Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Convenience Food

You know those days when you wake up, make coffee, and then in what seems like 6 minutes, it's somehow time for baths/books/beds already?  Sunday was one of those days.  With the hope of starting this nutso week of evening Vacation Bible School on top of our normal to and fro schedule feeling organized and prepared, the latter 50% of the weekend vanished in a blink.  Though feeling somewhat frantic under my time constraint*, I enjoyed the cook-for-the-week rally.

*while Dad and son played miniature golf and visited a park and I prayed that daughter enjoyed a nap free of heaving....sorry for such a reference on this, a food blog; it was just my reality.

With happy music and apron on, I embarked on two dishes, both to strategically yield leftovers, that could be entirely prepared in advance.  This would ensure that the 17ish minutes I had to get food in my child between his afternoon swim lesson and VBS check-in would require only the effort of a 50 second microwave stint.  I hoped he'd have time to at least begin digestion.  My choices - bolognese and cheddar broccoli quiche - were somewhat odd given the season.  But they both sounded tasty and kid friendly.  Besides, I've been dying to try Anne Burrell's bolognese for months. 

Pasta Bolognese (Click here for Recipe)

Let's start with that one.  It is unlike any bolognese I've had before, and that is probably because the preparation is unlike any I've done before.  She starts with pureeing and browning (yes, browning) carrots, celery, onions and garlic in olive oil.  The kids had no idea these veggies were hiding in that thick, rich sauce!

Next came the browning of the beef and tomato paste (yes, browning again...her recipe thoroughly and passionately explains this), adding/reducing red wine, and then adding/reducing water.  I wondered at the time if this was an exercise in futility.  Add water and then reduce it away?  But I had to try it to ascertain for myself if this truly is "where the flavors really develop".  Friends, it is!  As far as I'm concerned, this is my new bolognese recipe.  The aroma from this simmering sauce was out of control.  More importantly, the flavor was downright incredible.

Despite his sweet effort to shield it, I could see the disappointment in Ryan's eyes when I pulled out the whole wheat pasta instead of classic white spaghetti.  I try to make this substitution when I can, but it's taken a bit of convincing for the other family members.  Thanks to Ms. Burrell's divine recipe, nothing was lost here.  Phew!  An added bonus: this dish tastes even better the second day.

Broccoli Cheddar Quiche (Click here for Recipe)

So some might question whether quiche is dinner worthy.  Well I'm all about it.  It's easy, fast, substantial, and tasty.  Sold!

Kudos to the recipe's instruction to saute the broccoli as opposed to the classic steaming preparation.  Browning (have I mentioned that yet in this post?) imparts a far better flavor in my book.  I admittedly used just a wee bit more butter than the prescribed amount and also added some olive oil after the broccoli seemed to drink up the moisture before they were properly cooked.  The decision to use a larger quantity of broccoli than suggested negated the least in my brain.

The cooked broccoli goes into the (store bought given aforementioned time constraint) crust first.  Next goes a - fat, if you're me- layer of shredded cheese.  As opposed to the often bland shredded mozzarella suggested in the recipe, I opted to get a good block of sharp cheddar and shred it myself.  The last layer is the egg mixture.  Multiple recipe reviews - which I always nerdily peruse - noted that the milk/egg mixture quantity might be a tad excessive.  So instead I used 3 eggs plus an egg white whisked with just a couple glugs of milk (probably 3/4 cup) and seasoned it generously with salt and pepper before pouring the mixture into the crust.


To quote Andrew, "I just love this delicious pie."  Good thing, since it was on the menu not once, but twice!

So far so good with our crazy week, and my little energizer bunny is loving every second of VBS.  I'd be lying if I said I'm not looking forward to a long holiday weekend respite though.  Now, what to make?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Salmon Recipes

In the spirit of tranquility, we are presently opting to spare ourselves the eruption of whining that occurs upon attempting to serve the kids this fish.  They spit and carry on as if we evil parents exist merely to torture them. They push it around their plates, intentionally obliterating it to shreds to be ultimately tossed in the garbage.  The pain of this scene has led me to temporarily table this (in the non-eating sort of way) for family dinners.  Instead, it's become the nearly-once-a-week-after-the-kids-are-asleep-date-night dinner for hub and me.

A dear friend recently asked what our favorite salmon recipes are.  The truth is that there are just so many delicious ways to prepare this fish, I find it difficult to narrow down!  There are a few salmon recipes already on this blog (here, here, and here), and below are a few more:

Grilled Salmon with Oregano Oil, Avocado Tzatziki Sauce and Grilled Lemons

To me, this dish lands in the land of wow, thanks to Bobby Flay.  One of my favorite things about his recipes is his use of sauces.  He takes something totally delicious in its own right and tops it with an over-the-top-good sauce. Ugh, I just love it!  This avocado tzatziki is amazing.  Even Ryan, generally not a huge avocado fan, worked it.  It is so bright and full of flavor that it can just be served all by itself  with chips/pitas as a snack.  If you haven't grilled lemons before (or limes for that matter), it rocks.  A squeeze of them still offers the acidity I adore, but the flavor is deeper and more mellow.  This added an incredible finish to an already very tasty dish. 

The recipe - courtesy of Bobby Flay:
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh oregano leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 6-oz salmon fillets
2 lemons, halved
Avocado Tzatziki sauce (recipe below)

1.  Heat the grill to high.
2.  Combine 1/4 cup of the oil and oregano in a blender and blend until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper.
3.  Brush the fillets on both sides with some of the oregano oil and season with salt and pepper.  Grill the salmon for about 3 minutes per side, until slightly charred and cooked to medium, brushing with more of the oil every 30 seconds.
4.  While the fish is grilling, brush the cut sides of the lemons with the remaining 2 Tbsp of olive oil and grill, cut side down, until lightly golden brown, about 2 minutes.
5.  Serve the fillets with a dollop of the avocado tzatziki, and squeeze the juice from the grilled lemons on top.

Avocado Tzatziki
2 ripe Hass avocados, peeled, pitted and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 serrano chile, chopped  (I made a cowardice jalepeno substitution)
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
Grated zest and juice of 1 small lemon
1/2 English cucumber, finely diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the avocados, garlic, chile, yogurt, lemon zest, and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth.  Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl, stir in the cucumber and parsley, and season with salt and pepper.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours before serving.

The blurry side dish, by the way, is Tabbouleh, courtesy of my girl Ina.  It's my go-to Tabbouleh recipe for my roughly thrice-yearly cravings.  It's light, fresh, healthy and delicious.

Roasted Salmon with Potatoes and Mushrooms Click here for Recipe

No photo here, but this recipe is super tasty and easy...and it only dirties one pan.  I dig that.

Classic Cedar Plank Salmon

The cedar plank imparts an awesome smoke flavor which balances really nicely with the brown sugar crust.  If you can't swing the cedar plank grilling thing though, this could easily be broiled in an oven for 8-10 minutes. 

How it's done (courtesy of Weber):  Soak the cedar plank in water for at least an hour.  Place the soaked plank over direct medium heat on the grill and close the lid.  After 5-10 minutes, when the plank begins to smoke and char, turn the plank over and then place the fillet on the plank.  Carefully but generously sprinkle brown sugar over the entire surface of the fish.  Close the lid, and let the salmon cook until lightly browned on the surface and cooked to your desired doneness (15-20 minutes for medium rare; note that cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the fish).

Hiding in the background of the photo is a mound of toasted coconut rice, which I have previously chatted about, as well as a simple salad of mixed greens, strawberries, English cucumbers, sliced almonds and a white balsamic vinaigrette.  (Have you ever tasted white balsamic vinegar?  It's sweeter than regular balsamic.  Love it!)

**Post dedicated to Christy.  Hope it helps girl!**

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Donuts with Chocolate Brandy Sauce

Okay so forget everything I said about fresh, colorful and healthy for just a moment.  This dessert bears none of these characteristics.  However, despite my rants over the plethora of fresh produce options and the pursuit of natural ingredients, I am entirely unashamed to admit that this is one of darn yummiest and most fun desserts ever.

I've had a hankering for fried dough and chocolate sauce ever since I saw it in Marth's magazine months (years?) ago.  The picture I clipped has pestered me with each flip through my recipe binder.  So when we put a date on the calendar for friends to come visit recently, I knew it was time to finally pull out the clipping and try it. 

Though my anticipation for this dessert was borderline irrational, I still hesitated at the thought/effort of prepping homemade dough.  Then I had a flashback of a Paula Deen episode where she employed what I considered at the time to be a completely ghetto idea. After momentary reflection of my laziness, however, my brain morphed it into a brilliant short cut.  She took a can of refrigerator biscuits (the preservative-filled, "butter flavor" kind that you pull apart and bake), cut a hole in the middle (with a soda bottle top, no less), dropped them in a fryer and called them donuts.  So this, friends, is what I did too.

I will pause and ask for your forgiveness for the promotion of this manufactured "food".  But now I'll move on and say that it was freakin awesome.

The chocolate sauce was absolute heaven, and here is the recipe.  I made this earlier in the day, threw it in the fridge, and then heated it gently to serve with the donuts.

For the donut frying part, we actually put a cast iron skillet on the grill.  This kept the mess and oil smell outside.  I just heated canola oil until it responded to a drop of water with a loud splatter.  So precise, huh?  I have no idea what the oil temperature was, and it actually didn't seem to matter.

We put the donuts on a paper towel lined plate to drain and then gave them a sugar shower. 

The donut "holes" went in the oil as well for a Molly-sized treat.

The only thing that could improve the donuts' warm, flaky goodness was a dunk in the rich chocolate sauce.  It's almost like the world stood still for a second with each bite.

These would make a really fun activity for kids too (after the blistering hot oil part, of course), if you put out a variety of glazes/sauces and sprinkles for the kids to decorate the donuts themselves!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

mmm Gorgonzola

I'm not sure what my deal is right now, but dishes incorporating this cheese's salty goodness seem to beckon me unmercifully as of late.  Rather than resist, I've decided to offer it permanent residence in my fridge.  

A seasonally versatile ingredient, it's as amazing melting in an oozy sauce over filet mignon in the winter time as it is on a summer salad.  I love that it perfectly compliments sweet ingredients like my new fave dried cherries (you've created a monster, Kate), while still being able to stand up to peppery steaks.  It partners particularly well with balsamic vinegar, and the two meals below celebrate this fab flavor marriage.

Steak and Gorgonzola Piadini  (Click here for Recipe)

The thin bread of this sandwich adds a subtle, crispy backdrop while allowing the other ingredients to shine.  I totally did not make my own bread as the recipe suggests, but instead picked up Lavash at the store and subsequently rejoiced because it was easy AND tasty.  The Lavash is speckled with gorgonzola before the initial grilling, which brings out the cheese's mellow, sweet notes vs. the sharper quality of the cold crumbles added at the end.  As promised, the arugula is dressed with tangy balsamic vinaigrette, adding a welcomed brightness to the other rich flavors.

I flipped the sandwich for this photo to capture the gorgonzola tumbling out from among the slices of juicy steak.  I mean, yum.

Pear and Gorgonzola Pizza

This next dish was born from a California Pizza Kitchen creation that combines salty gorgonzola, sweet pears, sweet/savory caramelized onions (aka heaven) and fresh arugula on a honey whole wheat crust. 

(So it doesn't look like a pizza in the traditional round sort of way.  It's laziness, really, as the shape comes from the way I carelessly cut the dough ball into pieces...we make flatbreads enough that it's just become a habit.)

My attempt to replicate this at home commenced with sauteing 2 vidalia onions, thinly sliced into half moons, for about 30 minutes in a Tbsp or two,each, of butter and olive oil until caramelized.

Meanwhile, I cut two pears into slices, brushed them with melted butter, dusted them with sugar and baked at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes until they were tender.

I rolled out store-bought whole wheat pizza dough, brushed it with olive oil, and sprinkled it with kosher salt and pepper before hub took it to the grill for 3ish minutes on each side.  You could also very easily do this in a 400-450 degree oven.  After the crust had some color, I topped it with a layer of the caramelized onions, roasted pears and gorgonzola and then put it back on the heat for a minute or two to melt the cheese. 

While CPK's pizza is topped with greens coated in a creamy, over-the-top gorgonzola dressing, I opted for the go-to balsamic flavor combo.  The quick dressing: equal parts balsamic vinegar and olive oil, a little squeeze of dijon mustard, a bit of honey, and then kosher salt and black pepper to taste.  I tossed the arugula in this mixture and scattered it over the pizza. 

I could not stuff my face fast enough with this.  The wolfing actually and embarrassingly left me with a sore jaw.  Yeah, I just admitted that.