Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Grilled Sweet Potatoes - twice

So this is kind of a random component to star in two fab side dishes, but my surprisingly elevated excitement for both plates requires me to share.  I happen to adore sweet potatoes prepared in any fashion.  It's only been in the last year or so that we've been employing the grilling technique to these little jewels.  It adds an awesome smoky accent while allowing the fresh sweet potato flavor to shine.

Aside: if grilling is not ideal for you, a grill pan or simple saute pan is great.  If using the latter, I would suggest cutting them down to cubes first - instead of slicing them into more-grill-friendly discs and cutting them after the fact - to minimize cooking time.

Grilled Sweet Potato and Green Onion Salad

I was first attracted to this recipe because of the TWO vinegar varieties in the dressing, which, by the way, is tangy and darn delicious.  The salad ended up being exciting in other ways too....the combination of the tender and charred sweet potatoes, wilted and subtly spicy scallions, and fresh parsley is awesomely tasty.  This side is also fabulous because it's served at room temperature.  So it'll hang out happily - and productively as the flavors marry - until you're ready to serve it.

Before moving onto the second sweet potato recipe, I'll pay brief tribute to the salad's accompaniment, which was actually the main course. 

This gorgeous chicken was basted on the grill with a sauce made from these gorgeous tomatoes.

I won't sugar coat the fact that this sauce, though scrumptious, was laborious and messied a lot of kitchen equipment.  Would I do it again?  Undecided. The recipe - butterflied chicken with sherry vinegar brown sugar barbecue baste - isn't available online for some reason.  I'm guessing my messy/laborious comments aren't a very convincing sell anyway?!

Back to the potatoes.

Grilled Sweet Potato Hash

I took a nod from a sauteed sweet potato hash recipe I've used in the past (thanks Christy!) and composed a grilled version using the following:

  • Sweet potatoes - Slice into 1/2 inch wide discs, brush with vegetable oil, and dust with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and garlic powder.  Grill on each side until charred and cooked through.  Cut into cubes.;
  • Granny Smith apples - With the apple on its side, slice into 1/2 inch wide discs and brush with vegetable oil.  Grill on each side until tender.  Cut into cubes - toss the seed part!;
  • Big, fat Vidalia onion - Slice into 1/2 inch wide discs, brush with vegetable oil, and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Grill on each side until charred and cooked through. Chop.;
  • Thick-cut Black Forest bacon - Cook however you'd like (I had three strips left over from the loaded baked potatoes; I simply will not waste bacon.), and chop.
  • Italian parsley - Chop.

Toss all of the ingredients together, add salt/pepper to taste, and serve!  We loved this dish and how each element stamped an integral but unique layer of flavor on the overall experience.   I didn't know what to expect throwing apples on the grill, but how would I know unless I tried? Fortunately, they were lovely, and their sweetness was the perfect offset to the smoky/salty (heavenly/I love you) bacon.

The main course of this plate, grilled flank steak, is worthy of mentioning as well, thanks to the succulent Balsamic-Shallot Sauce spooned over the top.  I cut out this recipe ages ago and am kicking myself for not trying it sooner!  I'm sure it would be incredible with chicken, pork (and maybe even fish?) as well.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Simple Stuff

I love how simple things are often the best.  Here are two easy, week-night-able, kid-friendly dinners.  Added benefits that bring me immense joy are that they both 1) require minimal clean-up, and 2) happen to contain my beloved friend bacon. 

Have I mentioned my relationship with thick cut Black Forest bacon?  Of course I have.  Yes, it's odd that someone, particularly a female and former vegetarian - would goob so much over this ingredient.  Go to Whole Foods, buy it, take it home, and cook it; I'd be shocked if you didn't feel the same way.  End rant.

Loaded Baked Potatoes 

These were a really fun departure from the typical piles-on-a-plate dinner format and required refreshingly little time and effort.  I cooked the bacon in advance so that the week night prep would simply entail fork-piercing four russet potatoes and throwing them in a 400 degree toaster oven for an hour while my kids took turns playing "super man" on my raised feet.  I threw frozen broccoli florets in the microwave at the last minute.  Then a handful of shredded cheddar, dollop of sour cream and sprinkling of fresh chopped chives completed the (Wendy's-style!) feast.

Spaghetti Carbonara

This dish holds a special place in my heart, as I grew up eating this comforting meal around our ceremonious week night table.  In fact, this photo was snapped sitting at that very table (though placed in a different house) next to the very same parents, who are now incredible grandparents too.  I was craving it recently and had to finally get a lesson from my dad on how to create this deliciousness on my own. 

Disclaimer: this is not on the healthy list.  Just serve it with a salad or something. 

1 lb spaghetti or angel hair pasta
4ish slices of bacon, chopped
4 eggs
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/3ish cup heavy cream or half and half

Saute chopped bacon until crisp.  Meanwhile, cook pasta according to instructions on the package and drain.  Add the pasta to the saute pan.  In a small bowl, whisk the eggs together with the grated parmesan, and pour the mixture on top of the pasta. Toss the pasta and allow the egg mixture to cook for a minute or so. Add a quick glug of half and half or heavy cream and toss to incorporate. Season to taste.

We all - kids included - devoured this dish!  It is salty and delicious and warms your belly the whole way through!

Three cheers to simple fare around a family table.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Party in the city....

..... where the eat is on.....  HAHAHA - I couldn't resist this (highly nerderrific) tribute to Will Smith while I post on the food fest that was our spring sister vacay in South Beach.

[I'll insert a quick note to clarify that semi-monthly vacations are not the norm of my existence.  If only!!  Several factors attributed to the back-to-back timing of these trips.  Standard menu planning is back in action in my house, and postings of such will resume after this last hoorah entry.]

Back to the fun.  Hanging with my besties, who I happen to think are the two coolest big sisters ever, is a blast even in the most unexciting of locations.  Drop us off in a destination like Miami, however, and the fun factor goes over the top.  Our almost eerily similar interests allow refreshingly effortless planning/meandering on trips together.  One event which receives considerable forethought and care is - of course, due to content nature of blog - mealtime! 

We actually ended up finding ourselves at the unexpectedly posh Fontainebleau Hotel next door more than once.  This place was home to some great dining establishments, not to mention a whole lotta Gucci-clad, size-0, 20-somethings, a sprinkling of professional athletes...and apparently a certain one's mother.

The food summary:

Nobu - I sadly missed this event due to my canceled flight. Though I got the play-by-play from the girls and it sounded incredible, I'm not going to discuss it because I'm still pouting.

La Cote - We pretty much always take a three-way sharing approach to taste as many dishes as possible!  1) tuna nicoise salad with purple potatoes, shaved fennel, kalamata olives, tomatoes, hericot verts and hard boiled egg.  2)  grilled flat bread with caramelized onions, arugula, prosciutto, and olives.  3) juicy, loaded sirloin burger with crispy onion rings.   In a word, yum.  Yeah, kind of heavy for a pool side lunch, but this was the first chance of the trip to play the "how often do we get to do this" card.  I'll save a wee bit of dignity and spare the detail of our gelato "snack" just two hours later.

Quinn's - Bam Bam shrimp starter.  1) lobster and king crab ravioli with shaved fennel and lobster thermidor brandy (heavenly...could drink it with a straw) sauce. 2) spicy blackened grouper with lobster mashed potatoes, baby veggies and mango-papaya-lime relish. 3) char-grilled filet Oscar with a crab cake, asparagus and Bearnaise.  With shame I am admitting that we ordered three (yikes) desserts.  I will not provide descriptions, as just recounting the other courses brings on physical overeating discomfort.  The food was as fun as the atmosphere - which, btw, included a Dave Chappelle citing! 

Cabana Beach Club - I saw a "Floribbean" description for this place, and it's very appropriate.  1) Ahi tuna sandwich with wasabi aioli, the light and freshness of which was offsest by naughtily amazing fried green beans.  2) classic fish tacos.  3) portobella mushroom panini.  Yay for us to decline dessert.


Hakkasan - How could we have conjured a thought about food after these consecutive eating performances?  I personally choose to believe the illusion that Asian food is somehow light and good for me.  Supposedly ranked as one of the 50 best restaurants in the world (what?!), Hakkasan is described as "a seductive enclave of rich textures and hues".  I would just say the ambiance was super cool and warranted a better outfit (or higher heels?) than any I had packed own.  After our requisite girly martinis, we ordered these plates, the descriptions of which I pasted directly from the website since the literal translations give me the giggles:

  • Stir-fry shredded beef with tangerine peel and onion served with pancake
  • Spicy Assam prawn in baby coconut. Jasmine rice
  • Wild mushroom hand pulled noodle

We washed down an amazing, molten chocolate gooey something with mint tea to call it a night. 

As always, I was completely bummed to leave my sisters and the leisure. But I'd trade that any day for the sweet image of my kids running toward me and my new 2ish "souvenir" lbs to give welcome home kisses. I'll sign off with a BIG FAT shout out to the daddies of the year for making this trip possible!