A tribute to summer

It’s only right to dedicate this blog to Donna Summer, the legendary disco and dance singer and song writer who passed away yesterday. This quick and easy summer-time dinner requires very little work, and a little bit of waiting.

The drumsticks were soaked in Chiavetta’s barbecue marinade for about three days before being slow cooked on the grill. The corn on the cobb is a no brainer and wasn’t half bad considering its not local nor is it in season.

The side dish is Wegmans Golden Jewel Blend, which is a combination of Israeli couscous, tri-colored orzo pasta, split baby garbanzo beans and red quinoa, cooked according to the directions. For color and flavor, I also added peas, fresh oregano, purple onion, pepper and sundried tomatoes with Bella Sun Luci sun dried tomatoes with zesty peppers right when the water began to boil, along with the packet of grains. This is a quick, nutritious and delicious staple in my summer time fare.


La Cucina Italiana

I absolutely relish the food and wine pairings that have become a monthly tradition with a group of some of the classiest chics I know. April’s event was nothing less than perfect. As we continue to expand on the concept, the task of  finding a new and unique pairing becomes more and more challenging.

Leslie’s offering, Asian Chicken (or turkey) Lettuce wraps, were a dead-ringer for P.F. Chang’s version. She shared this recipe with me. I recently made my own attempt at recreating the famous dish.  My version included water chestnuts and mushrooms and a pouring sauce which I enjoyed. A Google search will net you an endless list of this highly coveted recipe if you want to make your own at home. Let me know what works best for you.

Here’s what you’ll need for Leslie’s version:

  • Ground turkey or chicken
  • Olive oil
  • About a cup of chopped peppers and onions
  • Crunchy bean sprouts
  • Chopped cashews
  • Iceberg or romaine lettuce leaves

For the sauce you will need:

  • 3 parts soy sauce
  • 1.5 parts teriyaki sauce
  • 1 dash of sesame oil
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of red chili sauce
  • 3 cloves of garlic

(Note from Leslie: should make about ¾ of a cup – sorry I’m an eye baller ! : )

Sauté the peppers and onions in olive oil over medium heat until softened. Add the ground meat and break it up as it cooks. Once the meat is cooked, add the sauce and crunchy bean sprouts. Let it all heat up for a few more minutes, top with chopped cashews and serve the chicken mixture wrapped in the lettuce leaves. She paired her dish with a 2010 Carpineto Dogajolo Toscano IGP Red.

Breanna’s contribution was a delightful and delicious Spring Vegetable and Goat Cheese Dip paired with a 2011 Matua Valley Sauvignon Blanc. I’m not always a fan of goat cheese, but the citrus fruits paired just right with the mint, chives and lemon zest in the dip and I couldn’t get enough of the combination.

Our lovely host Chiara regaled us with a titillating Tagliatelle with Asaparagus from La Cucina Italian Magazine which paired perfectly with a 2009 Muscadet by Domaine de la Pepiere.

Personally, I was not all that thrilled with my choice for the last gathering. The Baked Nutella Wontons, paired with an Izidro Madeira Port from Portugal were easy and relatively decadent. After making these twice and leaving them in longer than the recommended five to six minutes on both occasions, I will likely give them another shot being sure to keep a close eye on the timer.

The meal was made complete with homemade herb bread from Chiara’s father. As always, the food, wine and company were out of this world. Why go to old Italy when you have a host like Chiara!

Panzanella revisited (this time with cheese)

A while back, my friends Jen and Ryan introduced me to Panzenella, a salad made with stale bread. Although it is best made when tomatoes are in season, I spotted some nice heirloom tomatoes at Wegmans a few weeks back and decided to pair them up with the stale rolls I had piling up in my freezer.

As is par for the course with me, I realized about halfway through toasting the bread that crusty bread works much better for this recipe. I used sesame hamburger rolls from Wegmans which crumbled a bit more than I would have liked, but all in all, the recipe turned out delicious. The way the rolls soak up the dressing and tomato juice will make you see bread in a whole new light.

This recipe for Caprese Panzanella is worth giving a try this summer. You will need:

  • Stale bread, cubed (as we learned, crusty artisan types are best)
  • 4-5 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes
  • 1 cup of yellow cherry tomatoes (I used a yellow heirloom tomato)
  • ½ pound of fresh mozzarella, cubed (I used the bocconcini size)
  • 1 cup of basil leaves
  • Additional salt and pepper to flavor

For the vinaigrette, you will need:

  • ¼ cup of olive oil
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar (I used regular balsamic)
  • ¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon finely minced garlic (I used at least double that)
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • Fresh black pepper to taste

Heat two to three tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saute pan and warm over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and salt and toss. Stir frequently for about ten minutes, drizzling in a bit more of the remainder of the olive oil as the pan dries out, until the cubes are well toasted. Remove the bread from the heat and let it cool.

Seed and dice the tomatoes. Cut the yellow cherry tomatoes in half. Put the tomatoes in a large mixing bowl. Give the basil a rough chop and add it to the bowl. Drain and dice the mozzarella and add that to the bowl. Add the cubed bread.

Whisk the vinaigrette in a small bowl. Pour over the bread, tomatoes, basil and cheese and toss well until everything is evenly coated. Let the ingredients sit at room temperature for a few minutes to allow the bread to soak up some of the vinaigrette. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.


Mean Mr. Mustard

The day I attempted these Salmon Kabobs with Mustard and Dill was just one of those days where nothing goes your way. It wasn’t that the recipe was all that difficult. I forgot to thaw the salmon, a move that nearly cost me dinner. Cooking in a bad mood can be hazardous to your significant other, roommate or sous chef’s health. Despite a few missteps and a near disastrous thawing incident involving running tap water and a microwave, the dish turned out pretty flavorful. I will likely give it another shot this summer.

You will need:

  • 2 pounds of salmon fillet
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of spicy brown mustard
  • Juice of 2 large limes
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Fresh dill
  • ½ to ¾  cup table cream
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Cherry tomatoes

If you are using wooden skewers, be sure to soak them in advance.

Cut the salmon into ¾ inch cubes. Season with salt and pepper.

Grind the garlic, finely chop the dill leaves, and place them in a small bowl with the mustard, lime juice and whisk until blended. Set aside about ¼ of the marinade. Pour the rest over the salmon cubes, stirring them until they are well coated. Let this marinate for about 10 minutes.

Thread the cubes of salmon and tomatoes on the skewers. Broil or grill them for 10 minutes, turning them once.

Use the reserved marinade along with the heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper if needed. I added a bit more dill and mustard to kick-up the flavor a notch. Serve the kabobs with the marinade along with white rice.

There’s a first for everything

I have never been a huge fan of meatloaf. There are only a few versions that tickle my taste buds. Some of you may remember my Vegetarian Garden Loaf with Maple Glaze, gluten-free and vegan dish that tastes as good as it sounds.  My stepfather can also make a mean meatloaf. This recipe for Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf from the Rantings of an Amateur Chef inspired me to give it a shot myself.

I took my own luxuries, incorporating some elements from my stepfather’s recipe. I found the recipe on the Amateur Chef’s blog called for too many eggs. I had to add quite a bit of bread crumbs to soak up all the liquid.  Although I didn’t do this, my step father adds Quaker oats to his recipe in place of some of the bread crumbs which actually does a nice job binding all the meat together as well.

I’m so glad I gave this recipe a shot, because it was melt in your mouth delicious, and how can you go wrong with anything wrapped in bacon? I used pasture-raised meat from Seven Bridges Farm.

Here’s what you’ll need for my version:

  • 1 pound of ground beef
  • 1 pound of ground pork
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 6 slices of white bread
  • 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 medium onion
  • ¼ teaspoon seasoned salt
  • ¾ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of pepper
  • 1/3 cup flat leaf parsley, minced
  • 2 eggs
  • 10 slices of bacon
  • Breadcrumbs, enough to make the meat stick together in a loaf

For the sauce you will need:

  • ¾ cup of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon of dried mustard
  • 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of Sriracha sauce

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a boiler pan or roasting pan with rack. This will allow the fat to drain away.

Place the bread slices in a large bowl and pour milk over it. Allow the bread to soak up the milk. You can mix the milk and bread together with your hands to help it absorb the liquid.

Put the meat, milk-soaked bread, onions, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, eggs and parsley in a bowl. Mix it all together with your hands. Form the mixture into a large loaf form on the roasting rack. Stretch the bacon out so it’s thinner and lay the slices over the top of and around the sides of the loaf until it’s completely covered.

Press down a bowl-shaped trough into the center of the loaf. Pour the sauce into the trough in the middle of the loaf. Bake until the center of the loaf reaches at least 160 degrees. Let the meatloaf rest for about 10 minutes before slicing it.    

Don’t deny the dip

Whenever I think of or see the recipe for this Cobb Salad dip, I think of Cobb’s Hill, my regular running spot. That’s ironic since eating dip is a reason for me to go running. This recipe from Chow is completely worth every calorie though.

I doubled the recipe for a larger group and added some tomatoes to the recipe. Here’s what you’ll need for a single batch:

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup of crumbled blue cheese
  • 2 teaspoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon of salt (I used half that amount)
  • 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 medium avocado, diced
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced scallions
  • 2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 4 slices of bacon, well-browned and crumbled
  • ¼ cup of diced tomato
  • Celery sticks or crackers for serving

Mix the sour cream, blue cheese, lemon juice, salt, parsley and Worcestershire in a medium bowl and stir well to combine.

For maximum crispness, I recommend baking the bacon on a foil lined pan at 350 degrees until crisp and placing it on a paper towel-lined plate to drain the grease.

While the Chow recipe calls for folding the avocado and scallions into the dip, I just topped it with the avocado, scallions, bacon and diced tomatoes.

The shrimp is on the barbie

This blog combines an old favorite with a new goodie. Many of my friends have raved about this Avocado, Bean and Tomato Salad recipe which was passed down to me from my long-time cooking and exercise buddy Jill. Typically I will grill some chicken or shrimp to top this salad off. This time I decided to spice things up with this Garlic Skewered Shrimp recipe which I discovered on the Rantings of an Amateur Chef blog.

Begin by marinating your shrimp. For this you will need:

  • 12 to 16 whole cloves of garlic, plus 3 large cloves of garlic minced
  • 2 pounds of large or jumbo shrimp (I used medium)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • ¼ tomato sauce (I used pureed tomatoes)
  • 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil or 1 ½ teaspoons of dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper

Peel and devein the shrimp. Mix the ingredients for the marinade in a large bowl.

Peel the 12 to 15 cloves of garlic. Heat up a small pan of water and bring it to a boil. Blanch the cloves for three minutes. Drain them and run cold water over them. Set the garlic cloves aside.

Soak about 8-10 wooden skewers in water and set aside.

While the shrimp marinates, you can prepare the salad. You will need:

  • 2 tablespoons of lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 large scallions chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove minced (I used 2)
  • 2 firm ripe avocados, diced
  • 15 ½ oz. can of black beans drained
  • 10 oz. can of diced tomatoes and green chilies
  • ½ teaspoon of salt (I didn’t add this)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • ¼ chopped parsley
  • Mixed green salad mixture

Whisk the lime juice, olive oil, scallions and garlic in a large bowl until creamy. Add the diced avocado and toss lightly.

Add the beans, tomatoes, salt and toss again. Let stand at room temperature.

Now begin preparing your shrimp for the grill. Skewer the shrimp and garlic cloves, in a ratio that allows the garlic to be evenly distributed among the kabobs.

Add the cilantro and parsley to the salad and let it sit at room temperature while you grill the shrimp. Heat up the grill and cook the shrimp until it’s done, or three to four minutes.

Serve the Avocado, Bean and Tomato salad over the mixed greens and add the shrimp and garlic skewers last.

As an aside, here’s a little snippet of the inspiration for the blog title.

Too cute to eat

Call me a cheater for this one, but these cupcakes were too cute not to share. My friend Tra and Jay’s Sesame Street cupcakes are perfect for your next kids (or grown-up kids) party, and they aren’t too hard to make. I tried to Google a recipe for you to follow, but nothing online could really compare to these.

All you need is some cupcakes and a couple of cans of frosting. Mix food coloring into four separate bowls of frosting. Create red for Elmo, green for Oscar the Grouch, blue for Cookie Monster and yellow for Big Bird. Jay came up with a frosting technique which made the cupcakes looked furry and they added some crystal sugar sprinkles to give them some shine.

Cookie Monster is eating a Chips-a-Hoy cookie, which is cut in half, and frosted to look like it’s in his mouth. Oscar is wearing a vanilla Golden Oreo cookie trash can lid on his head. Elmo’s mouth is made with a traditional chocolate Oreo. And the pièce de résistance, Big Bird, was made with a strategically cut marshmallow. Note how the inside of Big Bird’s mouth is frosted red and his purple and blue eyebrows really make him stand out. White frosting and chocolate M&M’s were enlisted as eyeballs, and an orange M&M serves as Elmo’s nose.

Don’t worry. While they are too cute, you’ll be able to find it in your heart to eat one.

Where do we go from here?

Last month, I regaled you with tales from my first ever wine and food pairing event with an intimate group of classy ladies. The bar was set so high that first evening, I wasn’t sure how we could top it. I should have known this group was up for the challenge. I will try to do the menu justice.

Having received a bottle of Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Gewurtraminer for my birthday, I opted to make a Beef Satay with a peanut dipping sauce.

As always, I used this Emeril Legasse recipe as a loose guide.

  • 2 pounds skirt, flank or sirloin tip steak, cut into thin, wide strips against the grain (I used the Wegmans pre-cut beef sirloin strips)
  • 1 cup teriyaki sauce (I used tamari, a lower-sodium soy sauce, because I didn’t have teriyaki)
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger, plus 1 teaspoon
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic, plus 1 teaspoon
  • 1 teaspoon salt (I didn’t use this because soy sauce has enough sauce already)
  • I added some hoisin sauce to the marinade as well
  • About one dozen wooden skewers

Of the ingredients I did use in the sauce recipe, I basically doubled them, added some Hoisin sauce, and adjusted the ratio until the sauce tasted more Asian than peanut butter. Emeril’s recipe  calls for:

  • 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce (again I used tamari)
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon Thai fish sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used red pepper chili flakes)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro  (I didn’t have this)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted chopped peanuts (I didn’t use these)
  • 1 cup julienned carrots ( I didn’t use these)
  • 1 cup julienned celery (I didn’t use these)
  • 2 cups shiso greens (I’m not sure what these even are, so I didn’t use them)

Marinate the beef strip in the soy sauce (or teriyaki) ginger, garlic and hoisin sauce. Soak the wooden skewers so they won’t burn when you broil the meat.

While the meat marinates, mix the sauce in a small bowl. Skewer the strips of steak. Broil them on low for about four to five minutes or until medium-rare. Serve with the dipping sauce.

Now for the rest of the offerings:

Leslie (@leslieluuu) out-did herself with a pairing of a 2010 Clos Du Bois Sonoma Reserve Chardonnay with an Asaparagus and Cheese Tart recipe from the Food Network.

She also whipped up Sauteed Greens and Cannellini Beans and Garlic from Epicurious, which was paired with Stacy’s 2008 Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir.

Chiara (@chiaraaamai) provided some incredible Italian classics. Her antipasti included a caprese salad, Italian salami, Yancy’s Fancy Finger Lakes Champagne Aged Cheddar Cheese, and crusty baguette, slightly toasted and covered in ricotta cheese, prosciutto and peaches, drizzled with a balsamic glaze. Her wine pairings included an exquisite 2008 Cantina Zaccagnini il vino ‘dal tralcetto’ Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cerasuolo. I was delighted with the piece of the vine which was tied around the bottleneck.

Breanna (@bmbanford) brought up the dessert end of things with her Puff Pastry with Brie Cheese and Blackberry Jam which you can find on her Pinterest page. This paired quite lovely with Segura Viudas Brut Reserva champagne.

And with a gorgeous location provided by Lynn, I am unsure how we can possibly top this again. We’ll  see soon enough though with our next pairing scheduled in just a few weeks!

Keep your eye on the béarnaise

The very first time I laid eyes on this Pepper-Crusted Filet Minion recipe from Chow, I knew I had to try it. What sold me was the béarnaise sauce, something I’ve never had before. Considered to be the “child” of Hollandaise sauce, I knew it was probably not a wise choice for my hips, but I can rationalize cooking anything once for the sake of the blog. In the battle between eating healthy and getting inspired to try something new for the blog, you my fine readers, won out.

I would highly recommend you try this sometime when you want to eat like French royalty. Just don’t take your eye off the sauce or you’ll wind up with scrambled eggs.

In my typical fashion, I deviated from the steak recipe. Basically I just took a flank steak, coated it in some butter and covered it in black peppercorns. We cooked it medium rare on the grill. I’m sure if you follow the recipe, it will be just as good if not better, but who has the time to get technical?

Well, you better be, because the béarnaise sauce is a bit of a bear, but it’s worth it.  You will need:

  • 1/3 cup champagne or white wine vinegar (I used white wine vinegar)
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 5 sprigs of fresh tarragon, leaves removed and finely chopped
  • Reserved tarragon stems
  • 6 whole black peppercorns, crushed (I used a rough chop on a peppermill)
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 8 tablespoons of unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature
  • 1 or 2 teaspoons of finely chopped fresh chervil (optional – I didn’t use)
  • Salt and pepper

In a medium frying pan, combine the vinegar, wine, shallots, tarragon stems and crushed peppers and bring them to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until the liquid is reduced to just over two tablespoons.  Strain the vinegar mixture with a fine mesh strainer. Be sure to press on the solids to extract as much of the liquid as possible. Discard the solids.

Fill a medium saucepan with about one-inch of water and bring it to a bare simmer over low heat. This is important. If the water is too hot, your sauce will tend to get clumpy.

Add the egg yolks to the vinegar mixture and whisk to combine. Set the vinegar-yolk mixture over the simmering water and cook it, whisking constantly until the yolks thicken and the mixture forms ribbons when you lift the whisk from the bowl.

Be sure to check that your water has not boiled away by periodically removing the bowl from the saucepan. Do not let the water boil or your eggs will curdle.

Begin whisking in the butter pieces one at a time, making sure each piece is melted before adding the next piece. Continue until all the butter has been added. Remove the sauce from the heat. Add a few drops of water if it’s too thick.

Whisk in the chopped tarragon leaves and chervil (if using). Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve over steak.