Category Archives: Side Dishes
Tasty—And Healthy—Caesar Salad Dressing
It’s a summer classic!
Who doesn’t love a good Caesar salad when the romaine is garden fresh, the croutons are toasty crisp, the Parmesan is salty and plentiful, and the dressing is tangy, lemony, and nicely briny? Just add some grilled chicken on a steamy summer evening, pour yourself a frosty beer or wine cooler, and dig in to this perfect hot summer treat.
Or, as we do here, pile up a batch of luscious grilled shrimp with some shredded romaine, some pickled onions, and your homemade Caesar dressing on warm tortillas and treat the family to the best fish tacos EVER!
That’s how we do it.
The Caesar palette is something with which we’re all familiar; fresh, crisp romaine, shaved Parmesan, garlicky croutons—you do make your own, right?—and that classic salty dressing. It just cries out for a cold beer in a frosty mug, doesn’t it?
But ah, you say, the dressing! Mayo, egg yolk, oil? Healthy?
Here’s a different take; it’s creamy and delicious, and I guarantee your guests will never know the difference.
We’ve eliminated the mayo and egg, reduced the amount of oil, and come up with a perfect Caesar dressing for the 21st century, when getting healthy is something that will serve all of us well.
But can’t that dressing be fussy? I say, NOPE! Just grab a food processor, dump, and Voilà! Tangy heaven. Here’s the scoop…
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Juice from 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, sliced thin (do not smash it)
½ tablespoon Dijon mustard (we use stone-ground Dijon)
2 anchovy filets (don’t skip the anchovies—anchovy paste from a tube works well here—about a 2-inch ribbon)
1 tablespoon GOOD extra-virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons 0% fat Greek yogurt
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper (more than you think you need)
Simply dump all the ingredients into a food processor–it’s just the right amount for a mini-chopper–and whiz until it’s smooth. That’s it!
It works out really well to make the dressing in the morning and allow the flavors to marry, but it’s not necessary.
And if you want it, here’s the fast scoop on the tacos: Season the shrimp with salt and pepper; melt butter and oil in a large skillet, saute one pound of shrimp, two minutes on each side, in butter and olive oil; add some lemon juice, garlic, red pepper flakes, and freshly chopped parsley, and toss to combine. Turn off the heat. Then pile the shrimp, salad, and some pickled red onions on warm tortillas (flour tortillas are better for this recipe), and serve immediately.
Mmmmm Mmmmm Good!
Pan-Seared Scallops and Risotto with Red Wine and Balsamic Vinegar Pan Sauce
Red wine and scallops? Heresy!
This one deserves a try, because A) it’s so damn simple; and B) because at the beach house it’s all I had on hand. What surprised me was just how quick and simple it was to make.
Confession: we didn’t really make risotto–that’s way too fussy for beach cooking–rather in this case it was brown rice cooked a bit too long, then steeped off the stove for a while until it got mushy and gluey. But the pan sauce loosened it up a bit. At home I’d make a real Parmesan risotto with some shredded zucchini and fresh tomatoes (https://jeffskitchen.net/2012/08/06/zucchini-parmesan-risotto/).
But the scallops are fresh and local here in Chincoteague, and the dish was perfect.
Here’s the plan:
1 pound fresh sea scallops (about 18)
2 teaspoons Meyer lemon-infused olive oil (available at most good gourmet shops)
1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons premium Balsamic vinegar
Old Bay seasoning
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh chives or green onion
1. Rinse well and pat dry the scallops–make sure they’re VERY DRY. Season with salt, pepper, and a very light dusting of Old Bay seasoning.
2. Heat the pan over medium-high heat, then add half the olive oil and count to ten. Gently place half the scallops in the pan and sear three minutes without moving them; flip and sear the other side for two additional minutes. Remove to a plate and keep them in a warm oven. Repeat with the remaining olive oil and scallops.
3. Turn the heat under the pan down to medium and add the wine and vinegar, stirring constantly to deglaze the pan. Make sure to scrape up all the brown bits in the pan into the liquid–that’s where the magic happens. Reduce the pan sauce by half.
Serve the scallops over the rice or risotto and drizzle with the pan sauce. Garnish with chopped chives.
Cold Sesame Noodle Salad Perfected
I can’t believe I’ve done it.
I’ve spent the past 35 years in search of the perfect recipe for cold peanut/sesame noodle salad. I’ve tried recipes from restaurants, cookbooks, friends, enemies, the Internet…you name it, I’ve tried it. I’ve experimented with numerous methods and techniques, different types of noodles, flavor combinations native to different nationalities–Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Burmese. I’ve tried different levels of spice and heat. I’ve experimented with the participants in cooking classes I’ve taught.
And each time there seemed to be some element of the recipe missing. I always thought: good, but not just perfect.
I think I’ve done it.
Recognizing, of course, that each of you has your own version of what’s perfect in this classic–it’s one of those recipes that you use to gauge how good an Asian restaurant is. This is one of mine.
I started my quest with my long-time friend Vicki (are you still with me, Vicki Corey? I bow in your general direction), who shared with me the basic concept of “threes.” Three tablespoons of this, that, and the other, three teaspoons of this and that. And this recipe, which I still have and which is reproduced way back in the early pages of this blog (here’s the link: https://jeffskitchen.net/?s=Vicki%27s, or search on Vicki’s Noodles), has served me extremely well. No matter where or which recipe I tried I kept coming back to this one as being as close to perfect as I had found. It even once won me a “Philly’s Best” award when I was making it for a small gourmet shop in Ardmore, PA, a place known for good food.
It’s (in my view) just the right amount of spicy/hot for everyone, but if you like it spicier/hotter, add more chili oil or some Sriracha to suit yourself. In this version of the recipe I’ll recommend specific ingredient brands, most of which are available at your local Asian grocery store.
Also, when you read my recommendation for the noodles to use, you’ll holler, “WHAT??? THAT’S NOT ASIAN!” Okay, I know that. But what are you expecting? Authentic or perfect? I’ll opt for perfect.
Try it. You’ll like it. Guaranteed!
Spicy Sesame Peanut-Noodle Salad
1 box (13.25 oz) rotini or fusilli whole wheat noodles, cooked al dente’
3 Tablespoons premium light (or dark, if you dare) soy sauce
3 Tablespoons brown rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
2 Tablespoons toasted dark sesame seed oil
2 teaspoons sesame chili oil
3 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
3 Tablespoons Crazy Richard’s crunchy peanut butter
1/3 cup chopped red cabbage
1 medium carrot, shredded fine
1/3 cup chopped green onion, divided
1/3 cup chopped peanuts, divided
½ cup FRESH(!) bean sprouts
- Whisk the next seven ingredients (soy sauce through peanut butter) until they are completely blended.
- Cook the noodles per package, 1 minute LESS than the recommended al dente’ time; drain 5-10 minutes, but DO NOT RINSE.
- Place the noodles in a large bowl, add the sauce and toss to coat all the noodles well.
- Add the cabbage, carrot, ¼ cup green onion, ¼ cup peanuts, and bean sprouts and toss again to coat all the ingredients. If you wish a more Thai flavor, add ¼ cup shredded fresh Thai basil or chopped cilantro.
- If you wish to add a protein—slices of grilled chicken, steak, shrimp, or tofu, do it now.
- Allow to stand until the salad reaches room temperature.
Garnish with the remaining peanuts and green onion and serve at room temperature or refrigerate for later, but allow to return to room temperature for serving (garnish when serving).
And by the way, if you’re truly interested in an authentic Sesame Noodle salad or if you’re allergic to nuts, replace the peanut butter with tahini. And for an authentic noodle, you can use either 8 ounces medium rice noodles, or Soba or Udon noodles.
Fabulous Summer Salads
It’s hot out there; who wants to cook? Not me. So what I worked on this week are summer salads.
Ho hum, right? Potato salad, cole slaw, macaroni salad? Same old same old.
Not this guy.
I came up with two wonderful new recipes inspired by other, pre-existing recipes and worked them over into wonderful new dishes with my (and Ellen’s) personal twists to make a balmy summer evening absolutely sing with new flavors.
Standard ingredients, new applications. Here’s what we’ve got.
Among the things upon which Ellen and I agree is that we don’t much like creamy potato salads; you know the ones–potatoes, celery, mayonnaise, salt and pepper–not much about which to get excited.
Enter Eating Well magazine. Eating well is something I excel at, although “well” is a bit of a stretch. The magazine means healthy; to me, “eating well” generally means enjoying what we’ve made to the extreme. In this case, I’ll stick to (relatively) healthy–no mayo in this potato salad, just a beautious blend of herbs and spices that make a summer day feel like a celebration. This month’s issue of Eating Well features a choice of potato salads that are different from the norm almost as much as they are different from each other.
Our choice from this page was a luscious Greek potato salad with (or, in our case, without) beautiful Kalamata olives (Ellen doesn’t like olives, so we left them out, but I love them, so I say “put ’em in!” Here’s the plan:
The second recipe is a variation on a Mexican bean salad, with a tangy cumin/lime dressing that is similar to one that has long been one of our favorites. It’s like a bean salad I wrote about a couple of years ago, but with a twist in the dressing. The dressing started with the Food Network’s Ellie Krieger, but I’ve worked it over to my liking, and I sure do like it. Better, although the original is delicious.
I think you’ll like both recipes. We served them with grilled chicken and freshly torn romaine lettuce and the same dressing as in the beans. Fabulous!
Greek Potato Salad
2½ pounds red or Yukon Gold potatoes
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup reduced-fat Feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup Kalamata olives, quartered (optional! — NOT!)
1 medium cucumber, seeded and quartered and diced
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
¼ cup finely chopped shallot
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Scrub and dice the potatoes to a ½-inch dice and place on a steamer basket above one inch of water in a large pot; steam until tender, 12-15 minutes. Place the potato dice on a baking sheet, sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and let cool for 15 minutes. Then gently place them in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, shallot, mustard, and salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes, Feta, olives (or not ;), cucumber, and oregano to the potatoes, then drizzle the dressing into the bowl. Toss gently, so as not to break up the potatoes, and add salt and pepper to taste. Place the bowl in the fridge for at least two hours, then serve.
Mexican Black Bean and Tomato Salad
2 cans black beans, rinsed well
4 fresh San Marzano (or Roma) plum tomatoes, ½-inch dice
1 orange (or yellow) bell pepper, seeded and pith removed, ½-inch dice
1 4-ounce can chopped green chiles, drained
½ red onion, diced
1 10-oz package of frozen corn, thawed, rinsed, and drained
¼ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon freshly grated lime zest
1 ½ teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 ½ teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper (more if you like your salads tangy!)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon finely ground white pepper
Place the first seven ingredients (beans through cilantro) in a large bowl. In a separate, smaller bowl, add the zest, juice, cumin, chipotle pepper, salt, and white pepper, and stir to mix well. Slowly drizzle the olive oil into the dressing bowl whisking constantly to create a mixed dressing that thickens as you add the oil. Pour over the salad ingredients and toss to coat the salad well. Serve immediately to get all the flavor from the tomatoes and cilantro, or chill for later serving.
Both these recipes are tasty and reasonably healthy, and go well with anything grilled. Try ‘em both!
Around the World in Eight Courses (Continued)
Here are more wonderful recipes from our Around the World in Eight Courses dinner party ten nights ago. These are three more of the tapas presentations on the platter. Mini roasted peppers stuffed with herbs and goat cheese, a terrific parsley and anchovy (that’s right! anchovy) dip that was served with slices of bell pepper, toasted pita chips, and an onion and potato torte that was cut into bite-sized pieces. The surprise of the platter was the parsley dip, with the anchovies poached in a broth of milk and olive oil. Not salty, not offensive in any way, but rather very tasty and begging to be sampled twice.
Here, then are the recipes:
Peppers Stuffed with Goat Cheese
8 ounces goat cheese
3 scallions, green parts only, roughly chopped
½ cup fresh mint, finely chopped
Red pepper flakes
Zest and juice of two lemons
12 mini red and yellow bell peppers
Prepare the filling an hour or two ahead. Place goat cheese, scallions, mint, and red-pepper flakes in a bowl. Zest and juice lemons into the bowl, straining seeds. Mix until well combined. Refrigerate until ready to fill the peppers.
Roast the peppers in a 350-degree oven, turning every five minutes, until they are blackened all over (alternately, roast them over a gas-stove flame, using tongs to keep them above the flames); then place them on a parchment-lined tray and cover with a dish towel until they are completely cool. Peel the skins gently, trying not to damage the roasted peppers.
Spoon the filling into a plastic bag, squeeze the filling into a bottom corner of the bag, remove as much air from the bag as possible, and twist the top of the bag. This forms a small piping bag. Cut a small piece of the bottom corner of the plastic bag, and fill each pepper with about 2 tablespoons of the goat cheese mixture. Place on a serving plate, and sprinkle with red-pepper flakes; garnish with spring onions if desired. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, about 1 hour.
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup whole milk
1 head garlic, peeled and smashed
2 bunches parsley heads
2-3 tsp. Lemon juice
In a small saucepan, bring olive oil, milk, garlic, and anchovy fillets to a simmer over medium; cook until garlic is tender, 8 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and add parsley. Pulse until smooth; season with pepper and lemon juice.
Onion and Potato Torte
7 tbsp EVOO
1 medium onion, ½-inch rounds
3 Yukon golds, ¼-inch rounds
Freshly ground pepper
1 clove garlic
Chicory or endive
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
Preheat oven to 325.
Saute onions till golden, place in bowl. Repeat with potatos. Whisk together eggs, salt, and pepper. Add to onions and potatoes.
Heat pan with extra-virgin olive oil, add mixture and cook until edges begin to brown. Place in oven and bake, covered, until set, about 10 minutes. Remove top and broil until lightly browned.
Brush bread with EVOO and garlic, toast until golden.. Toss lettuce with vinegar, salt and pepper. Scatter over bread, cover with torte, cool. Serve at room temp.
“As Good As Risotto” Israeli Couscous and Peas and Parmesan
Life on the run.
You get it; I know you do.
If you’re like me, however, you still refuse to succumb to the lure of mac & cheese from a box for dinner. I simply refuse.
The kids are annoyed at me all the time, because I cook. I want dinner, with the whole family sitting around the dinner table, to be something that they remember when they grow up and have kids of their own. I want them to be healthy. I want them to be interested in trying new things. I want them to appreciate the effort that E and I put into giving them the best daily experience they can have, whether they appreciate it now, or later, or maybe never, but I truly don’t think that last will come to pass.
Sure, occasionally, dinner can be baked beans from a can and browned hot dogs on white bread, on a day when L has mid-terms and chorus rehearsal and a voice lesson; and M has after-school enrichment and swim practice and an evening hockey game; and E has a meeting at eight am in Elizabethtown and a lunch meeting with a donor downtown and a planning session for the golf tournament at five pm in New Holland; and I’m driving up and down 501 four times in an afternoon and I’m on call for jury duty in Philadelphia; and … and … and …
I know you all can relate.
Still, the kids deserve a home-cooked meal, even if they don’t think they deserve it and only want mac & cheese and chocolate milk for dinner.
And I do love to cook.
So in that spirit, and with lots to do, I still wanted to conjure up something that looked like–and felt like–effort.
What resulted was a dinner of baked (turkey) ham pinned with whole cloves and slathered with brown sugar and Dijon mustard, cooked over a water bath of ginger beer and liquid smoke (took five minutes to prepare, then 75 minutes in a 325-degree oven); fresh green beans (trimmed and sauteed in olive oil and sliced almonds–took more time than the turkey ham by about three minutes); and something inspired by a recipe I found on the Internet–Israeli couscous with peas. This one sounds like a production, but actually it was amazingly simple and garnered applause and demands for seconds. Will wonders never cease?
The Israeli couscous product was–in my mind, anyway–as good as risotto, and so simple that you need to try it. Took me all of six minutes of effort and 15 minutes start to finish, with the most amazing result.
Want to make risotto without the muss and the fuss?
Israeli Couscous With Peas and Parmesan
2 tablespoons olive oil or unsalted butter
2 cups pearl couscous
1 1/2 cups frozen peas (or freshly shelled in season–even better)
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (the stuff in the bag in the dairy aisle–excellent product for cooking)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat the oil or butter in a medium-sized heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the couscous and cook, stirring constantly, until it starts to brown; 3-5 minutes.
2. Add the peas and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the broth is absorbed and the couscous is tender; 10-12 minutes.
3. Add the salt and pepper, stir well, then add the Parmesan cheese and stir constantly until the cheese is melted and fully incorporated.
Garnish with a little chopped parsley and serve immediately.
Bacon-Maple Slow-Cooker Baked Beans
Got a hankering for baked beans.
Sure, it’s cute watching Jay Bush and his golden retriever Duke, who seems to be on a mission to sell the secret recipe, like any capitalist dog would be. Makes you want some beans. Or a golden retriever. Makes me want neither. Bush’s Beans are probably a perfectly fine product, but I’ve always been a B&M kind of guy, and I’m not particularly fond of dogs, although I’ve grown to love my wild and crazy German shorthaired pointers, Argos and Maggie (Argos, I should point out, has no interest in selling any of my recipes; he has a one-track agenda, which is to eat everything I cook. Maggie, on the other hand, would sell my recipes in a heartbeat if she thought she could turn a profit; she’s probably the most dedicated capitalist in the family).
But I digress (I hate when I do that).
I was reading someplace recently that some kid’s favorite food was baked-bean sandwiches–homemade baked beans on fresh homemade bread–and I got to thinking about that. Could that be nature’s perfect food? The writer was recounting how such sandwiches ignited his love of all things food and how they inspired him to become a chef. It started, he says, because he couldn’t find a pile of baked beans anywhere near as good as the scratch batches his grandmother made for him. I can relate. I was raised on the cooking of a wonderful woman who came from the Piedmont of Virginia, where home-grown pork and chickens and corn and cabbages and greens were on the table every day. She made her baked beans (and everything else) from scratch, and the tale of baked-bean sandwiches massaged a longing in me I hadn’t felt in quite a while.
Consequently, I got a hankering for baked beans.
Lily Jones was not available to make me beans, and I’ve never really worked up a recipe of my own. So I decided to do some research, find a recipe to start with, and then make it my own. Something hearty, flavorful, bold, and memorable.
I must have read 500 recipes. What I kept coming back to was a fabulous website chock full of recipes that use beer as the principal ingredient. Beer! That’s the ticket! But not just any beer. It needed to be thick, dark, malty, nutty–hair-raising. I found a recipe that resonated, and then kept reading, comparing each next one I found to the one that sang to me, and not one measured up.
And then, I made the beans. Incredible. Salved my hankering, my wife, the remarkable Ellen, followed up with a honey-Hefeweisen boule made with a locally brewed winter wheat beer, and voila! Baked-bean sandwiches for the Gods.
Next, I had to make the recipe my own. The recipe on the website is perfect as is. But it’s not mine, alas, and I thought I could improve it. Guess what: I couldn’t. It’s perfect as is. The only thing I did change was to use turkey bacon (we don’t eat much pork around here) cooked in two teaspoons of extra-virgin olive oil; and instead of a smoky porter I used Sierra Nevada Coffee Stout.
Try this if you want perfect beans. And if you want a perfect bean sandwich, make the bread, too. It’s almost as simple to make as the beans–no kneading, just rest and love.
Slow Cooker Maple Bacon Beer Baked Beans
- ½ pound Great Northern beans
- ½ lbs Navy beans
- 4 strips thick cut bacon (I used turkey bacon)
- 1 large sweet onion, chopped
- 3 tablespoons full-flavor molasses
- ¼ cup real maple syrup
- 2 cups smoked porter beer (I used Sierra Nevada Coffee Stout)
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon liquid smoke
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 3 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon fine ground white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- Place the beans in a large pot with 3 cups of water. Cover and bring the pot to a boil, and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and soak for 8-12 hours; overnight is good. Rinse with cold water and drain.
- Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium high heat, remove bacon from pan. Add the onions to the bacon grease, cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Chop the bacon.
- Add the bacon, onions, drained beans and remaining ingredients to a slow cooker. Cook for 8 hours on low, stirring once or twice during cooking. If beans are still firm after 8-10 hours, turn to high and cook for an additional 2 hours.
And now the bread:
Honey Hefeweizen Boule Loaf
- 4 ¼ (19 wt oz) cups all-purpose flour
- 1 package (2 ¼ tsp) rapid rise yeast
- ¼ cup honey
- pinch salt
- 12 ounces wheat beer*
- egg wash (1 egg, 1 teaspoon water, beaten)
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook add the flour and yeast, mix to combine.
- Heat the beer to between 120 and 130F degrees.
- Add the beer and the honey to the flour, beat on high until dough gathers around the hook and is no longer sticky, about 6 minutes.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- Place a baking stone in the oven, preheat for 30 minutes prior to baking.
- Once the dough has risen, place a bread peel (or a sheet of parchment paper) on a flat surface, cover in cornmeal or semolina flour. Grab the dough in your heads, folding it into itself gently a few times, then form into a tight ball. Place on the peel (or parchment paper), allowing to rise for about 30 minutes.
- Brush the top with egg wash, slash an “X” on top of the loaf using a sharp knife.
- Transfer the dough to the pizza stone using either the peel or by simply placing the parchment paper on top of the heated stone (if you don’t own a bread stone, just place the parchment on top of a baking sheet and set that into the oven when you are ready to bake).
- Bake at 400 until top is a dark golden brown and makes a hollow “thump” sound when tapped, about 30 minutes.
- Allow to cool slightly before slicing.
*This recipe is for a very low IBU (low hop) beer. If all you have is a pale ale, IPA or hoppy wheat, use 3/4 cup beer and 3/4 cup hot water or the beer taste will be overpowering.
And to Jackie Dodd, “The Beeroness,” I offer a toast: Jackie (wwwthebeeroness.com), you’ve won my heart. Or more accurately, my appetite.
Israeli Couscous with Lemon, Cucumber, and Cilantro
I didn’t know what to make for supper, and I had only a half hour before it had to be ready. Life on the run, you know. I work, E works, L is at the theater all day, M is either swimming, hockeying, iPhoning, entertaining, being entertained—it’s all just overwhelming, and making dinner becomes a chore.
But you know that.
You deal with the same issues, or similar ones, just the names and the names of the activities are different.
And we just can’t bring ourselves to open a box or a can or face another plate of ho-hum chicken breasts. Sure we like to cook ahead, and we have on several occasions, most recently a couple of Sundays ago, when we whipped up bowls full of chicken Marsala, baked ziti, salmon cakes, a couple of meat loafs, and E’s most popular white-bean and turkey-sausage stew.
It’s 4:45, all the make-ahead packages are frozen solid, there’s one chicken breast in the fridge (left over from another recipe), and the pressure is on.
What’s in the cupboard?
What I found was a box of Trader Joe’s Israeli couscous, a carton of plain yogurt and lots of produce in the fridge, and the clock is ticking. I’m feeling a little bit like Ted Allen is hiding around the corner.
I’m likely to fail. Chopped.
I looked for and found a recipe for a cold couscous salad that looked promising, but it surely needed a jolt of pizzazz, and then I found a small container of grilled chicken souvlaki I made a while back—that will defrost in a hurry. I can pull this off?
The feature for me will be the couscous salad, because I can spice it up and make it sing. So here’s what I made:
Israeli Couscous Salad with Cucumber, Lemon and Cilantro
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 ½ cups Israeli Couscous
1 ½ cups boiling water
1 large cucumber, peeled and seeded
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped coarsely
2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
1 medium lemon
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white Balsamic or cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
12 grape tomatoes, halved
1. Preheat a saucepan over medium heat with 1 teaspoon olive oil; when the oil is hot add the couscous and toast, stirring constantly, until it is lightly browned, 5-7 minutes. Carefully add the boiling water, reduce the heat to low, cover and steam for 12 minutes, or until the water is completely absorbed. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
2. Cut the seeded cucumber into quarters and then into ½-inch slices; place in a large bowl. Add the cilantro and parsley. With a fine-hole grater, zest the lemon peel into the cucumber. Set aside.
3. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into a small bowl, add the vinegar, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Whisk to combine the dressing and add it to the cucumber. Toss to coat well.
4. Add the cooled couscous, the feta, and the tomatoes, and toss gently to combine the ingredients. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately or chill until ready to eat.
You can substitute mint, all parsley, or all cilantro to the salad as you wish.
Serve with chicken or lamb souvlaki. Here’s the recipe for that: Feel free to substitute lamb for the chicken, and try the tzatziki, too. It’s the bomb!
Souvlaki (Lamb or Chicken)
½ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 tablespoon chopped oregano
2 lemons, juiced
2 pounds lamb shoulder meat, trimmed of most (but not all) the fat, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (similarly prepared)
Place all the ingredients in a zipper-close food-storage bag, mix well, and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, and preferably overnight. Place the meat on soaked wood or steel skewers, and grill over direct heat, turning several times, until done, 15-20 minutes.
Serve over rice or couscous, and with this fabulous yogurt dipping sauce:
32 ounces plain yogurt or 16 ounces plain Greek yogurt
1 large peeled, seeded and shredded English cucumber (or two regular ones)
5-8 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced (you decide how many)
3 tablespoons white vinegar
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Place the plain yogurt in cheese cloth over a large bowl and strain in the refrigerator overnight (not necessary if you use Greek yogurt, but use half the amount of yogurt). Mix the cucumber and garlic with the salt and drain over a bowl for a half hour (this will remove moisture from the cucumber). Blend all the ingredients well in a large bowl.
Serve with the grilled souvlaki and a Greek salad.
Butterflied Turkey, Root Vegetable Panzanella, and Mushroom Barley Pilaf
And what, pray tell, do you think Cheffzilla might be doing for Thanksgiving this year? Really adventurous, I might say, but mighty tasty, too. Allow me to elaborate:
I adapted these recipes a few years ago from ones featured on his “Good Eats” show a couple of years ago by Alton Brown, that wacky TV chef at the Food Network. It turned out so well that it’s become my go-to turkey presentation. I’ve become a devoted advocate of the “spatchcock” method of poultry cooking, as it both cuts down on cooking times, and also allows for a wide range of possibilities in preparing companion dishes. Also, I’m a big fan of panzanella, and this recipe demonstrated to me that it’s not just a summer salad. Beautiful root vegetables, winter squash, shredded Brussels sprouts, a fine sourdough bread, and some fresh herbs from my garden (yes, it is still producing, under a big window in the garage!) make for a really fine-looking and grand holiday dinner, a wide stray from the usual turkey-and-stuffing tradition of years past. Here’s what’s for dinner:
Great any night.
A holiday feast? Priceless!
1 1/2 teaspoons rubbed sage
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/4 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon whole allspice berries
1 12- to 15-pound whole turkey, neck and giblets removed and reserved for Giblet Stock
1 1/2 pounds parsnips, peeled and cubed into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 pounds rutabaga, peeled and cubed into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound red onion, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
8 ounces butternut squash, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 quart container fresh Brussels sprouts, sliced
8 ounces stale, hearty sourdough or multi-grain bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves, finely minced
Freshly ground black pepper
For the turkey: Four days before service, place the salt, sage, thyme, black peppercorns, and allspice into a spice grinder and pulse until the peppercorns and allspice are coarsely ground, 5 to 6 pulses. Set aside.
Set the turkey, breast-side down, on a large cutting board with the tail closest to you. Use heavy-duty kitchen shears or a large chef’s knife to cut up one side of the backbone. Turn the bird around and cut back down the other side of the spine. Reserve the backbone for Giblet Stock. Discard any fat pockets or excess skin found inside the turkey. Turn the turkey breast-side up and use the heel of your hands to press down on both breasts, until you hear a cracking sound and the bird has flattened slightly.
Rub the seasoned salt on both sides of the turkey. Place the turkey on a parchment paper lined half sheet pan, breast-side up with legs running with the long side of the pan. Store, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 4 days.
Remove the turkey from the refrigerator and leave at room temperature for 1 hour.
For the panzanella: Place the parsnips and rutabaga in a large bowl, toss lightly to coat with the oil, and set aside.
Place one rack in the middle of the oven and a second one far enough below so the roasting pan will fit. Heat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Place the turkey directly on the olive-oil-coated middle rack of the oven with the legs perpendicular to the metal bars of the rack. Place the roasting pan with the parsnips and rutabaga on the rack below the turkey and roast both for 30 minutes.
Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. Add the red onion to the roasting vegetables and stir to combine. Continue to roast both the vegetables and the turkey until a probe thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 155 degrees F, an additional 40 to 50 minutes.
Remove the turkey from the oven onto a cooling rack set inside a half sheet pan and rest for 30 minutes.
Add the butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, bread cubes and garlic to the roasting vegetables, stir to combine and roast for an additional 15 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the oven and immediately transfer to a serving bowl. Pour the apple cider vinegar in the warm roasting pan, stir and scrape off any browned bits from the pan. Pour the vinegar mixture over the salad, add the thyme and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Carve the turkey and serve with the panzanella.
Barley and Portabella Pilaf
1/2 cup fresh sliced Portabella mushrooms
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cup pearled barley
2-1/2 cups turkey (or vegetable) stock
2 tablespoons green onions (scallions)
1/4 tsp crushed dried rosemary
2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Heat olive oil in a saucepan; add mushrooms and saute’ until limp. Add barley, stock, green onion, and rosemary. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 45 minutes, or until the barley is tender and the liquid is completely absorbed. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over pilaf and toss to mix well. Garnish with a little more Parmesan and some fresh-chopped green onions.
We’re serving this with fresh green beans sauteed in butter with sesame seeds and cranberry-orange relish.
What??? Living in Lancaster Ain’t Chopped Liver
I’m honoring it, with one of my favorite recipes of all time. I made it at the Epicure in Miami Beach, usually 120 pounds a week. They sell a lot of chopped liver in Miami Beach–at least they did when I was there. Of course, Miami Beach wasn’t then what it is now; it was full of people who ate chopped liver and died young (young in Miami Beach back then was defined as 88). But we made chopped liver. Legend had it it was my grandmother’s recipe. I can’t say for sure; she never made it for me, and my father used to say that the rumors of her cooking skills were greatly exaggerated. She was, after all, a working woman from the time she arrived in the US at Providence, R.I. back at the turn of the twentieth century until she had her first heart attack at the age of sixty-something. Grandma Jenny was the greatest. Big, full of life, typical of the American Jewish grandmother but with none of the passive-aggressiveness. Nothing passive about Jenny. Her aggressiveness was right there in your face. Ask Uncle Sidney. But she was very kind.
But a cook? I think not so much. But she used to make me a mean saucer full of hot water with lemon.
Anyway here’s our chopped liver recipe, scaled down from the 120-pound recipe to a more manageable quantity. You might think this is a lot of chopped liver–who needs this much anyway??–but resist the temptation to halve the recipe. This will lose almost half its weight in water during the cooking process. Make at least this much, maybe even double it. This recipe will serve six nicely as an appetizer.
Jenny’s (?) Chopped Liver
2 pounds fresh chicken livers
2 pounds sweet Vidalia (or large yellow) onions, halved, then thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1/2 cup plus two tablespoons rendered chicken fat* (see note below)
8 hard-cooked eggs
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fine-ground white pepper
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons Maggi Seasoning (available at many good specialty grocery stores, and at my local Asian market)
Heat 1/4 cup chicken fat or vegetable shortening until shimmering in each of two large saute pans. Don’t go short here. Hey! This ain’t health food!
In one pan place the chicken livers and saute at medium heat until there is no more pink in the middle and they just begin to crisp up. A little crispiness in the liver is good. A lot is bad Be careful here.. Drain and cool to room temperature in a colander over the sink.
In the other pan saute the onions with paprika, salt, and pepper, over medium-low heat until they caramelize. Cook them slowly–don’t let them burn. Caramelizing onions is a skill a cook needs to learn, then use often. It takes patience. Patience is extremely important. Real caramelized onions are one of the world’s finest treats; they get so sweet you could die. Use them here. After they are caramelized, set them aside to cool completely. Don’t rush this process. The onions and livers need to be completely cooled to room temperature or the final product will be mushy. And nobody likes mushy chopped liver!
When cooled, mix the onions and livers in a bowl, tossing them with your hands to mix well. Use your hands. That’s the way real cooks cook. Then cut the eggs in half and toss them in with the rest of the mess and toss well to combine.
Then run the whole mess through a food grinder attachment to a stand mixer using the largest holes. Alternately, chop the mess up with a pastry cutter in a wooden bowl, but don’t cut the stuff up too fine. There really needs to be a bit of bite to the finished product. This isn’t pate.
Add the honey and Maggi seasoning and mix well. If the chopped liver is too dry, melt the remaining two tablespoons of fat and add it to the bowl a little at a time and mix until it reaches the consistency of tight peanut butter. Just don’t overmix here. You don’t want to chop the stuff up more in the mixing process.
Taste as you mix, adding a bit more salt and white pepper if necessary. Use just a bit more white pepper than you think you need. Chopped liver is soooo much better when it’s just slightly peppery (resist the temptation to use black pepper. It’s the wrong product. Fine-ground white pepper here, please. It should be a staple condiment in your kitchen.
Finally, coat a serving dish with a wee bit of the chicken fat or shortening and put the finished product in the bowl and chill in the fridge for at least six hours. It will be really tempting to eat it all freshly made, but don’t. Let it set up in fridge for a while. It gets better.
Serve the chopped liver with toasted bagel chips, available in bags at the deli counter at most grocery stores. It’s the best way. You’ll thank me later. Melba toast rounds or cocktail rye or pump slices are okay too, but not nearly as good. If you use rye or pump slices, toast them lightly before serving.
* To render chicken fat, place 1 cup raw chicken fat, 1/2 tsp kosher salt and (optionally) half a thinly sliced small onion in a heavy-bottom pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the fat is liquified and the cracklings are golden brown. Strain over a Mason jar, toss the solids, cover and refrigerate until you need it.