Main Dishes

Labor Day with the family

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Batten down the hatches!!!  My parents and my brother are driving up from Florida to visit me for Labor Day.  Plus I got some other cousins and aunts and uncles coming in from about an hour away.  Lord help!  It’s not that I don’t want them to visit — it’s the planning that can be tricky.  And figuring out a menu isn’t going to be easy.  Maybe I can talk my cousin into bringing something to help with the menu.  What would be nice is having a whole roast pig, but since that ain’t gonna happen I’m going to have to improvise.  And too bad my grill just busted.  Good thing there’s still the trusty Smokey Joe. . . and as a side note, here’s what the Department of Labor says about Labor Day.

Luckily, another aunt and uncle (also from Florida) came in for a visit a few weeks ago so the meal they had here was essentially a trial run.  But since there’s gonna be more people, I’m going to need to expand a bit.  I do want to make some stuff focused on local goods and made in Michigan things, but I also want to make some things that I know they’ll like.  I did find some Labor Day ideas at Grilling.com, Martha, and Yum Sugar.  So here’s what I might end up doing (which I hope to post on these new ones soon):

Roast pork shoulder

Sautéed green beans with mushrooms

Ratatouille

Grilled corn

Fresh Lumpia

Bibingka

Zucchini Ribbons with Garlic Confit

Empanadas

Steamed Mussels with Glass noodle

Koegel’s viennas

Something with Rhubarb (probably a Raspberry and Rhubarb tart)

San Miguel

Oberon

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Of course all this planning might just go out the window, so I’m going to wait until the last minute to do any shopping.  There’ll probably be a trip to Windsor in the making.  Or maybe a quick jaunt to Toronto (if I’m lucky)!

Tuna Ceviche with Avocado and Watermelon

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It’s still summer (although the weather up here the past couple of days would make you think otherwise) and one of the things that I love on a hot summer’s day / night/ or whatever is Ceviche.  This is a different take than my usual recipe in that it’s a more on the sweet side of things.  I had some nice watermelon in the fridge so I thought it might be nice to incorporate everything together.  And I use some orange juice in the marinade in addition to the lime.  Plus there’s a new take on a traditional ceviche because I hate cilantro.  So I thought that I could maybe get around this by using some whole coriander seed.  Two completely different tastes, but at least they come from the same plant (in case you didn’t know that).  So I can kinda say that there’s cilantro in it, it just hasn’t grown yet.

You can use other kinds of seafood in this one.  Scallops work nice, squid is good too, haven’t used octopus though.  Since it is National Catfish Month, you could totally use that!  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 lb. Ahi Tuna, cut into 1/2 in. pieces
  • 1/2 t. whole coriander
  • 1/4 t. whole fennel
  • 6-8 limes, juiced & zested 4 of them
  • 1 1/2 c. orange juice
  • pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 roma tomatoes, diced
  • 2 avocados, diced
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 -2 c. diced watermelon
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 T. sambal oelek (chili paste), or add however much you like
  • 1 T. toasted coconut
  • salt & pepper, to taste

1.  In a container, combine the tuna, coriander, fennel, zest, lime juice, orange juice, and pepper.  Marinate the mixture for about 2-3 hours, turning every half hour with a wooden spoon.

2.  Strain out the fish and transfer to a large serving dish.  Add the tomato, avocado, onion, garlic and olive oil.  Toss to combine and let sit for another 30 minutes.

3.  Spoon out a serving into a dish or martini glass.  Sprinkle with some of the toasted coconut and you’re ready to serve!

Notes — I’d probably replace all the tomato with watermelon next time, but I had to use up those romas quick. . . If you wanted to add some finely diced jalapeno instead of the sambal that would be fine.  You could just omit it completely. . . One thing to try is maybe toasting the coriander and fennel before adding to the marinade. . .  You can chop everything finer if you want to maybe serve this with some tortilla chips.  This recipe is more of a salad.

Caprese Salad with an Herb Vinaigrette

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Here’s something that I had tried to put together.  Originally I had the idea to make a Caprese Pie (which I still want to make), but alas I was fresh out of Pate Brisee.  So instead of trying to reinterpret a Caprese salad, I decided to try to switch it up a little bit.  This is a great summertime dish because prep can be so simple.  And who wants to be bogged down in a hot kitchen during the summer?  Not this guy!  The hardest thing you need to do could be just washing the veg!  Plus tomatoes are so good right now!  And when you can get a bushel of basil from the local farmer’s market for $1, it’s a match made in heaven.

Now after a little bit of research, what everyone knows as a Caprese salad really isn’t the one from Capri.  According to Epicurious, the original salad was served with arugula and dried oregano, both of which grew wild on the island.  Plus, it is served with olive oil only.  The vinegar would be detrimental to the flavor of the dish and overpower some of the more delicate notes.  My take does have an herb vinaigrette and the moscatel vinegar that I used can be a little overwhelming, but I make a nice emulsion with some basil and oregano which does help tame it a bit.  Here’s what you need:

  • 2 fresh tomatoes, cut in half and sliced 1/4 in. thick
  • 2 lbs. fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4 in. thick half rounds
  • 1/4 c. moscatel vinegar
  • 3/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 c. fresh herbs (I used basil and oregano), coarsely chopped.
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • salt & pepper, to taste

1.  In a small food processor, chop the basil, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Drizzle the olive oil and vinegar over the top and blend well.

2.  While the dressing marries, arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella on the plate.  I made a circular pattern alternating the cheese and tomatoes.  In the center I put a chiffonade of some basil.

3.  Pour some of the dressing on top and you are ready to serve!  Simple!

Notes — If you like you could try using a more neutral vinegar, but I like the tartness of the moscatel. . . I think that you could add a lot of interest to this salad by using some heirloom tomatoes and different kinds of herbs like some purple basil. . . I also did a lazier version where I just coarsely chopped everything and tossed it with the vinaigrette — very rustic!

Shredded Greens with Marinated Glass Noodles and a Garlic-Soy Vinaigrette

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We are waist deep into summer, and for me that means that I need to avoid using my stove / oven at all costs.  Especially this week; it was over 100 degrees F yesterday.  So that means no real baking for the next couple of days / weeks / months.  Oh, how I miss the 2 feet of snow I had in the backyard nigh just a few months ago.  So since cooking and baking slow down, all this heat also means a lot of outdoor grilling and a lot of salads.  And with the farmer’s markets in full swing, why not take advantage of nature’s bounty?

I may have said this before, but I am not a fan of iceberg lettuce.  It’s only real purpose, in my opinion, is to keep my hamburger bun from getting soggy with burger-y juicy goodness.  So this salad will not have any of that stuff.  I use Red and Butter Lettuces here with some sliced onion and radish.  The little twist is that I added some marinated glass noodle.  It adds a nice bit of texture and interest, especially after chilling in the fridge of a couple of minutes or so.  I do also rather like the dressing.  It’s simple and I think you have a nice balance of flavors — you get some sweetness from the honey, some saltiness from the soy sauce, there’s the acid from the vinegar, and the raw garlic adds some heat and bitterness.  And all that flavor is wrapped up in a lovely olive oil.  Here’s what you need:

For the noodle:

  • 1 – 2 “bundles” of glass / cellophane noodles (Chinese vermicelli)
  • 2 c. water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 T. seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce
  • 1 – 2 t. sesame oil

1.  In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil with the bay leaf.  Once boiling, add the vinegar and soy sauce.

2.  Remove from the heat and add the glass noodle.  Let steep for 5 – 7 minutes.

3.  Strain and toss with some sesame oil.  Set aside.

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 T. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T. seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 T. soy
  • 1-2 T. honey
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped

1.  Whisk together olive oil, vinegars, and soy sauce until well blended.

2.  Add honey and combine.  The honey will help hold the emulsion and add some sweetness.

3.  Add the black pepper and chopped garlic.  Stir to coat and set aside.

Assemble the salad:

  • 1 head of butter lettuce
  • 1 head of red lettuce
  • 3 radishes, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 large white onion, thinly sliced

1.  Separate the leaves of lettuce.  Place them in a water bath to wash them.  Shred the leaves into bite-sized pieces and spin them dry.

2.  Place a bed of the lettuces on a plate.  In the center of the lettuce, place 1/2 the noodle, twisted with a fork to make a “nest”.

3. Drizzle the salad with the dressing.  Whisk the vinaigrette to re-emulsify if it separated whilst assembling the salad.  Repeat the steps to make a second salad or save everything to make a salad tomorrow!

Notes — I did top off the noodles with some left over lo mein.  I figured it would add a little bit of extra flavor, plus help clean out the fridge. . .  Also, I tend to like my dressings on the tart side, so I probably use more vinegar than most.  Usually the ratio of oil to vinegar is around 3:1 depending on the strength of the vinegar.  Try some different things out and see what you prefer.  And use high quality stuff.  You can’t mask sub-par ingredients here because you will definitely taste it. . . You will have plenty of extra greens here.  After shredding them, just place them in a zip top bag with a slightly damp paper towel and they will stay fresh for a while, maybe a week or so.  I can’t really recommend someone go to the market and just peel off a few leaves of lettuce here and there!

Baked Eggs with Roasted Peppers

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What’s wrong with brunch?  Nothin’ I tell ya’!  I love a lazy Sunday brunch.  Now this past Sunday brunch was lazier than usual in the fact that it started at around 12:15 pm.  I guess you can’t really call it brunch anymore if it’s that late.  But again it’s a lazy Sunday.  Which is why I try to keep brunches very simple.  And it is the only meal where I allow any kind of meal from a box.  Take waffles and pancakes for example.  I know how to make them from scratch, and if I am motivated enough to do it (or if I am doing some type of early morning entertaining), I will make them from scratch.  But (for the third and hopefully final time) it’s lazy Sunday!  And that’s why I love my giant bag of Krusteaz in my pantry.  Just add some eggs and butter and *poof!* you’ve got a whole bunch of waffley or pancakey goodness.  And if you want to make it extra fancy, just add some fruit to the mix.  Or even chocolate chips.  Williams-Sonoma always has some very nice waffle mixes and there’s probably a store not too far from you.  I also love stuff from Stonewall Kitchen, but that might be a little bit more difficult to find.  I especially love their jams like the Peach Amaretto or Wild Maine Blueberry.

But I digress. . . Back to the recipe!  Now this is a nice traditional French dish.  Sometimes called shirred eggs, it’s hearty and rustic, plus it’s simple and quick to make.  Now there are a bunch of recipes out there.  Some have a little bit of cheese, some have some wedges of tomato, some have just some herbs, and some are pretty much a quiche with no crust, leaving the eggs unscrambled.  I added some slivers of roasted peppers to just add some different flavors and textures, but they can certainly be omitted.  To make it even more Provencal, I had initially wanted to add some lavender, but I was overruled.  So in with the peppers.

For whatever reason, I don’t make Baked Eggs all that much, but I like the recipe so much that I bought 2 baking dishes specifically for this.  Good thing I can use those dishes for other things.  Now this is nice to serve with toast, probably a good sourdough or wheat bread.  I had some leftover biscuits that I had as a side.  It’s good to have something to help sop up all the liquidy deliciousness left from the eggs, cream, and butter.  You’ll need a small type of ramekin or some other similar type of baking dish.  It will need to be shallow so that the heat can surround the eggs.  This is especially important since the dish will be in the oven for a total of about 10 minutes, with the eggs being in there for maybe 5 of those minutes.

Here’s a single serving recipe.  Here’s what you need:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 T. cream
  • 1 t. butter
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • Herbes de Provence, to taste
  • red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1/2 roasted pepper, sliced into strips

1.  Set the top rack in the oven to about a 8 inches or so from the heating element.  This will probably be the second highest level in the oven.  Turn the broiler in the oven to high.  Leave the oven on for a couple of minutes to get everything to temperature.

2.  Place the cream and butter in the baking dish.  Place in the preheated oven for about 5 minutes, until bubbly and somewhat browned.  Doing this step helps ensure everything cooks evenly.  Now while the cream is heating in the oven, crack the eggs into a measuring cup or some other vessel that can facilitate easy pouring.  It is important to minimize the amount of time the dishes are out of the oven.

3.  When the cream is ready, remove the dish from the oven and add the eggs.  Season with the herbes de Provence, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper.  Add the roasted peppers and return to the oven under the broiler.

4.  Cook for another 4-7 minutes, until desired doneness.  The less time it is in the oven, the runnier the yolk will be.  Usually leave it in the oven until the whites are almost set.  Remove from the oven and let it sit for about a minute to let it set.  Like with scrambled eggs, they still continue to cook while out of the oven.  After the minute is up, it’s then ready to serve!

Grilled Whole Trout with Chive Butter and Grilled Lemons

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One fact about me — I am a sucker for a sale or some kind of perceived value.  I am terrible with gift-with-purchase offers.  All I have to do is spend $75, and I get a free $2 tote bag?  How can I pass that up?  Buy one get one free? — I’ll take 3 gross!  But I digress.  My circuitous point is that inspiration for meals can be taken from what is fresh at the market, or (in this case) what is on sale!  And what did I find that was on sale?  Why some nice whole trout at Whole Foods, that’s what!

Whole fish can be a little intimidating.  Ever see that commercial where a woman is shopping for dinner and there’s “doubt” shadowing her every decision when she settles on the whole fish?  It was snapper, I think.  Lo and behold she’s able to accomplish her task thanks to her wonderful kitchen appliances.  Of course, you don’t need a fancy double range like hers to make a nice fish dinner, although I would love to have that range in my kitchen, even if it did mean losing a whole wall of cabinetry!  Which makes me wonder, why would someone who is afraid to cook need that kind of a kitchen?  I can get by with my measly $100 range.  I did splurge on a nice, gigantic, stainless refrigerator though.  Well, not gigantic, but bigger than anything I’ve known in decades and decades of apartment living.  But again I digress. . .

This recipe was done out on our humble grill (a free grill, BTW. . . thanx again Jeremy-with-a-Y) and not a big fancy oven.  Pretty much, most of the cooking these days will be done on the grill because, hey! it’s summertime!  Plus, it’s hot and A/C is expensive, so the oven in this kitchen will be off most of the time.  And, to make matters easier, the fish was already cleaned and butterflied, so that saved like an hour of labor!  FYI — I am a charcoal guy.  In my opinion, you just cannot get the same flavor from a gas grill, but there are some nice smoking boxes out there that you can get to put on the flame so you can get a smoky flavor.  Or you could just put some liquid smoke in everything.

This recipe is very simple and easy.  I’d say the hardest thing is making the compound butter (which is just taking some chives and mixing it into some soft butter).  Sure grilling fish ain’t for everybody, but something this simple is definitely worth a shot, right?  Plus, since this cooks so fast, you can always just put on some hot dogs or burgers or pineapple or peaches, etc. afterward so you don’t waste the nice hot coals.

Here’s what you need:

For the chive butter:

  • 4 T. butter, room temperature
  • 1 T. chopped chives
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Mix together the ingredients in a small bowl to combine.  Let sit for about an hour to let the flavors marry.  If it will sit for longer than an hour, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator.  Can last about a week in the fridge.  You can form the butter into a log, chill it in the fridge, and slice it into rounds if you like.

For the trout and lemons:

  • 2 lemons, cut in half.
  • 2 whole trout, about 1 1/2 lbs total (mine were already cleaned and de-boned)
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • cayenne pepper, to taste
  • salt & pepper, to taste

1.  Light your coals (charcoal chimneys are nice for this).  With the fish skin-side down, brush with the olive oil.  Season with the cayenne, salt, and pepper to your liking.  Set aside

2.  While the coals are getting ready, line the grill with some non-stick foil.  When the coals are nice and red hot, dump them onto the grate and return the cooking surface to the grill.  Place the fish skin-side down onto the foil and let it cook for 5-6 minutes without moving it (cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the fish).  About halfway through, put the lemons cut-side down onto the hot grill and cook for the remaining 3 minutes (you could brush the lemons with olive oil or spray them with cooking spray).

3.  When done cooking, transfer to a serving plate.  Wrap with foil and let it rest for a couple of minutes.  Remove foil and top with a dollop of the chive butter and a nice squeeze of the lemon.

Putting the lemons on the grill impart a nice smokiness.  I’m not sure what a lemonade made using these lemons would taste like, but I think that would be an interesting experiment.  Maybe for a bloody mary?