Dough.

I have had some major snafus with pizza dough in the last couple of years. I’m not quite sure what the problem has been, but I remember days when pizza-making was super easy. I could just whip up some dough, let it rise, and easily roll it out, slathering on the toppings with a really, really happy face. The last couple of times have been angry face extravaganzas. Rolling, watching the dough jump, no, leap! back into place, waiting for a few minutes (like they always say! be patient!) and then rolling again. During those few minutes, a lot of words like this – #&%*$^%^ – were said.

Of course, eventually I’d get something resembling a pizza, nevermind the wayward shape. And then it would come time to bake it, and I’d run into more problems. Dough sticking to the wrong surface, despite the hefty slathering of cornmeal on the surface. Toppings falling off. My pizza stone being a thorn in my side (I have never successfully used one, but maybe mine is just sucky.) – the problems are ongoing. I do end up with a pizza – I haven’t resorted to rolling them over and making calzones (though I should, actually), and I haven’t quite ruined dinner because of it. But still….it could definitely be better.

That explains why you haven’t seen a pizza recipe over here since May of 2010 (I still remember that pizza, too. Some kinda tasty). Damn, that’s over 2 years! Without pizza! How in the world have we gotten by without pizza?! I actually have no idea.

But that changes as of today. How fitting for November 1st, no?

By now, I’m sure we’ve all heard of Jim Lahey’s no-knead dough, right? He makes bread in Dutch ovens, for crying out loud. P.S, why have I not tried this??!! I have seen his pizza recipe all over the Internets, for months. I get a slice (pun intended) of hope, then I remember how my past adventures in pizza dough turned out, and I close the page. A few months ago, I even clipped a recipe from Bon Appetit, and every time I see it in my stack, I have skipped by it.

But then a couple of weeks ago, I happened to have bacon and corn in the fridge, and I happened to remember a recipe from Joy the Baker that I pinned a few weeks ago, and I decided that this was the moment.


(LOOK HOW PRETTY!!!!!!)

And now, there is no turning back, folks. The pizza dough was easy-peasy to make, it rose nicely, though it was dry as all get-out, and my smoke detector didn’t even go off when the oven hit 500 F. It was meant to be. Meanwhile, I have a few extra doses of homemade pizza sauce and another pizza’s worth of dough in the freezer, and I swear it’s asking me to put more bacon and this time, some brussels sprouts on top.

Watch out!

pps: thanks for all the lovely comments on the last post. I’m glad I’m here, too. But more importantly, I’m glad YOU are. xo – hw

Corn, Bacon, and Arugula Pizza
Adapted from Joy the Baker, dough makes 2 pizzas

time commitment: 3 hours (2 hours of rising dough, inactive)

printable version (with pizza dough recipe)

ingredients
1/2 recipe of Jim Lahey’s no-knead dough (recipe below)
3/4 c pizza sauce (store-bought or homemade. I used a wayward variation of this recipe)
1 1/4 c shredded mozzarella cheese
2 slices cooked bacon, chopped
1 c cooked/roasted corn
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
arugula and red pepper flakes for topping

instructions
Follow recipe for pizza dough below. Meanwhile, place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 500 degrees F right before you start pressing your dough into the pan.

Top pizza with sauce (all the way to the edges) cheese, and toppings.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until the edges are charred and bubbling.  Remove from the oven.  Allow to cool for a few moments then slice and top with crushed red pepper flakes and fresh arugula.  Serve immediately.

 

 

Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Pizza Dough
Adapted from Joy the Baker & Bon Appetit, March 2012; makes dough for 2 pizzas

time commitment: 2 hours, 15 minutes (2 hours rising dough, inactive)

printable version (pizza dough only)

ingredients
3 c bread flour
3/4 c spelt flour
2 1/2 t (1 packet) active dry yeast
3/4 t salt
3/4 t honey
1 1/2 c warm water
extra virgin olive oil for the pan

instructions
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, yeast, salt, and honey.  Add warm water all at once.  Work the mixture together until all is incorporated, using either a wooden spoon or your hands.  The dough will be slightly shaggy and much drier than what you’re used to with pizza dough.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel.  Let rise at room temperature for 2 hours.

After resting, dump the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Divide in half.  [Note: If you’re only going to make one pizza, wrap the second piece of dough in plastic wrap, place in a ziplock bag, and place in the freezer.  Defrost dough in the fridge overnight and allow to come to room temperature before pressing out into the pizza crust.]

Working with one dough at a time, liberally oil a 13×18-inch rimmed baking sheet with olive oil.  Place the rounded dough on the pan and stretch and press the dough out into a flat rectangle.  If the dough springs bag as you’re pressing it out, simply wait five minutes to allow the dough to rest and then try again.  The dough should be very thin and may tear in places are you are spreading it, but don’t worry – just patch it up.

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Horiatiki.

Did you miss me?

Well, I hope so. As for myself? Let’s just say that I am totally, absolutely in love with Greece. Not that I don’t fall in love with any and all vacations, but still.

The pictures will follow, at some point, as will the total recap that I like to do after a trip, but for now, I have to tell you about my new favorite dish in the whole wide world: the Greek Salad.

Fortunately, I have grown to love and utterly adore raw tomatoes. Okay, so I still won’t toss some salt and pepper on a slice and eat it all by its lonesome, but you get the point.

So on our first night, after a reallllllly looooonnnngggg trip to Athens and then another long trip to the island of Naxos, and yet another hour or so of wandering to find our hotel, we finally settled in to have dinner around 10 PM. Yes, one day in, and we already totally grasped the Euro-style-eat-late-mantra. At least in that regard, we fit right in. Which is to say that otherwise, we were absolute tourists. Well, I suppose not, since our luggage was nowhere to be found (stay tuned) and since I never did buy that fanny pack…

Anyway, I ordered a Greek salad to start things off (and duh, we’d already taken care of getting a bottle of wine – don’t be silly). Minutes went by, a couple of glasses of wine were tossed back, and then – then! – said salad came to our table. I realized, oh, about two bites in, that I could literally eat one of these salads every. single. day. And for the rest. of. my. life.

And that’d be alright by me.

I quickly realized that these salads were probably never going to taste as good as they did those first couple of nights. For one, I’m on vacation, which means everything just automatically tastes better because, well, you’re on vacation. And two, the produce was ultra fresh and ultra local – especially on Naxos. Feta cheese has never tasted so dang good. Oregano has never tasted so like, um, oregano. And the tomatoes? Holy moly on a Sunday – perfection. And I was right – but I promise you – even though the first few salads I had were the best, I never had nary a one that I didn’t eat every little morsel of – and wish there were more.

So without further adieu, I had a little backyard potluck party to attend this past weekend, and you best believe I decided to make one of these babies. Now, most Greek salads (called Horiatiki in Greece) have a certain set of ingredients. Most of them. Americans like to crumble the feta, they like to make a special dressing, and even some of the Greeks like to throw in some capers and different colored peppers every now and then, but I promise you one thing – there is only one true legit Greek salad. And I hope I did my best here to show you that.

If you want to hear it from a Greek herself (and not just a poser like me), check out this link. It’s sorta funny, how hardcore the true Greeks are about their salads. Sorta like the Chicagoans and their Chicago-style wieners. Regardless, I hope you like it, because I most certainly do.

Greek (Horiatiki) Salad

the quantities are totally serving-dependent, but the measurements below are for the size salad you see directly above, which probably serves 6-8 people as a salad/side dish, 4 as a main course with a hefty chunk of bread alongside. or, if you’re like me, maybe it’s just for one…

time commitment: 10 minutes

printable version

ingredients
1 medium red onion, sliced into thin rings
1 medium green bell pepper, sliced into thin rings
2 English cucumbers, cut into chunks
6 vine-ripe tomatoes, each sliced into 8 wedges
~1 c Kalamata olives
2-3 large slices of feta cheese (NOT crumbled)
~1-2 T red wine vinegar (depending on how much acid:oil you prefer, most Greek salads have much more oil than vinegar)
~6-7 T GOOD olive oil (duh, Greek if you have it)
1 t Greek oregano
salt and pepper

instructions
place onion through olives in a large bowl and toss gently to combine. top with feta cheese, then pour vinegar and olive oil atop the salad and finish with oregano, salt, and pepper to taste.

A Bunch of Wins

Every once and a while, I just want to whip up a big dinner and eat like crazy. Okay, not every once and while, more like every other night or so. But I’m not necessarily in a position in my life where I have all kinds of hours in the day to spend in the kitchen. Nor do I have an unlimited budget where I can just buy pounds and pounds of food. Nor do I have the type of metabolism where pounds and pounds of said food just disappear magically hours after consumption.

Such is life, eh?

But sometimes the stars align, and you find yourself with a free weekend night and that urge to cook whittles its way into your brain. It also works perfectly when some of your favorite people also have a free weekend night and want to partake in that same sorta thing – a lot of eating, a lot of cooking, and maybe even some booze-drinking. Alright – always some booze drinking. So that’s what we did.

Also, we learned to play euchre. We are slightly addicted – even taught the parentals how to play during a trip to NC this past weekend.

So. The shanks before your eyes – there’s a quick story. There was a restaurant I wanted to check out while in Sedona last year, but sadly the night we thought about going was a night they were closed. So my in-laws, since they are awesome and super-duper smart, they went there the first chance they got and enjoyed a tasty meal without us, making up for it by picking up a signed copy of the chef-owner’s new cookbook. It was a nice surprise at Christmas, and I’ve been thumbing through the book since, bookmarking the “must-try” recipes.

These lamb shanks won the top honor of being the first tested recipe (I had some garlic scallops picked out for Valentines day, but then I realized garlic was probably inappropriate….) and we roped Liz & Kevin into eating with us (or did we invite ourselves over, bribing them with lamb shanks and Rioja?).

I guess how it happened doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, we had a ginormous amount of food, the shanks were awesome (and easy!) as was the rest of the food, and we have yet another card game to play.

That, my friends, is a win-win. Wait. A win-win-win. A bunch of wins, fair and square.

Lamb Shanks in Adobo Sauce
Adapted from The Elote Cafe Cookbook; serves at least 4

Wine note: we got extra-fancy and did a special wine-pairing for this dish. we tried out two Spanish Rioja wines, and while I can’t remember the names of them, I’ll say this: we bought one from 2001 and one from a 2006 vintage. They were both amazing, especially the 2001, but the 2006 went much better with the food. not too rich, but plenty of heft and spice to stand up to the shanks. a nice Syrah or Malbec would also be really tasty.

one other note: I’m betting this dish would be great with short ribs instead of lamb shanks, too. Really any meat – adobo sauce is versatile like that.

printable version

time commitment: 3-4 hours (1 hour active time)

ingredients
adobo sauce
12 garlic cloves, peeled, whole
3 dried ancho chiles*, stemmed
3 dried guajillo chiles*, stemmed
3 dried chipotle chiles*, stemmed
4 c fresh orange juice
2 T packed brown sugar
2 T dried oregano (Mexican oregano, if you have it)
2 T cider vinegar
2 t kosher salt
2 t freshly ground black pepper
2 t ground cumin
1/8 t ground cloves
1 stick canela (Mexican cinnamon) or regular cinnamon, about 3 in. long
2 dried bay leaves

lamb
4 lamb shanks (about 1 lb. each)
1 t kosher salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper
2 T canola oil

pickled onions
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1 T cider vinegar
2 t olive oil
2 t oregano (Mexican if you have it)

2 T sesame seeds, for garnish
cilantro, chopped, for garnish

instructions
Make the adobo sauce. In a dry, heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, roast garlic cloves, turning occasionally, until softened and speckled brown, ~12 minutes. Remove from pan. Add chiles to pan and toast, turning once, until fragrant, about 30 seconds, taking care not to let them burn.

Carefully pour orange juice into pan. Add remaining adobo ingredients, then add garlic back to pan. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until chiles are softened, about 10 minutes.

Lift out cinnamon and bay leaves and reserve. Cool adobo slightly, then purée in a blender until very smooth. Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Prepare lamb. Sprinkle shanks with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a heavy, large pot (preferably a 6-7 quart Dutch oven) over medium-high heat, then brown 2 shanks at a time, turning occasionally, until golden brown, 7 to 8 minutes per batch. Return all shanks to the pot, or place them all in a large enough baking dish if you don’t have a big enough pot to hold them all. Cover shanks with adobo sauce, and add reserved cinnamon and bay leaves. If the liquid doesn’t come up halfway over the shanks, add some water (or beef broth, if you want) to make up the difference. You’ll probably have plenty of liquid, but it also depends on the size of your pot.

Cover and place in oven and braise, turning shanks every hour, until meat is very tender when pierced, 2-3 hours. (If you want, you can do this part 1-2 days before you’re serving this dish. Let the shanks cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat, scraping fat from the top first, and let shanks heat up, then follow the next instructions.)

Meanwhile, Pickle the onion. (Do this the day of; skip this step if you’re preparing shanks in advance.) Put sliced onions in a bowl and add the pickling ingredients. Let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

Transfer shanks to a platter and cover with foil. Pour adobo into a saucepan if you used a baking dish. Skim and discard as much fat as you can – there will be a film on the top of the pot. Boil sauce over medium-high heat until thick enough to coat meat, about 10 minutes. Uncover shanks, pour sauce on top, and sprinkle with pickled onions, sesame seeds, and cilantro.

*Find in the Latino foods aisle or spice aisle of a supermarket, or at a Latino market

A Wise Choice

Hopefully, my good friend Jon doesn’t read my blog. Of course, he’s not one to get embarassed easily, so I doubt he’d mind that I’m about to make fun of him anyway.

I’ve tried to avoid it, but for some reason I can’t shake thinking of him every time I open a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Here’s why:

Jon, bless his heart, is an avid Iron-Chef-er-but-never-winner. Yes, he watches the TV show, but I’m referring to the cooking competitions we had back in the day when I lived in Chicago. I think he enjoys the hanging-out more than the competing anyway, but nonetheless he makes a concerted effort to make something that’s tasty. And while he never admits it, he’s actually a pretty good cook who knows a helluva lot about food.

Unfortunately, Jon has a running record of being in the bottom 3 more often than any other competitor. He even started taking pride in it; I think he knew his food was good, and the reason he probably did so poorly was the lack of visual appeal. If I took a picture of every dish he’s made, I guarantee they’d all be housed atop a blue plate with few or no garnishes. His last dish in March was no exception.

But! It wasn’t what he entered into the competition that brought me to tears of laughter (well, and agony…), it was what he tried to make and fortunately tossed into garbage. He had this great idea for Battle Plantains (note that blue dish in the last picture, bottom left!) that involved some sort of plantain-chipotle-saucey-thingie, and in theory it didn’t sound like it could possibly go wrong. Of course, the exception to that supposed theory would be when said competitor loads somewhere between a half and a full CAN of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce into a blender with a couple of plantains. Despite multiple attempts to save the goopy mess, there was no retaliation; the chipotles won fair and square and for a short period of time, I thought I wasn’t going to get the taste out of my mouth.

Luckily, after a few minutes the taste was gone, and after a few weeks I was able to think positively about chipotle peppers again. (ps – yes, I am exaggerating, a little.) I found a recipe from way back when I wrote on recipe cards rather than online that consisted of a potato salad of sorts – a baked sweet potato, opened up, loaded with a shredded chicken salad that’s been tossed in a chipotle pepper vinaigrette. Apparently, it’s not only scrumptious, but it’s healthy too. And while I do tend to go a little on the heavy side when it comes to the chipotle pepper measuring, this time I thought of Jon throwing his dish into the trash, and I cut it back a bit.

It was a wise choice; a wise choice indeed.

Mexican Chicken Salad over Baked Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from Weight Watchers years ago, serves 4

time commitment: 1 hour (20 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
4 medium sweet potatoes
1 T + 2t olive oil, divided
1 lb chicken breast
1 medium red onion, sliced into thin half moons
1/4 cilantro, chopped
1 T chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
2 T fresh lime juice
1 T water
1/2 t sugar
salt and pepper

instructions
Preheat oven to 375 F. Place potatoes on rack in middle of oven and bake until tender, about 45 to 50 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet and add 1 T olive oil. Cook chicken, set aside, and cool. When cool enough to touch, pull chicken into shreds. Put chicken, onion and cilantro in a medium bowl; set aside.

Put chipotle pepper through sugar in blender container or bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Pour dressing over chicken mixture and toss to coat.

Cut a slit in each potato and top each with a heaping 3/4 cup of chicken mixture.

An Affair, of Sorts

Burgers used to be reserved for parties (July 4th, anyone?), and those heavily anticipated trips to McDonald’s, although to tell you the truth, I was more of a “McNugget” kinda girl in my younger days, because that way I didn’t have to worry about the possibility of them putting mustard on my patty. Now that I’ve decided to befriend mustard of all shapes and sizes, lastly the deli-style, I’ve moved to ordering cheeseburgers at Mickey D’s, and although I know there’s more corn than meets the eye in that burger, probably more corn than beef, I do enjoy them once every year or so. The chopped onions and pickles are the best part, really. Or is it the McFlurry, or the fries?

However. We didn’t have White Castle in North Carolina as we do in Illinois, and if I got to choose my fast-food burger joint, I’d possibly choose White Castle over the Golden Arches, extra grease and all. I enjoy the ‘regular’ slider, but Hubs prefers the ones with jalapeños. The beauty of White Castle is that the burgers are teeny weeny, so you can get both. Maybe even two or three of both. Just sayin’.

Holy crap. I realized when re-reading this that I totally forgot about Culvers! Okay, Culvers wins over them all….. hands down.

Thanks be to our CSA meat share, rather than choosing the dish and then procuring the ingredients, I’ve started choosing recipes based on what protein’s in the freezer and what veggies are left in the crisper, and then I fill in with a trip to the g-store. We plowed through the pork sausage relatively quickly, used some chicken thighs in a lackluster paella recipe (use this one instead, please), not to mention the last of my smuggled Spanish chorizo, and have now made burgers twice in the past two weeks. Yes, twice.

I see no problem with that. And you shouldn’t either.

In fact, I’d like to invest in a meat grinder attachment in an effort to take my relationship with burgers to the next level, if you catch my drift. But for now, since vacation is nigh and ‘unreasonable spending’ is frowned upon (but really, is a $30 meat grinder unreasonable?!), I’ll be settling on the pasture-fed, organic meat from the local farmers that’s supplied to me monthly, by the box, at the little kitchen store across the street.

This relationship is sort of on the back burner, I suppose. But I’m not hiding anything – I want it, and bad I’m afraid.

If you’re also not quite ready for that next stage in meat-lovin’, might I suggest that you try out some ground bison, if you haven’t already? There’s certainly nothin’ wrong with sirloin, or ground chicken or turkey even, but bison is another beast, if you will. There’s a lot less intramuscular fat in bison than in beef, and as a result you wind up with healthier burgers that are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol. If you’re not sold on the healthy schmealthy stuff, try this on for size: they taste better too.

Of course, with a recipe like this, it’s quite possibly hard to go wrong no matter what ground variety you choose. The poblanos add a little spice but not too much heat, and the chipotle cream is a concoction that will sub for cheese any day, and before now I thought there was no such thing as a burger if it wasn’t a cheeseburger. Pickled onions? The icing on the cake, or rather, the bun. Enough said.

Roasted Poblano & Bison Burgers with Pickled Onions & Chipotle Cream
Adapted from Cooking Light, July 2010; serves 4

printable version

ingredients
2  poblano chiles
1/2  c  sugar
1/2  c  rice vinegar
1/2  c  water
1  jalapeño pepper, halved lengthwise
1 large red onion, sliced into thin, vertical pieces
1  T skim milk (or other milk)
1  slice of bread, crust removed, torn into tiny pieces
4 T fresh cilantro, minced, divided
1  t  g cumin
1/2  t  g coriander
1 t chipotle chile powder
1/2  t  kosher salt, divided
1/2  t  freshly ground black pepper, divided
1  lb g bison
1/2  c  light sour cream
1  T  minced shallots
1 garlic scape, minced (or 1 minced clove of garlic)
1  t  fresh lime juice
1 T + 1 t adobo sauce & 1 minced chipotle chile (from a can of chipotles in adobo sauce)
Cooking spray
4 hamburger buns, toasted

instructions
turn burner on medium-high heat. place poblano chiles directly on burner/flame and turn often with tongs to char all sides (~8 minutes). Place in a zip-top plastic bag; seal. Let stand 15 minutes. Peel chiles, and discard membranes. Finely chop.

meanwhile, pickle the onions. bring sugar, vinegar and water to boil and toss in sliced onions. turn off heat and let sit for about 5 minutes, covered. rinse onions in cold water and refrigerate until ready to use (extra pickled onions can store in the fridge for a couple weeks).

combine milk and bread in a large bowl; mash bread mixture with a fork until smooth. Add poblano chile, 2 T cilantro, cumin, coriander, chipotle chile powder, 1/4 t salt, 1/4 t black pepper, and bison to milk mixture, tossing gently to combine (don’t overwork or you’ll have tough burgers, which is bad). Divide mixture into 4 equal portions, gently shaping each into a 1/2-inch-thick patty. Press your thumb gently in the center of each patty to form a small indentation (this prevents the burger from shrinking, which is also bad).

preheat grill or grill pans to medium-high heat.

combine the remaining cilantro, salt, and black pepper in a medium bowl. Stir in sour cream, shallots, scapes/garlic and lime juice. Add adobo sauce and minced chipotle pepper (remaining can of sauce/peppers can be covered and stored in the fridge for a few weeks).

place patties on a grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 3 minutes or until grill marks appear. Carefully turn patties; grill an additional 3 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. Place 1 patty on bottom half of each bun; top each serving with chipotle cream and onions.

Trusty Backlog

To all the meat-lovers: I’m sorry. Although I’ve vigorously loaded up on meat this month, the posts this month have suggested otherwise – but I’ve been in the mood for sweets, I suppose. Plus, I haven’t cooked as much these past couple of weeks, as you well know by now.  Fortunately, I have a trusty backlog of tasty recipes to share, especially some from that first week in June.

So with that, let’s get right to it.

Although I’ve known this all along, this fact became abundantly clear to me over the past month: I heart tacos. Tacos with beer-braised turkey are great for wintertime, and Korean-infused tofu tacos are spicy, crunchy, and entirely suitable for the vegetarians, but meat-lovers love them too, as the tofu is swaddled in pepper paste, and fried til crispy on the outside and soft, melt-in-your-mouth on the inside. (Clearly, I dug those tacos…) And in May, I know I must have made at least two types of fish tacos (fried and unfried). I doubt I’ve met a taco I haven’t liked, quite honestly.

You see, a tortilla shell, crunchy or soft, corn or flour, is like a painter’s blank canvas. You add whatever you want from there: protein, salsa, vegetable, sauce, cheese, whatevs, and a masterpiece you have. A perfect taco has textural contrast – if the tortilla is soft, add some crunch in the toppings; if you’re crafting a crunchy-shelled taco, salsas are perfect. At the end of the day, you really can’t go wrong with whatever you choose.

It’s funny, because a few years ago my only association with a taco, aside from Taco Bell, of course, was the “boxed taco kit” from the grocery store. There was even a Taco Bell version, wasn’t there? Said taco kit included your shells (soft, crunchy, or combo (!)), some over-processed salsa, and the lovely taco “seasoning”. You bought your meat, which was typically ground beef, and if you dared to spice it up, you’d add some iceburg lettuce and again, over-processed ingredients, shredded Kraft cheese. I won’t lie – I liked them, and I’d probably still like them today if I could forget about the ease of making them fresher and more varied.

This taco is probably one of the best chicken tacos I’ve eaten in a long time, maybe ever, if I dare say it. The chicken (thighs, please) is lightly spiced and the toppings are super simple: avocado, pickled red onion, and cotija cheese. The cheese is a dry Mexican cheese that’s used similarly to Parmesan, but it looks and feels like feta cheese; it is slightly salty, which works well with the sweet, acidic onions and the spiced chicken. Look long and hard for it (Whole Foods or a Mexican market should carry it), because you won’t find another cheese like it, and all the sites suggest substituting with Parmesan although I can’t imagine it working well here. I’d use feta over parm, if I had to choose.

As for the pickled onions, I could rave about them for a while, if I had the time. They’re quickly plunged into boiling water to remove that raw red onion bite and then quick-pickled in some citrus juices, a bit of sugar, and cumin. I could eat them straight out of the bowl, which I may or may not have done a few times while the chicken was cooking – they are perfectly crunchy, onion-y in a sweet way, and citrus-spiked. And so pretty, aren’t they? with their neon-pink glow. It’s a festive looking dish for sure, almost too pretty to eat, really. But not quite…

Pollo Asada Tacos w/ Pickled Onions
Adapted from Cooking Light, April 2010; serves 4

printable version

ingredients
1/2  c  fresh lemon juice
1/3  c  fresh lime juice
1  t  sugar
1  t  cumin seeds
1  medium red onion, sliced into thin strips
1 1/2  lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into thin strips
1  t  dried oregano
1  t  ground cumin
1 t chipotle chili powder
3/4  t  salt
3/4  t black pepper
Cooking spray
8  (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 avocado, sliced
1/2  c  (2 ounces) crumbled Cotija cheese

instructions
Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring until sugar dissolves. Place onion in a small saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil; drain and dunk onion in ice water. Drain onion; add to juice mixture. Chill until ready to serve.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat. Sprinkle chicken with oregano, cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper; toss to coat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add chicken to pan; cook 4 minutes or until browned and done, stirring occasionally.

Heat tortillas according to package directions. Divide chicken evenly among tortillas. Drain onion; divide evenly among tortillas. Top each tortilla with avocado and 1 tablespoon cheese; fold over.

Watch Out Bobby, it’s Time to Grill it

Emily and her corn


There aren’t too many things, in my mind, that are better than the weeks before summer. Well, summer itself, of course. But the weeks before, the days when the sun finally comes out from winter hibernation and the coats stay home, are the best. They’re the best because it’s those days that get you amped-up and ready for all things to come.


Things like grilling, the beach, and visiting friends and family. If you’re lucky, having them visit you too. For the second year, we spent Memorial Day weekend in Hilton Head and were happily able to accomplish all three of the above. It’s a nice treat for me since moving to Chicago, as the “beaches” here just aren’t the same as those where I grew up and spent practically every weekend. Vacations get cut short when you’ve gotta get back to the city to get your cook on, but nonethless we managed to kick back and relax, soak up some rays, log-in some family time, and of course – eat like it didn’t matter.


Atlantic sky


Red Fish is our favorite restaurant on the island (not that we’ve been to many, but why bother?), and we definitely voted for a re-visit this year. Their specialty, as if their name didn’t give it away, is fish. Most dishes have a Caribbean-type influence. To top it off, they have an excellent wine selection and mini wine shop in-house. I was really jealous of the sea bass dish last year (not that mine was bad by any stretch, though now I don’t recall what that dish was), and so this year I had to have it. Stay tuned for the post when I learn to perfect the recipe. But don’t hold your breath.


avocado relish


While the dinner at Red Fish and the brunch at Signe’s were both delectable, I didn’t pass up the offer to cook while on vacation. We usually celebrate my mother in law’s birthday over this trip, so I was asked to make dinner for that night. And this year, this was a big one for her, so I was more than happy to cook and let her enjoy the grandkids. Since we’d already eaten seafood, I opted for another fresh, summery idea and made a marinated flank steak with avocado relish, allowing us to take advantage of fresh cool ingredients and the poolside grill. Plus, the guys felt as if they contributed since they got to do the grilling, which Chris claims is “his territory”. I say, “no fair” ’cause I like grilling too.

grilled corn and peppers


Dinner was a hit, with the grown-ups and (as you can see) the kids. While packed with flavor, this dish is super simple to put together – which is great if you’re in a new (and less-stocked with things like your favorite chef’s knife, microplane zester, and bamboo butcher block – thank you rubber stopper) kitchen. The avocado relish was a perfect counterpart to the flank steak, which was juicy, tender, and had the faintest taste of lime and avocado from the rub/marinade. The relish is great for leftovers, and can stand in for salsa any day. That being said, it isn’t a bad idea to make extra. What about the peppers, you say? They were just dandy. Roasted over the stovetop (for ease – they’d be just as great roasted in the oven or on the grill), peeled, cut, and sauteed in cilantro butter. Corn? Painted w/ lime juice, avocado oil and grilled and served with more melted cilantro butter.


And vacation? Not bad either! As all of them, just a wee bit too short. But given my inability to correctly apply sunscreen, I think another day at the beach would not have been wise for me anyway… Take home message – don’t forget your neck, unless you want to be a poser red-neck. tee hee hee.


grilled flank steak


Grilled Flank Steak w/ Avocado Relish
Adapted from Cooking Light, May 2009; serves 4




ingredients
lime rind from 2-3 limes, divided
4 t avocado oil
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
2 minced garlic cloves
1 1lb flank steak
2 avocados, peeled & medium-diced
2-3 plum tomatoes, juiced & medium-diced
1/4 cup medium-diced red onion
1 small-diced jalepeno, seeded if you don’t like the heat
juice of one lime
2 T fresh cilantro, chopped
lime wedges, for garnish


instructions
1. Combine 2/3 of lime rind through garlic in small bowl. Score a diamond-shaped pattern on both sides of steak and rub mixture onto both sides. Place in large zip-lock bag or bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.



2. Preheat grill to med-hi. Grill on each side for about 5 minutes (for medium-rare). Let sit about 5 minutes and cut in small slices, across the grain.


3. Meanwhile, combine avocados through cilantro as well as remaining 1/3 of rind. Season to taste. Serve with grilled steak and lime wedges.