Friday, July 31, 2015

Honey Roasted Carrots with Tarragon

Recently the husband and I attended a very grown-up party. The buffet table was piled with swanky things like miniature pieces of rye bread with herbed cream cheese and smoked salmon, teeny tiny crab cakes, and a crudites platter that included three—yes, THREE—colors of carrots. Orange, purple, and yellow. What the what!? I didn't even know carrots came in that many colors. So of course I created a little taste test for myself to see which was my favorite.

Although I won't turn down carrots of any hue, I determined that my preference is the yellow variety. They tasted just a little bit sweeter and milder than the traditional orange carrots—almost like a carrot crossed with a parsnip. They were delicious.

So you could imagine my glee when I stumbled upon yellow carrots at the farmers market. It seemed like a no-brainer to roast them with a drizzle of honey to bring out their natural sweetness. A little bit of tarragon added an herbal note that took these babies to the next level. The husband and I were fighting for the last carrot. (I let him have it because I'm a good wife. Or maybe it was because I knew I'd already eaten way more than he had. We'll never know.)

Let's get cooking!

Honey Roasted Carrots with Tarragon
Serves: 4

2 small bunches of carrots*, trimmed, peeled, and sliced 1/4"-1/2" thick (about 3 cups sliced)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried** tarragon leaf

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. (Since we're using honey in this recipe, the parchment will make clean-up easier. The honey tends to stick to the pan once it's cooked, and I don't want to spend all night scrubbing it off.)

Toss together carrots, oil, honey, salt, and tarragon so the carrots are evenly coated. Spread the carrots into a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Roast for 15-20 minutes, stirring halfway through, until carrots are tender and caramelized on the edges.

*If you can find yellow carrots, I heartily recommend giving them a try!

**If you happen to have fresh tarragon growing in your garden, by all means, use it here. Just keep in mind that you may need to use more when you're cooking with the fresh stuff.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Cucumber Sesame Salad

While visiting my sister and her family in balmy North Carolina two weeks ago, I was reminded of a cucumber salad I used to make, thanks to my nephew Connor. This 2-year-old will eat cukes at any meal, as long as they are sliced and served with a healthy sprinkle of pepper–onchi (that's ground pepper in toddler speak.)

When we got home I tried to find the recipe but struck out. So I did my best to recreate it.

This salad is so refreshing on a hot day. And I think the sesame seeds make it look pretty.

Mangia! Mangia!

Cucumber Sesame Salad

3 cucumbers, English or traditional
1 bunch green onions, sliced or 1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon white sugar
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar or rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, more to taste
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds

Peel cucumbers, leaving a few stripes of green. Cut cucumbers in half lengthwise. Using a teaspoon, scrape out seeds.

Thinly slice each cucumber half. Mix cucumbers and green onions in medium bowl.

In a small bowl or cup, add sugar and rice vinegar. Stir until sugar dissolves. Pour over cucumbers and onions. Add sesame oil, black pepper and sesame seeds. Gently stir everything to combine flavors.

Serve immediately or chill for 30 minutes or more.

That's Connor enjoying a slice of cucumber.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Corn, Avocado & Tomato Salad

When the farmer's markets and grocery stores are bursting with fresh summer produce, this salad is pure perfection. Sweet corn, juicy tomatoes, and creamy avocado...what could be better?

And here's a plan-ahead tip. Next time you're making corn on the cob, cook up a few extra ears and make this salad with the leftovers. You won't regret it.

Let's get cooking!

Corn, Avocado & Tomato Salad
Inspired by Therese's Corn & Tomato Salad
Serves: 4

4 ears corn (or substitute 2 cups frozen corn, thawed)
2 avocados, diced
1 large tomato, diced (or substitute 1 1/2 cups halved grape tomatoes)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper

Bring a large skillet of water to a boil. Add corn and cook for about 4 minutes, until it's just tender. Allow corn to cool and cut kernels off the cob.

In a large bowl, combine corn kernels, avocado, tomato, and basil. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir gently to combine. Serve immediately.

P.S. Sometimes I have help taking pictures for the blog.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Grilled Nectarines

The fruits of summer are great to cook with. When we get overloaded with nectarines, I like to use my grill to add a touch of caramelized flavor. And as our own Erin points out, "This is the perfect way to use nectarines when you don't think they are juicy enough yet."

These gently cooked fruits make a luscious side to pork chops or a sweet dessert topping.

Grilling stone fruits couldn't be easier. All you need to add is a little oil to prevent the skins from sticking to the grill grates.

Be sure to use semi-firm nectarines. Very ripe fruit will fall apart on the grill.

I recommend trying this with peaches and plums, too.

Mangia! Mangia!

Grilled Nectarines

6 to 8 semi-firm, yellow flesh nectarines
1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
Vanilla ice cream or pound cake (or any other dessert that needs a topping)

Heat your gas grill to medium. Prepare charcoal grill as you normally would.

Wash and dry nectarines. Cut each fruit in half and remove the pits. Place nectarine halves in bowl and toss with oil to coat fruit.

Put nectarines skin-side down on heated grill and cook for 5 to 6 minutes. Flip fruit and cook for another 5 minutes, or until fruit is soft.

Remove nectarines from grill and let cool in a bowl or on a deep plate to catch any juices. As the fruit cools, the juices will form a sweet, syrupy sauce.

Slide skins off nectarines and slice or dice fruit. Combine cut fruit with any juice from bowl and use as a dessert topping. Refrigerate any leftovers to use tomorrow!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Deviled Egg Sampler

I recently overbought on the egg front. What to do? Make deviled eggs, of course. Plenty of other good reasons to whip up deviled eggs, too. I love using my pretty deviled egg plate. Plus, my older daughter Lucy recently discovered a love of deviled eggs; she ate like six at a wedding reception.

What's better than deviled eggs? A deviled egg sampler, of course. In mine: traditional, poppy seed and curried.

Mmm. Mmm. Mmm.

At top: curried. On right: traditional. On left: poppy seed.

My favorite in this sampler: the curried. Anyone who knows me and my love of Indian food would  not be shocked. Lucy plopped two of the traditional style in her mouth in about five seconds. Penny went for poppy seed. The hubby tried them all and remains a traditionalist at heart.

I bet you will come up with varieties we haven't even thought of.


Deviled Egg Sampler
8 eggs, hard boiled (See directions below)
1 teaspoon ground mustard, divided in half
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds
3 tablespoons mayonnaise, divided in thirds

First, prepare the hard boiled eggs with this fool-proof method.

Take eggs out of fridge, so they start to come closer to room temperature. Add salt to a pot of water and boil. When water is boiling rapidly, use a slotted spoon to place each egg in the pot. Reduce to a moderate boil and cook eggs for 10 minutes. This timing is what ensures that the eggs are not overcooked; the yellow part of the eggs stays yellow and doesn't turn that gross green color around the edges.

Just before the egg time is up, fill a bowl with ice and cold water. When time is up, use a slotted spoon to gently remove each egg from the hot water and place in the bowl of ice and cold water. This last step ensures that  the eggs will stay nicely intact when you peel them.

Peel eggs immediately or drain water and place in fridge until you are ready to make your deviled eggs. I get better results if I peel immediately. I always make eight eggs to yield 12 deviled egg halves. By making eight eggs, I have enough eggs yolks to fill 12 halves and if I wreck two of the egg whites it's no big deal.

After you peel the eggs, slice in half and scoop out the insides. Divide the yolks evenly into three bowls. Add a bit of salt (to taste) to each bowl.

For traditional deviled eggs, add half a teaspoon of ground mustard and one tablespoon of mayonnaise to one bowl with egg yolk and salt. Combine/mash with a fork. Fill four eggs and top with paprika.

For poppy seed deviled eggs, prepare the a bowl as you did for traditional eggs and add half a teaspoon of poppy seeds. Combine ingredients. Fill four eggs.

For curried deviled eggs, add half a teaspoon of curry powder and a tablespoon of mayonnaise to  the third bowl with egg yolks and salt. Combine ingredients. Fill  four eggs and top with garam masala.

Eat immediately.

PS: A word on the mayonnaise. If you are using store-bought and you live in the South, you use Duke's. All other brands are lame.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Mediterranean Lamb Chops

Well hello from the west coast! As I mentioned, my boys and I packed up our junk and moved across the country to Seattle. We've been here about two weeks, and things are starting to feel like home. I mean, we still have box tunnels set up for Danny in the living room and all, but my kitchen is ready for action.

Recently we were sick of unpacking, so we decided to invite the husband's cousin and his wife over for dinner. (They promised they didn't mind climbing over the box tunnel.) When we were discussing the menu, we wanted something easy and delicious. Mediterranean Lamb Chops were just the ticket.

Mouth-watering, tender lamb loin chops are marinated with Middle Eastern-inspired flavors and charred on a hot grill. The marinade includes za'atar, a spice my mother-in-law introduced me to. It's a blend of oregano, thyme, basil, sesame seeds, sumac, and other spices. We are big fans. If you don't find it at your local supermarket, you can order za'atar from Amazon or through Penzey's Spices. It has a unique flavor, and it's worth seeking out.

Next time you fire up the grill, change it up from your usual steak and give these Mediterranean Lamb Chops a try.

Let's get cooking!

Mediterranean Lamb Chops
Serves: 4

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons za'atar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 pounds lamb loin chops (about 8 bone-in chops)
Chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, za'atar, salt, and pepper. Place lamb chops in a baking dish or a gallon-sized ziploc baggie and pour marinade over the top, turning to coat. Marinate lamb at least 2 hours or up to overnight.

When you're ready to cook, allow lamb chops to come to room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your grill to medium high and oil the grates. (If you have a charcoal grill, build a fire that's hot on one side and cooler on the other.)

Grill the lamb chops for about 4 minutes on each side, until they're nicely charred. Then turn the heat down to low (or move the chops to the cooler side of your charcoal grill), and continue grilling for an additional 5 minutes or until lamb reaches desired doneness in the center. Remove the lamb chops to a plate and cover with foil. Allow them to rest for 5-10 minutes so the juices can redistribute. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Packet Potatoes

It's finally starting to feel like summer here in Illinois: hot and humid. That means the last thing I want to do for dinner is turn on the oven. Thank goodness for my grill.

These potatoes come out tender and mellow with just a little bit of crispness around the edges. The combination of garlic and rosemary is a savory favorite of mine and milk adds sweetness that tastes so good with the onions.

This is an ideal side for a main dish like grilled chicken or London broil. The leftovers hold up well and can be turned into breakfast after a quick toss in a skillet with some chopped red or green bell peppers to freshen them up. Serve alongside some fried or scrambled eggs.

Mangia! Mangia!

Packet Potatoes
Inspired by Guy Fieri

3 pounds potatoes (Yukon or Russet or Idaho), thinly sliced into rounds
1 small to medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup milk (2% or whole)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried or fresh rosemary leaves, crushed or chopped

Heat grill to medium.

Mix all ingredients in large bowl.

Take a 20-inch sheet of aluminum foil and fold it in half. Place half of the potato mixture on foil and fold up edges about a 1/2 inch. Repeat for the remaining potatoes.

Top with another piece of foil and crimp around all edges, wrapping bottom foil up.

Place foil packets on heated grill and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

Wearing oven mitts, use a large flat spatula to remove foil packets from grill and place on a cookie sheet. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Remove top piece of foil and serve — straight from the packet or after you transfer potatoes to a serving dish for a nicer presentation.