Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cookout Week: Grilled Eggplant

grilled eggplant

We recently hosted a BBQ for a few dozen people, grilling Drive-Through Burgers, hot dogs, and eggplant. There wasn't a vegetarian in the bunch, so I was surprised that it was the eggplant that people were raving about. It's a dream to prep for a party: no salting, no marinating, and minimal seasoning. It doesn't get much simpler -- or tastier.

Grilled Eggplant

This is wonderful fresh, and the leftovers work well in just about any eggplant dish you can imagine. We've enjoyed the eggplant diced with noodles and peanut sauce.

eggplant, any type or size
olive oil
freshly ground pepper
chopped fresh oregano and marjoram, or other herbs

Slice eggplant into half-inch-thick slices. Lightly brush olive oil on each side. Grill over medium-high heat for a few minutes on each side, until you see grill marks, brushing with more oil if the eggplant looks dry. Remove from heat, season with salt, pepper, and herbs, and serve.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Cookout Week: Marinated Tri-Tip

Summer's in full swing, and Fourth of July cookouts are just around the corner. To celebrate, this week we have a handful of great dishes for summer parties.

This marinated tri-tip is a favorite of mine, originally posted last spring. It's a simple preparation that brings out the best of this lean, tender, and inexpensive cut. It cooks in mere minutes on the grill, and the leftovers -- if there are any -- are fantastic.

Growing up on the East Coast, I had never heard of tri-tip. Apparently it's a West Coast thing, but is spreading in popularity in the U.S. It's also known as triangle roast, triangle tip, or bottom sirloin butt; if you don't spot it where you buy meat, ask the butcher. It's worth hunting down.

Marinated Tri-Tip

I top the grilled slices with sliced scallions from the garden. A little green decoration on top makes me think it’s healthier than it is.

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon water
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
black pepper
2 pounds beef tri-tip, cut into 1/2-inch slices

Stir together the soy sauce, olive oil, water, garlic, and pepper in a bowl. Add the tri-tip slices, cover, and marinate in the refrigerator at least four hours.

Oil the grates of a medium-hot grill. Grill slices 3 to 5 minutes on each side, or until they’re done to your liking.

Monday, June 21, 2010

On the Road: Kids Meals? Indeed.

At some point during our short trip to London I realized that something might be really healthier on the Kingdom. Perhaps it's a Jamie Oliver thing. Check it: all brits are grateful of the changes he made on school menus that resulted (serioulsy) in academic improvement. 
Besides that positive influences of the "Eat your 5 a day"culture, all the classics of American kids meals, - including chicken nuggets to the  good old burger are in the menu of most places we visited. Margherita pizza is also a very popular option for the little ones. Add to that some other traditional foods like Minced Beef and Onion Pie. But always accompanied by garden peas or other greens besides those delicious chunks of British style chips.
Diana Memorial Park at Kensington Gardens (forget the formal name, it's really a Pirate's Park inspired in Peter Pan's story), we had the chance of buying organic snacks at the Playcafe,  and mostly very fresh. Ice cream from Cornwall was the best ever. At the South Bank Center, the Riverside Cafe was not just showing to support good commerce selling Fair Trade, as all the cups, forks and knives were made of  biodegradable materials. The ingredient of the month was Spelt Flour. How very charming.
In one of my favorite restaurants, Wagamama, we had a wonderful experience of a kids "friendliness". Easy going chopsticks helped the kids to eat the best gyoza (Japanese potstickers) ever. Kids meal  itself was huge and good: noodles, grilled chicken and veggies composed one of the coolest plates I've ever seen. Besides the crayon and the paper to draw.

Although we had a great time at the Natural History Museum and its awesome dinosaurs, one of the inspiring sighs was the cakes table: I and grandma Myrna  could not refuse, and instead of the 5 a day veggies and fruit, kids indulged on a slice of lemon pound cake. Also, I must not forget about all the temptations of flapjacks, jacket potatoes and traditional pastries. They were all there for fast options at the street. But for emergency picnic lunch at Holland Park, we ended up choosing the Boots Meal Deal. It is buying lunch at a drugstore, a kind of londoner institution.
Unfortunately we didn't make it to one of the Naked Chef restaurants in London. And therefore could not witness his food revolution on the table. I know he welcomes kids in his Jamie Oliver Italian, serving smaller portions of his home made pasta with the same sauce he brews for the grown ups, with some free range chicken. And also always a small salad goes with it. If the kids eat their greens, they get a badge.  The day I planned to go there we were surprised by a storm, and we got stuck and soaked at Covent Garden Transport Museum.
The change of plans was not that bad. Kids ended up devouring Quiche Lorraine at Le Pain Quotidien. Grandma had the pleasure of tasting a nice green salad while I was eating a delicious mushroom and chickpeas soup. And, better than that, they could taste some special dessert of the day, made with red berries, cream and meringue. Look at the yummy picture. Not very British, but very very good. We finally understood that sometimes,  when on the road, the best bet is - like we do when eating out at home: To split a grown up meal and forget all about the comfortable zone of kid's meals.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

On the Road: The Healthy Afternoon Tea at Margot's Kitchen

Margot is a longtime friend with a magic talent for creating good-looking and nutritious food. Her gorgeous kitchen — in a beautiful home in London — is, since last May, the stage for cooking classes. And, as I guess, long before that, a place for delighted friends and delicious food.

Her approach to cooking is simple:  Healthy food can go gourmet, preserving its soul.

For our afternoon tea, Margot prepared a improvised menu for our impromptu visit. "I wanted a well-balanced meal, so that the kids would have everything they need," she said. In the meantime, the kids were having fun playing with her daughter.

Each corner of her kitchen raised my curiosity. Well-designed shelves, ultra contemporary lines, and antique pieces are mixed together, creating a unique environment. When we met, about 18 years ago, we were both very distant from kitchens. And how fun it was to discover, after all those years, that we had both had developed a passion for cooking.  Margot is a qualified nutritional therapist, able to design menus to make people healthier and reorganize their pantries, substituting healthier ingredients.

After long conversation and good laugh, a collection of beautiful plates was ready in front of us: warm grilled eggplant and pomegranate salad, roasted chicken, fruit salad, green salad, and an unforgettable savory muffin — the recipe for the muffin is below. Enjoy!

Zucchini and Pine Nut Muffins

Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe. Margot used what she had on hand, substituting some  ingredients. She also prepares this delicious muffin with feta cheese and tomatoes.

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons white spelt flour or whole-grain flour
3 tablespoons rolled oats
2 tablespoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 to 2 teaspoons flaky or kosher sea salt (depending on how salty your Parmesan is)
A few grinds of black pepper
8 large basil leaves, shredded
4 tablespoons Parmesan, coarsely grated, plus another 1 1/2 or so to sprinkle on top
2 eggs
1 cup plain sheep's milk yogurt
4 tablespoons olive or grapeseed oil
3/4 cup plus two tablespoons zucchini, coarsely grated
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons raisins

Preheat the oven to 400F and line a muffin pan with 12 paper muffin cups.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, pepper, basil, and Parmesan. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, yogurt, and oil. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir with a spatula until roughly combined — don't over-mix. Add zucchini, pine nuts, and raisins and stir just until evenly distributed.

Spoon or scoop the batter into the muffin cups and sprinkle the rest of the Parmesan over the tops. Bake for about 18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Second Helping: Cherry Chicken Salad

For years I resisted the temptation to buy a cherry pitter, on the grounds that there's no room in my kitchen for single-purpose tools. I pitted cherries by hand, or skewered the pits on cake decorating tips. It was so tedious I began to regret ever introducing my husband to fresh cherry pies.

Finally I broke down and bought not one, but two cherry pitters at a local cherry orchard market. I chose a simple push-button gizmo that secures to the top of a canning jar; it works beautifully. My kindergartner, however, fell in love with the less efficient but utterly charming Cherry Chomper. It's worth dedicating space for two tools to enjoy sitting at the table with my boys, pitting cherries and eating half the bounty while we work.

During the brief, perfect cherry season, we work the fruit into everything: ice cream, pies, and tarts, in salads, with yogurt, in a warm compote with meat, and of course savored fresh out of hand. Here I added cherries to a very light chicken salad, made with Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise and with jicama, one our favorite vegetable snacks. I also incorporated pineapple sage, the latest addition to our herb garden. I'm still learning how to work with this surprisingly light and tropical-scented herb, and I found I needed quite a bit to get much flavor.

Cherry Chicken Salad

If you don't have pineapple sage, substitute freely with other herbs -- tarragon, mint, rosemary, and oregano would all work well. Adjust the amount to suit your taste.

1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 1/2 cups cooked, chopped chicken (about 1 pound)
2 cups cherries, pitted and quartered
1 cup diced jicama (or 1/2 cup celery)
3 tablespoons fresh pineapple sage, chopped (or substitute other herbs to taste)
freshly ground black pepper
salad greens

In a small bowl, combine yogurt and lemon juice. In a medium bowl, combine chicken, cherries, jicama, and herbs. Stir yogurt mixture into chicken mixture; season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve atop salad greens.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Playdate Special: Vanilla-Seared Scallops with Mango, Cherries and Tomato

Something about the abundance of cherries at the market triggered a compulsion to pair them with scallops. It was a strange urge, as I'd prepared scallops exactly once before, years ago, and overcooked them horribly.

This time, however, I nailed it: nicely caramelized with a hint of vanilla, paired with spring cherries at their peak and a beautiful mango. It was still missing a little something -- a light sprinkling of sea salt, and a bit of the season's first tomatoes. Perfect. (And another contribution to the anniversary party over at Mango & Tomato!)

It's an appealing presentation for kids who may be unsure of scallops. Two of the four kids liked it, and one more at least tried it. We enjoyed this as an appetizer, but it also makes a great summer entree. The scallops need half an hour in the refrigerator before cooking, but total time on the stove is just a few minutes.

Vanilla-Seared Scallops with Mango, Cherries and Tomato

Topped with fresh fruit, these scallops are a lovely light summer meal. This recipe serves 4 as an entree, or 8 as an appetizer. If you've made compound butter with vanilla, you could substitute that for the separate butter and vanilla here.

1 pound large sea scallops
olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 vanilla bean (or 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract)
1 mango, stoned and chopped
1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and quartered
1 yellow or orange tomato, chopped
freshly ground pepper
sea salt

Rinse scallops and pat dry. Set on several layers of paper towels and put in refrigerator, uncovered, for 30 minutes to allow scallops to dry.

Combine mango, cherries and tomato in a bowl; set aside.

When ready to cook, spray a non-stick pan with olive oil, set it over medium-high heat, and add butter. Split vanilla bean lengthwise with a paring knife and scrape vanilla seeds into the pan (or add extract, if using). Season scallops with salt and pepper and set in a single layer in the pan (you might need to cook this in two batches if your pan is small).

Cook 2 to 3 minutes, until bottom of each scallop is nicely browned and releases easily from the pan. Turn scallops over and cook another two to three minutes. Arrange cooked scallops on a platter and top with fruit mixture and remaining butter from pan. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and serve immediately.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Second Helping: Lavender Lemonade

Growing up in the Northeast, I was smitten on road trips south by the idea of oranges or lemons growing in your own yard. Years later, I'm living the dream, with a small but thriving lemon tree that keeps us well-supplied ... through winter. It's wonderful to cut into a freshly picked lemon on Christmas Day, but come summer, when I want to make lemonade by the bucket and plunk perfect yellow citrus slices into pitchers of water and iced tea, my little tree is stubbornly setting out flowers for fall fruit.

So in late winter I collect quarts of lemon juice, portioned out and frozen to see me through my summer lemonade needs. Happily, once summer hits there's a flush of fresh lavender flowers and other herbs to infuse the lemonade.

Basil and mint are great alternatives to the lavender in this syrup, and probably easier to obtain. The syrup stores well in the refrigerator, without the lemon juice, and freezes for months.

Lavender Lemonade

Try adding a splash of the lavender syrup to iced tea or frozen drinks, or use it in baking or sorbet. Be sure to use pesticide-free lavender. Grow your own, clip it from a trusted friend's plant, or find it at Whole Foods or the farmer's market. Alternatively, you can substitute basil, mint, or other herbs. This makes a lightly sweet lemonade, which suits my taste; you may want to adjust the amount of sugar.

1/3 cup culinary lavender flowers
1 cup sugar
6 cups water, divided
1 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 4 lemons)

In a small saucepan, combine lavender, sugar, and 2 cups water over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Bring to a boil, then cover and remove from heat. Let steep 45 minutes, then strain to remove herbs.

Pour syrup into pitcher and stir in lemon juice and remaining water. Taste, and add more lemon juice (to cut sweetness) or water (to dilute) to suit your preference. Garnish with lemon slices, if desired, and serve.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Tips and Gadgets: Tomato and Mango Celebration, a Coulis for Shrimps

If you, like us, like to experiment, here's an inspiration: The author of Mango and Tomato is celebrating the second anniversary of her blog with a contest, looking for new recipes than include her favorite ingredients.

Of course, those are mangoes and tomatoes.

So this recipe is to take a chance of creating something daring and help her celebrate her adventures in the kitchen.

While our very young explorers didn't yet have yet the chance to try that, my oldest son had a look on the pictures and said: "I want to eat those." We tasted this little amusing hors d'├│euvre  on Tuesday night and found it charming, and she suggested to add more sweetness to it, so instead of honey, I added a bit more sugar.  We bet that the most adventurous kids will give it try, while the cautious ones will be at least curious. In the meantime, something refreshing and colorful from our table to yours:

Wrapped Shrimp with Mango and Tomato Coulis

As always, it's a good idea to consult the Monterey Bay Aquarium guide to buy the best option of shrimps available. Here I am thinking of a portion of four shrimps per guest as an appetizer, with enough sauce to amuse them.

Grilled shrimps:
16 shrimps, de-veined, cleaned, tail on
Olive oil
16 pieces of apple-smoked bacon (or turkey bacon) strips, long enough to cover the shrimp circumference

1 cup peeled, chopped fresh tomato (go for the sweet types), no seeds
1 cup chopped fresh flesh of mango (used a pink Mexican fruit)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon cacha├ža (Brazilian sugar cane liquor)  or cognac (optional), a non-alcoholic option would be some drops of fresh lime juice
Little salt to taste
1 garlic clove, minced
Freshly cut chives to garnish

Stir-fry shrimps in a mist of olive oil over medium heat on a shallow skillet. When flesh turns pink, remove shell but leave the tail,  and wrap each shrimp with the bacon strip. The bacon will close itself with the heat, creating a ring around the shrimp. When bacon is crispy and shrimp all cooked, it is all ready to go.

For the coulis, start blending both fruits together and gradually add garlic, salt and sugar. At the end use the liquor or some drops of lime juice until all is smooth and integrated.  On the first test of this recipe, I simmered the sauce to make sure all the flavors were there. But on the second I just used it fresh and loved it. You can also strain everything to make sure you are honoring the name "coulis". Some mango fibers will need that help!

Serve shrimps with the sauce. An option is to serve it as a traditional prawn cocktail.


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