minute or two on each side, I topped it with the grated Fontina, sliced (grilled) mild Italian sausage, fresh arugula, thin red onion slices, crumbed goat cheese, and finally another drizzle of the dressing before its quick second round on the grill (just to melt the cheese).  The sweetness of the dressing was a pleasant balance to the savory sausage, peppery arugula and creamy cheeses. 

In the latest issue of Food Network Magazine, I found a cute little insert describing 50 things to do with pesto.   For those who adore garlicky, fresh pesto as I do, or for those lucky ducks who seem to nurture happy, thriving basil plants overflowing with excess crop each year (even with regular feeding, water and friendly greetings, mine always seem weak, malnourished and a lucky duck, I am not), I bet you'll appreciate the fun tidbits of this article.  I chose the burger option - identical to the meatball except squashed flat - primarily because it seemed like something my kids would go for, and secondarily because I love me some ciabatta bread toasted on the grill.  To dial up the yum, I brushed it with olive oil and sprinkled it with kosher salt and pepper before taking it to the coals. 

Check out the photo..... see that pretty ray of sunshine peeking out from under the lid?  It's a layer of gloriously oozy fresh mozzarella that gently mellows the pesto's punch.  I wish I was brilliant enough to add this element out of my own creativity, but I just dutifully followed the recipe for that addition!  The side salad is a base of arugula (remaining from the pizza adventure), topped with veggies and a white balsamic vinaigrette.  While the children would absolutely not tolerate the arugula (fair enough), they worked the burgers.  With pesto passing the first round of interviews, I'll likely test one of these other ideas down the road!