Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Turkey Feta Spinach Burgers with Pepperoncini Sauce

These are my all-time favorite burgers because of the way the briny feta cheese, earthy spinach and mellow onions combine with the zing from the sauce. It's a pleasure party for the palate.

If you're looking for a different take on July 4 fare, give these a try.

Mixing the feta and spinach with the turkey keeps the burgers super moist and flavorful. The creamy and spicy pepperoncini sauce delivers a refreshingly cool topper for this casual dinner.

I used to only cook these on the stovetop with my grill pan, but I've been toying with variations to keep the burgers from falling apart on my outdoor grill. Thanks to some collaboration with my nutritionist sister-in-law Karen S., this recipe ensures success with either cooking method!

Mangia! Mangia!

Turkey Feta Spinach Burgers with Pepperoncini Sauce
Inspired by chef Sara Moulton

For the burgers
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 cup chopped white or yellow onion
5 oz baby spinach
Salt and pepper to taste
3 ounces feta cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1 pound lean ground turkey
1 egg
1/4 cup or more of old fashioned oats, optional

For the sauce:
1/4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup low fat mayo
2 tablespoons seeded and chopped pepperoncini peppers (from a jar)
1 tablespoon pepperoncini liquid from the jar
1 or 2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until it begins to brown, about 5 or 6 minutes.  Add spinach and stir until wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a colander and let spinach and onion drain off excess liquid.

As spinach cools, you can mix up the creamy pepperoncini burger topper. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients for the sauce. Stir well and set aside.

Now you are ready to form your burgers. Mix together ground turkey, egg, spinach and onion, feta cheese, oregano, salt and pepper. If mixture seems too moist and loose, add oats to help add form. Shape into patties. You'll get four large or six to eight slider-sized burgers. Use whatever size makes sense for your family.

Spray burgers with cooking spray and grill over medium heat for about six minutes on each side.

If using buns, spread some pepperoncini sauce on the bottom buns and add the burgers. Spoon more  sauce over the burgers and top with bun. Or go bun-less and just use the sauce.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Teriyaki Chicken with Ginger Veggie Couscous

Take-out meals definitely serve their purpose, but making your own versions at home is more fun, healthier and budget-conscious, too.

I always have chicken in the freezer and a box or two of couscous on hand, so this was easy to whip up. A bag of matchstick carrots in the crisper drawer is the perfect add to the couscous, along with green onions and broccoli. As for the ginger, here's my tip: Instead of buying a piece of ginger root and using a micro-zester or a grater, I buy a tube of minced ginger. It lasts longer in the fridge than the root and speeds things up quite a bit.

You can use this teriyaki sauce as a marinade for grilled chicken or you can pour it over the chicken and bake it in the oven. Either way the flavor is restaurant-worthy.

Mangia! Mangia!

Teriyaki Chicken

1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced or grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water
3 to 4 pounds chicken pieces (skinless breasts or skinless thighs)

If oven baking, preheat oven to 425 degrees. If grilling, preheat your grill to medium about 10 minutes before you plan to cook the chicken.

In a saucepan, combine soy sauce, cider vinegar, garlic, ginger, pepper, brown sugar, cornstarch and cold water. Simmer over low heat until sauce thickens and begins to bubble. Remove pot from heat and set aside.

Place chicken in a 13 x 9 inch pan. Pour teriyaki sauce over chicken, turning the chicken pieces to coat both sides.

If baking, place in oven for 30 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink. Remove chicken from baking pan and place on serving platter. Top with remaining teriyaki sauce from baking dish.

If grilling, cover pan and put in refrigerator to let chicken marinate for 30 minutes. Preheat your grill. Remove chicken from marinade and grill on medium for 5 to 8 minutes per side, brushing with the extra marinade as you turn the chicken pieces. Cook until chicken is no longer pink inside.

Ginger Veggie Couscous

1 box wheat or plain couscous
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 and 1/2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 to 2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1/2 cup carrots, finely chopped
1 cup broccoli florets, chopped
1 to 1 and 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Prepare couscous according to package directions, except omit oil or butter.

Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add ginger, garlic, onions, carrots and broccoli. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Remove from heat.

Add couscous to skillet and stir to combine. Add sesame oil and soy sauce, and gently mix to combine the sauces.

To serve, plate chicken (slicing breast meat is a nice touch) with veggie couscous and enjoy!

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Tribute to the South

Last June, the husband, our boy, and I packed up our little house in Milwaukee and moved down south to Charlotte, North Carolina. And we've loved it here. If you haven't been to Charlotte yet, you've gotta get down here for a visit. The people are kind and polite, the weather is great, and it's a beautiful part of the country.

But we can't leave well enough alone. So this week we're packing up our little house in Charlotte and moving out west to Seattle, Washington. We are very excited about our new hometown, but you know what doesn't thrill me? Packing a gazillion boxes. I'm tired just thinking about it. So instead of bubbling wrapping my tchotchkes, I'm rounding up my favorite Southern-inspired recipes and reminiscing about my time in Charlotte.

Let's get cooking...some Southern food, y'all!

Bread & Butter Pickles: There's something about the South that makes me feel domestic, and what's more domestic than pickling?

Canned Applesauce: Okay. Maybe canning is more domestic than pickling.

Grilled Peach Salad with Goat Cheese: I don't know if it's the vicinity to Georgia or what, but they grow some killer peaches around here.

Lightened-up Chicken Curry Salad: When summer hits in Charlotte, it's just too hot to turn on the oven. Whip up this Chicken Salad with rotisserie chicken and you have the perfect no-cook meal.

Three Cheese & Bacon Macaroni & Cheese: Mac & cheese is southern. The TV told me so.

Spring on Toast: I made this egg and asparagus dish with Amy, one of my favorite Southerners.

Baked Cheesy Grits: I mean...GRITS.

Succotash with Green Beans: This just feels Southern to me.

Lemon Buttermilk Cake: I have used buttermilk in more recipes since moving to the South. And this cake is glorious.

Mint Julep: This one is obvious. Bottoms up!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sour Dough Coffee Cake

When a friend gave me a bag of Amish Friendship Bread starter earlier this year, I had no choice but to experiment.

To me, that's really what these bags of goo are all about. If you have kids (especially boys!) they will love squeezing and 'burping' the bags of starter as the yeast ferments with the milk, flour and sugar. And you can teach them a little science along the way. In fact, I've caught Sam several times sneaking into the dining room to squeeze the starter bags.

My sour dough starter is still going strong since I received it in March. And I've learned quite a bit, as Erin did when she received some starter a few years back.

If you haven't been gifted a bag, I encourage you to make your own. The recipe is here. When you (and your friends) get tired of using the starter, I'm happy to report that the freezing method does work. I made this coffee cake with a bag of starter slush that I thawed and re-started after it spent about two months in cold storage. Those little yeast molecules picked up fermenting right where they left off.

Once you make the traditional Amish Friendship Bread, it's easy to use starter for other things, including cakes, brownies, cookies, pancakes, biscuits and pie crust. If you need ideas be sure to visit the online bible of friendship bread recipes at the Friendship Bread Kitchen.

I'm not a huge fan of the instant pudding mix and loads of sugar that many starter recipes use. Luckily for me, when Robin T.  delivered my first starter bag, she included pudding-free recipes developed by her co-worker Claudia T. This coffee cake recipe is a spin off. And it is the best coffee cake. Ever. The day after my recipe tinkering I had to give away batches of cake to my neighbors because we could not stop eating it.

Mangia! Mangia!

Sour Dough Coffee Cake

For the cake batter
2 cups of sour dough starter
1 1/2 cups of flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup oil
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

For the topping
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg or ginger, or 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (experiment!)
1/2 cup butter at room temperature
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts, almonds, etc.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with cooking spray or grease with butter or shortening.

Using a plastic or wooden bowl and spoon, mix together all ingredients for the cake batter. (Do not use metal. It reacts with the yeast in the starter and gives it a funny taste.) Pour mixture into pan and spread out evenly.

Place all topping ingredients in a second bowl. Using two knives or a pastry cutter, incorporate butter into other ingredients until crumbs begin to form. Sprinkle topping generously over cake batter. You might have some left over. (You can freeze the extra topping and use it when you make this coffee cake again — because there will be a next time.)

Place pan in oven and bake for 30 minutes to 40 minutes, until the top is browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let the cake cool. Then cut yourself a piece and indulge. And keep your starter going so that you can make this again.

Here's Max holding one of our starter bags.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Skippy (aka Skip and Go Naked)

I love when I get to hang out with my Ohio family. We play cards, usually euchre, gin and knock poker, while drinking Skippies. The Skippy is short for Skip and Go Naked. But I can assure you that we are fully clothed -- if not fully sober -- while partaking.

And it turns out we are not alone. Just Google "Skip and Go Naked" and you will find plenty of recipes, some called "Hop, Skip and Go Naked."

Also, ask your friends if they have heard of this frozen limeade/beer/vodka concoction. Andrea and Erin have pals in Illinois and Wisconsin respectively who refer to this drink as the Strip and Go Naked. If I had to guess, I would say all this nakedness has to do with the Skippy being the perfect drink in the heat of summer. (Hello, it's approaching 100 degrees in Charlotte as I write this!)

The traditional Skippy -- at least in my family -- is made of limeade, beer, and vodka. However, I do like the Skippy with cranberry, beer and vodka. If you are looking for a poor man's margarita, make a limeade, beer and tequila Skippy.

About the beer: think cheap, canned, all American beer. Absolutely do NOT waste your craft brews on the Skippy.


Skippy (aka Skip and Go Naked)

6 oz. frozen limeade (or pink lemonade or cranberry)
6 oz. cheap beer
6 oz. vodka (or tequila)
Ice (amount varies by taste)

Blend together equal parts of limeade, beer, and booze along with the right amount of ice for you and your fellow Skippy drinkers. How slushy do you like your Skippy? How strong? Only you know the answer. Experiment -- that should turn out well!

Ideally, you can find a 6 ounce can of limeade concentrate, but they are hard to find. That's what works best; you dump the entire thing into the blender and then fill the empty can up with beer and toss that in the blender, and repeat with the booze of your choice. Most standard home blenders will accommodate 6 ounces -- max! -- of each of the main ingredients (limeade, beer, and booze), allowing plenty of room for ice. The Vitamix might be roomy enough for a bigger batch; I'll have to try that.

Another thing to try: One of Andrea's friends makes her Skippies over ice and to cut down on the limeade -- which has a ton of sugar -- she uses some lime-flavored La Croix sparkling water.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Zucchini Rice

I found Zucchini Rice on Pinterest forever ago, and I'm kicking myself for not trying this simple and delicious recipe sooner. It's incredibly flavorful, but still versatile enough to pair with just about anything. Pork chops, grilled steak, teriyaki salmon...My friends, you have found your side dish.

In addition to being tasty, Zucchini Rice is healthy! It's the perfect way to sneak an extra veggie into your meal. Your kids might not even know they're eating zucchini. And I won't tell them. Your secret's safe here, folks.

Let's get cooking!

Zucchini Rice
Adapted from: Dishing with Leslie
Serves: 6

1 tablespoon butter
1 cup rice
2 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 large zucchini, grated (about 2 1/2 cups)
Salt and pepper

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium. Stir in rice and allow it to toast until golden brown, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and allow rice to cook until tender, about 15-20 minutes. (It's okay if the liquid isn't totally absorbed. Just make sure the rice is tender.)

Stir in Parmesan, grated zucchini, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover skillet and allow to sit for 5 more minutes. Stir again and serve.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Grilled Eggplant Salad

Recipe inspiration is all around us — even at the local pharmacy.

The idea for this side dish originates from one of those free diabetes magazines. I was flipping through it while waiting for a script to be filled, way back in 2011. I love eggplant and usually grill it basted in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Mixing it up with mint and lemon juice?? Just the ticket for a summer dinner.

When grilled, the eggplant takes on a creamy texture and the red onions mellow. Together with the mint and lemon juice, those tastes are super refreshing.

My husband and I devour this dish, which I usually serve with grilled steak or pork chops. It's growing on my boys, and I think I've served it to most of my relatives. I've grilled the vegetables on my outdoor grill and on the stovetop using my grill pan. Sometimes I forget the parsley. It doesn't matter – it always tastes so good.

I use a large eggplant and a large or jumbo red onion because I usually burn some pieces in the grilling process and have to toss them out. If you are an expert griller, tell me your secrets!

If there are any leftovers, I like to use them tossed with salad greens and crumbled feta cheese.

Mangia! Mangia!

Grilled Eggplant Salad

1 large eggplant, sliced into 1/4 inches rounds
1 large red onion, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
Vegetable or olive oil cooking spray or enough oil to coat eggplant and onion rounds
Juice of 1 lemon (2 to 3 tablespoons)
1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Optional: 1 to 2 teaspoons lemon zest

Preheat grill to medium. Spray or brush both sides of eggplant and onion slices with oil.

Grill eggplant and onion slices on medium for 2 to 3 minutes each side. Remove from grill and let cool on cutting board or in a bowl.

While vegetables cool, combine lemon juice, parsley, mint, olive oil, black pepper and cayenne pepper in medium bowl.

Chop eggplant and onion and add to bowl. Stir to combine. Serve immediately or chill to serve later.