Monthly Archives: June 2014

Two ways to add flavor to what you’re grilling this summer

Grilling can be an enjoyable, quick and easy way to make a great supper without heating up the kitchen.  And you don’t need expensive ingredients or the finest steaks, if you know how to make those simple grilled chicken or pork or sausage or fish dishes taste special.  Here are two ways to add flavor:

Compound Butters.  A compound butter is just regular butter that has been combined with chopped herbs, citrus, cheeses, or spices.  Here’s how to make it:  Bring two sticks of butter just to room temperature.  Finely chop the ingredients you’ll be adding to the butter, (about 3 or 4 tablespoons), and mix them into the butter with a spatula or electric mixer until thoroughly combined.  Place the flavored butter on a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap, roll the butter into a smooth log shape, about 2 inches in diameter, and tie the edges of the paper with string so the butter stays in the log shape.  Chill until very firm.  Then slice into ¼ or ½ inch-thick slices with a sharp knife and place the butter directly on top of the grilled meat or poultry or fish as soon as it’s removed from the grill to platter or plate.

Some flavor suggestions:

Finely crumbled blue cheese, finely chopped walnuts, chopped chives and freshly ground black pepper (great on steak!)

Orange or lemon zest, chopped tarragon and thyme (for fish)

Minced garlic, finely chopped rosemary, chopped flat-leaf parsley (for pork).

Minced jalapeños, chili powder, cumin, and chopped sun-dried tomatoes (goes well with burgers, or steaks)

Finely chopped seeded tomatoes, finely shredded mozzarella, finely chopped Kalamata olives (for chicken)

There aren’t any rules: just think of what you’re grilling, and what flavors might go well with that, or which herbs are fresh, seasonal and readily available.  Chop those flavoring items up and combine them with butter, roll into a log, chill and slice, and then melt an amazing buttery taste on your hot-off-the-grill dinner!

Chimichurri sauce:  This is a delicious and easy-to-prepare classic South American marinade and sauce.   You’ll need a food chopper or processor or blender (or a good knife).

Finely mince 4 garlic cloves.  Then add the following into the processor or blender:

1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, with the thickest part of the stems removed

¼ cup red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pulse until finely chopped, and then add in about ½ to ¾ cup vegetable oil (olive oil is usually not the oil of choice), just until combined.  If you’re not using a food processor or blender, just finely chop the garlic and parsley and then stir them into the rest of the ingredients.  The sauce will not be smooth like a purée, but easy-to-spoon, with bits of garlic and parsley and pepper flakes floating in beautifully infused oil and vinegar.   If possible, let this sit at room temperature for about 2 hours.  Stir before using, and stir occasionally if you’re using this as a condiment.

There are as many Chimichurri recipes as there are people, it seems.  There are long discussions (and bitter arguments!) online about whether to use flat-leaf or curly-leaf parsley, how much garlic to use, and whether someone should be disowned for not adding fresh oregano into the mix. So the bottom line is, however you make this sauce, someone somewhere will disagree with how you made it.  I say: it’s delicious, so make it and enjoy it and enjoy your Chimichurri steaks while the fight rages, right? You can tailor the sauce to your preferences, of course.  Use less garlic, use more crushed red pepper flakes, add a hot red pepper, or add in some cilantro with the parsley (even though several countries may claim that their governments will collapse and thousands of years of tradition will be ruined, at the mere thought of such horror!)

But ultimately, you’ll have a beautiful, glistening green sauce that is perfect for use as a marinade, and for serving as a sauce or condiment with grilled steaks, bratwursts, sausages, chicken or fish.  It’s a delicious pizza sauce (with toppings like grilled chicken and Monterey jack cheese), or it can be spread on a sandwich.  Or, just dip thick slices of grilled bread into it.

 

 

Another example of the importance of reading those labels!!!!

While in the produce department of my local supermarket this morning, I noticed a prominent display of “Smoothie Mixes”, pouches with very attractive photographs of fruit, and on the front were the words “quick and easy to prepare, our Smoothie Mixes are an easy way to add  fresh fruit to your diet”.  Anyone who knows me knows I’m pretty suspicious of packets so I picked one up and read the label.

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I’m wondering how this is even allowed!!  I took photos of the directions, and the ingredients and “nutrition” facts.   So just to get this straight, you’ll need this pouch, a banana, milk and ice.  The mix contains sugar, corn syrup solids, natural and artificial flavors and xanthan gum.   There’s nothing nutritious in the mix, in fact, there’s nothing but sugars, a thickener, and whatever those flavors might be.

 

 

The entire packet contains 45 grams of sugar!!  That’s 10 more grams than a can of Coca Cola, or about 1/4 cup of sugar, and nearly twice the recommended daily limit of sugar consumption.

??????????????? So how does purchasing that smoothie mix pouch provide an easy way to add fresh fruit to your diet?  You buy the pouch of sugar, and then you buy a banana, and dump all that sugar onto the banana.  Here’s a crazy idea:  eat the fresh fruit in all it’s pure good natural state!  Think about it!  Make a smoothie out of fruits and vegetables (bananas, berries, carrots, and spinach are good choices) some ice, non-fat Greek yogurt and enjoy it.

I just want to encourage everyone to read what’s in the convenience and processed food products that we’re buying.  And then go buy the real food!

 

 

Crispy Asparagus Bites

This “recipe” is pretty open-ended, but easy to follow.  The precise amounts of ingredients will depend on how many asparagus spears you plan to use, and how many crispy bites you’d like to end up with.

Quick recipe (detailed instructions below):

Wash and dry asparagus spears.  Trim the bottom ends off.  Lightly dredge in seasoned flour, then in a basic egg wash, and finally in Panko bread crumbs combined with grated parmesan cheese (the cheese is optional).  Bake on a baking rack placed over a sheet pan at 425˚ for about 15 minutes or until golden and crispy.  Cut with kitchen shears into approximately 2 inch lengths, and garnish with lemon zest or a little fresh lemon juice or minced preserved lemon peel and a little freshly ground black pepper.  Serve immediately or chilled or at room temperature.

The recipe, step-by-step, with more detailed instructions:

First, wash the asparagus spears.  I used one and half bunches of regular thick-stalked asparagus.  Dry them with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel.  Then, trim the woody thick ends off.  To do this, bend one asparagus spear down near the end with both hands, as if you’re going to break it in two.  You’ll feel it begin to snap, and then a section of the bottom of the spear will automatically snap off.   It’s usually about a 2 or 3 inch section. Where it naturally snaps off is where it should be trimmed.  You can just line up the rest of the spears and cut the rest of the ends off with a knife to match the size of your sample spear.

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You’ll need three shallow containers:  one for flour, one for an egg and water mixture, and a third for bread crumbs.  I used three cheap oblong plastic storage containers that were long enough to hold the entire spear.  You could use cake pans, or even gallon-size zip top plastic bags.  You’ll also need a sheet pan or cookie sheet, and a baking rack (the kind you’d cool cookies on).  Preheat oven to 425˚.

In the first container, place enough all-purpose flour to coat the spears.  Add a half-teaspoon of salt and stir with a fork or clean hands so the flour and salt are combined.  (You could also add a little cayenne pepper or paprika or garlic powder, if you want a little spice kick.  I just stuck to flour and salt.)  The spears don’t have to be buried in the flour, just tossed to coat thoroughly.  For my one and a half bunches of asparagus, I used about a heaping half cup of flour.

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In the second container, mix 2 eggs and about a quarter cup of water.  The desired result is enough egg mixture to be able to coat the asparagus spears, so that the bread crumbs (in the next step) will stick to the spears.  Again, the spears do not have to be completely immersed in the egg mixture, just coated all over.  Lay a few spears in the egg mixture, and use your clean hands to make sure each spear gets an “egg bath”.

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In the third container, place about a heaping cup of Panko bread crumbs.  Panko crumbs are flaky and made from bread specifically crafted to produce these light crumbs.  They’re inexpensive and, in a regular grocery store, they’re usually found with the other bread crumb types or in the Asian section.  If you’d like, grate some fresh parmesan cheese (a couple of tablespoons) into the Panko crumbs.  Remove the asparagus spears from the egg bath, lightly shake off any excess egg, and place the spears into the bread crumbs, rolling to coat thoroughly.  The spears will not be completely coated like a corn dog, but there will be crumbs clinging around the entire spear.  You’ll still see plenty of the green asparagus through the crumb coating.

Place the baking rack on the sheet pan or cookie sheet.  I put parchment paper over the sheet pan just to catch any crumbs that fell off, for easier cleanup.  Lay the spears gently on the rack, making sure they are not too crowded.  Air should be able to circulate around each one.

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Bake them for about 15 – 18 minutes, until the crumbs are golden and the asparagus is crispy.  They won’t be crunchy like a potato chip, but they will not be soggy.

Then, to finish them, I used kitchen shears to cut each spear into bite-size pieces, about 2 inches long.  I think they’re easier to eat that way, and more appealing to kids.  For people who aren’t accustomed to eating asparagus, tasting a bite-size little crunchy bit is less intimidating than picking up an entire spear, and even if you’re an asparagus lover, the smaller pieces are neater to eat than a whole crumb-covered spear.  They’re also easier to pack (easier than finding a container long enough to hold entire spears).  I added a touch of lemon over them:  you could use the zest of a fresh lemon peel, or a spritz of fresh lemon juice, or – even better – if you’re lucky enough to have some preserved lemons (that’s for another blog post!), a little finely minced preserved lemon peel.  I also grated a little freshly ground black pepper over them.  Lemon pepper (if it’s not loaded with salt and sugar) would be a great seasoning to shake over these little bites, too. They can be eaten right away, or enjoyed chilled or at room temperature.  I packed them loosely in a container and brought them for a crispy picnic treat.