Grill Your Fruit!

You read that right – grill…your…fruit, add some market greens, some seeds or nuts, a little cheese, maybe a light dressing, or just a little local honey. Dinner (or lunch) is served.

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The first time I saw Bobby Flay grilling pineapples I fell in love with the idea. However, the first time I burned the pineapples to the grill, I didn’t feel it reciprocated. But, don’t let that get you down, some fruits are more forgiving than others. And, to help you out, I draw from my experiences to give you a short list.

Fruits ranked from easiest along with recipe ideas:

1. Stone fruits – apricots, peaches, plums, mangos, and nectarines. Use as a center piece to salads or in a bowl topped with ice cream. For either version, I start by halving the fruit and releasing and disposing of the stone. Toss lightly in oil and place cut side down on hot grates for 1-2 minutes, rotate a quarter turn and leave for another 30 seconds to a minute. Next flip over to skin side for 1-2 minutes. If using for salads, remove from heat and cut into desired size for salad. If going for dessert, remove from heat, drizzle with honey, and scoop in vanilla ice cream or greek yogurt.

2. Citrus – lemons, limes, pineapple…mostly lemons. When I grill lamb chops, I also grill lemons. The hot juice and pulp of the lemons spreads over the chops to add a brilliant citrus zing that your guests will go on and on about. Simply. wash and half the lemons, place cut side down on the top rack of the grill for 1 minute, give them a quarter turn and another minute before flipping over and onto a side plate.

For the pineapple, I have found that a light toss in vegetable oil helps it to release from the grill. My favorite thing to do with grilled pineapple is to chop it up with grilled or raw mango and fresh mint to serve as chutney. Adding peppers and/or some red onion and cilantro can turn this into a fun salsa.

Whatever you do, please take time to grill your fruit!

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Birthday Dessert for Mom

It is pleasure to cook for the people who support my hobby/habit of doing so, and even better when I get to use my skills to treat my family. On a visit home a couple of months ago, I took my Mom’s birthday as the opportunity to conceptualize and deliver a meal everyone enjoyed. And, for me, it was a great day shopping for ingredients at a few different stores with my Mom – basically just hanging out as if I lived down the block rather than over a couple of states. Hopefully, she knows that this hobby/habit is something she inspired and created in her kitchen when she demanded that I learn how to make at least one dinner per week for our family.

When I asked Mom what kind of food she wanted, she said “italian.” While I believe she does like italian food, I think she was trying to throw me a bone by picking something inexpensive. So, what did I do – herb rested steaks over parmesan risotto with Emily’s favorite squash and pancetta salad. To fill in the cracks, a bowl of salted caramel gelato with black berries and a drizzle of dark chocolate.

In case you want this dessert tonight – I can tell you that all of the ingredients are available at the grocery store and all are just about ready to go. You’ll need: salted caramel gelato, Ghirardelli dark chocolate melting discs, and berries of your choice.

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Here’s how it goes together: scoop the gelato into a bowl, melt the discs according to their directions, add berries to gelato, spoon over melted chocolate as decoratively as you feel like doing.

Serve. Enjoy!

Craft Cocktail: Bourbonade

The spring is finally here in Chicago and everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – is outside soaking in the sun and rediscovering what other humans look like without a parka on.

This means it is also past time for one’s outdoor space to be operational. As my facebook, Instagram, twitter, and Snap Chat friends already know; my balcony is operational – and extra awesome this year because of some upgrades.

To help you welcome spring and summer to your balconies, rooftops, decks, porches, and yards (if you have them) – or even your local park or beach; today’s recipe is a smash hit that everyone will enjoy!

Bourbonade on my balcony

Bourbonade – it is what it sounds like if you slur together bourbon lemonade. And, thus you have the two main ingredients. To those I round out the drink with orange simple syrup, a lot of ice, and a thick lemon wheel. Basically, you mix all of these ingredients in ratios that make your mouth happy and then you can call it your own.

Mine goes together like this:

1) Fill a high ball glass with ice

2) Spoon in 1/2 tsp of orange simple syrup

3) Pour in 1.5 oz of bourbon (Four Roses Small Batch is preferred in this house)

4) Fill the rest of the way with lemonade and stir to combine

5) Garnish with a thick lemon wheel

If the drink is too sweet the first time out, squeeze in that lemon wheel and drink the cocktail. Then remake with a little less simple syrup or a little more bourbon. You can see where this could go. So, be a little careful and really enjoy!

Eat With Your Hands: Rosemary Roast Nuts

Last weekend, Emily and I were at a family gathering. Because of her love of this snack, Emily insisted that I make the Rosemary Nuts. I did, and within five minutes of laying out a few bowls, I looked around to see everyone eating out of their cupped hands. It just brings a smile to my face. So simple, so good.

In addition to being my new “go to” snack for every occasion we host or attend this mix made great stocking stuffers this past Christmas and have become a standard component of any hostess gift.

You will be able to prepare these in 40 minutes, depending on your comfort with the steps of the recipe. And, they last (if not eaten) for quite a while before getting stale or dodgy.

As always, I want to credit the source of this recipe. Though my version is slightly different, it stems from Ina Garten’s Roasted Chipotle and Rosemary Mixed Nut recipe.

For my version, I trimmed down the varieties of nuts and ditched the chipotle to create a mix that works for my families’ palettes.

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Ingredients:

16 oz bag of cashew, dry roasted and salted

16 oz bag of almonds, dry roasted and salted

2 teaspoons salt

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

3 Tablespoons of orange juice

1/4 cup of brown sugar

1/3 cup of quality maple syrup

Instructions

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2) In a bowl, mix the OJ, sugar, oil, and syrup until combined

3) Add both bags of nuts to the bowl and site through to coat the nuts evenly

4) Spread nut mixture on a rimmed baking sheet

5) Sprinkle nuts with all of the salt and half of the rosemary.

6) With a spatula, mix in the salt and rosemary.

7) Roast the sheet of nuts in the oven for 25 minutes, stirring at 10 and 20 minute marks.

8) Remove from oven and stir in the remaining rosemary.

9) Cool and enjoy!

 

Craft Cocktail: Patio Slammer

Yes, as I type this post – it is snowing in Chicago. And, yes that is more than a little irritating to most everyone here in town. But, it is April so it is also definitely time to get ready for summer.

When I think about summer, I think of my balcony and cocktails. Without a doubt finding the right cocktail takes a bit of patience, a dash of something new, a taste for adventure, an openness to other people’s knowledge, and friends with good taste.

Thanks to my pal Steve and his palette for whiskey, I have a beautiful bottle of Few White whiskey. And, with the guidance of the folks at Journeyman Distillery I have new recipe for a drink they named the Patio Slammer.

Here are the ingredients:

1.5 oz white whiskey

0.5 oz orange simple syrup

1.0 oz fresh lime juice

How to put it together:

1) Combine all three ingredients in a shaker with ice.

2) Shake until your fingers hurt from the  cold, then there more times.

3) Strain into glass and garnish with a lime wheel (if desired)

Enjoy!

What in the World is Rotolo!?!

If you have ever gone to dinner and had hand made pasta, it really steals the show. And, if you ever have that experience in someone’s home, you (I) are (am) just in awe of the home cook who made this for you.

This recipe makes you that home cook.

So, to answer the question “what is rotolo?” Well, rotolo means rolled up. And, that is really all there is to that. And, for our purposes what you roll up is limited only by your imagination. The rotolo I have serve guests is filled with spinach, feta cheese, squash, and parmesan cheese.

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Let’s pull this together.

Ingredients:

Butternut squash,  red onion chopped medium, bag of frozen spinach, nutmeg, salt, pepper, parmesan and feta cheeses, fresh pasta sheets, tin of tomato sauce, sliced garlic, and a red chile (optional).

Instructions:

1) Roast the squash whole. When it is done and cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh onto a cutting board and season with salt and pepper, discarding the skin and seeds.

2) In a shallow skillet, sauté the sliced garlic until just golden. Add whole tin of tomato sauce and the amount of chile fitting with your taste. Simmer gently until step 10.

3) In large skillet, sauté red onion in a tablespoon of olive oil. Once the onion is soft add the bag of spinach and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to combine. At the end of the 10 minutes, grate nutmeg over the entire pan and set aside.

4) Lay our pasta sheets on a lightly oiled surface. If the sheets are not pliable, drop into boiling water for just long enough to loosen them up.

5) Scoop squash onto pasta sheets and spread out evenly to cover the entire surface.

6) Spoon the heavy spinach sauce onto the squash, distributing evenly.

7) Crumble feta over the spinach, liberally.

8) Sprinkle shaved or grated parmesan over everything.

9) With you fingers, gently roll/fold one edge of the pasta sheet and all filling over onto itself to resemble a cannoli or jelly roll.

10) Pour sauce into oven-safe casserole dish.

11) Using a sharp knife, cut each pasta roll into four equal size pieces. Once cut, transfer the pieces to the sauce and stand up on an end. Push each piece up next to the last until a “honey comb” of rolled pasta fills the dish.

12) Sprinkle additional shaved parmesan cheese over the top of the pasta and, if desired, add a few slightly oiled fresh sage leaves over the cheese.

13) Place the entire dish into a 350 degree oven and bake for 25 minutes.

14) Cool for a couple of minutes prior to serving.

This nutritious meal will serve six people easily and makes wonderful leftovers for lunches that will inspire envy at the office.

 

Ham Hock Pot Roast

The newest crowd-pleaser here at my house is cheap, hearty, and delicious. Using an ingredient I didn’t ever think I would use, I invite you to put a wonderfully flavored meat and potatoes meal on the dinner table for less that three dollars a person.

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If you have an aversion to pig parts, this might me the best start to a conversion. If you are in Chicago, I recommend buying your smoked hocks at Gene’s Sausage shop in Lincoln Square. They have two sections – small and large – for this recipe, you want the large ones. I recommend, one hock per every two guests.

Here’s what you need and how to put it together:

2-3 hocks

1 lb of golden potatoes, peeled and halved

2 large yellow onions, coped rough

8 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2″ pieces

3 fresh bay leaves

handful of thyme

ground black pepper

Directions:

1. Soak hocks in water over night

2. Add everything to dutch oven, cover with water, and season liberally with pepper

3. Simmer on stove top for 20 minutes, skimming any scum

4. Cover with wet wax paper and roast in 325 degree oven for 2.5 – 3 hours.

Serve and Enjoy!

Tangerine Granita

This winter I have enjoyed feeding my friends and family some of the heartiest and most comforting food I have ever made. And, while that has been great, it can leave my guests so full that there isn’t room for dessert.

Aside from models (and I am really only guessing on this contention) NO ONE wants to say that they are too full for dessert. Even if what is being served is not your favorite kind or if it sounds just terrifying (i.e. peppers in one’s ice cream) – you always want to at least try some dessert.

The solution is a light and sweet finish to the meal that happens to also possess some important digestive properties . . . granita. What’s granita? Basically, a slushy that has been elevated from “snow-cone” to “dinner party.” It can be made with anything you like but most recipes I’ve seen use a seasonal citrus and a loaded up simple syrup.

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How I decided on mine? Well, I was accidently in Whole Foods recently and noticed some cool looking citrus fruits (talk about a budgetary nightmare). They just looked delicious. So, I asked the guy stocking the produce if he would cut one up so I could try it. I thought, what the hell? if he says no I probably won’t overpay for a fancy orange.  But, thankfully he agreed. Thus, I gleefully overpaid for a fancy orange . . . actually, half a dozen of the striped tangerines.

The recipe for this is pretty straight forward:

The first step is to juice all of the citrus and match the volume with your favorite fresh-squeezed orange juice. Next, go to the stovetop with a heavy bottomed sauce pan and stir together over medium-high heat, equal parts sugar and water. Once the liquid is clear, add a bay leaf, cinnamon stick, handful of basil leaves, simmering to reduce by a quarter.

Once the syrup reduces, pour it through a sieve into the container of juice. Freeze the whole mixture for at least four hours.

To serve, rake the frozen block with the tines of a fork and plate.

Soups and Seeds Part 2: Acorn Squash

Recently, I have been watching a lot of episodes of Jamie at Home in addition to cooking a few new recipes from my newest cook book Jamie’s America. Who is Jamie – his full name is Jamie Oliver and he is England’s version of both Emeril and the Pampered Chef. I like his style and approach of resourceful, rustic, simple, and bold cooking. I also love that he uses his influence to reach out into the community to help teens while embracing and celebrating food cultures around the globe. That’s the end of the tribute at this point. And, all to say, I’ve enjoyed his influence on my cooking.

At the Lakeshore Drive Charity Dinner, I made my super delicious butternut squash soup. This past week I replaced the butternut with acorn squash and the leeks with a small onion and added some indian spice, to make what is now my favorite squash soup. In addition, I carried those flavors through to roast the squash seeds. And, I have to say that the satisfaction of using almost the entire squash – along with the beautiful tastes – was really something that I enjoyed.

A side bonus is that these recipes are both vegan recipes. How is that possible? The three big surprises are a roasted sweet potato, coconut milk, and garam masala. Check out the recipe below and send me any questions or comments.

Acorn and Sweet Potato Soup (Vegan)

Soup Ingredients:

2-3 lbs of acorn squash, seeds rinsed and reserved to the side

1 large sweet potato

2/3 cup of coconut milk

2-3 tablespoons of EVOO

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon garam masala

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

3 1/2 cups of vegetable broth

1-1 1/2 cups of water

salt & pepper

Directions:

1. Preheat over to 400 degrees

2. Slice squash and pealed sweet potato in half, drizzle with EVOO, and season with salt and pepper and place cut-side down on lined baking sheet

3. Roast for 30-45 minutes, until both are very soft

4. Cool until you can handle the squash, remove and discard skin.

5. Meanwhile, add remaining oil and onions to dutch oven over low heat. Gently saute onions until translucent.

6. Add masala and ginger to onions and stir until fragrant, about 2 minutes

7. Add squash, potato, broth, salt, and pepper and simmer for 10-15 minutes

8. Blend in batches or with immersion blender until smooth, add water to achieve desired consistency.

Serve and enjoy!

Spiced and Roasted Squash Seeds

Seed Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees

2. Mix 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil with a teaspoon of salt, pinch of curry powder (sweet or hot is your preference), and pinch of garam masala until all are evenly coated.

3. Spread on lined baking sheet in one layer and roast for 15-25 minutes, stirring half way through.

Cool and eat. These are awesome!

 

Soups and Seeds Part 1: Hearty Chicken and Winter Veg

When I make this soup my home smells warm and inviting. The broth is almost sweet from the carrots and keeps my family clamoring for more. In the winter I make this at least once a month because it makes not only one of the best dinners but because it wraps up easily for fantastic lunches. If that weren’t enough, the stock can be made ahead of time and frozen for up 3 months. This recipe is also fun and forgiving when it comes to adjusting for available ingredients. For example, at Thanksgiving, I replaced the chicken for turkey leftovers and made some awesome turkey soup. Beyond that, you can substitute the southern holy trinity for the mirepoix to create a spicy soup. You can change the noodles and veg, whatever you want. I love this recipe and hope you really find success in whatever variation of it you imagine.

Enjoy!

Hearty Chicken Soup with Winter Veg

Recipe 

Stock  

1
tablespoon vegetable oil

1
pound ground chicken

1
small onion, chopped medium (about 1 cup)

1
medium carrot, chopped medium (about 1/2 cup)

1
medium celery rib, chopped medium

2 -3 ribs of swiss (or rainbow) chard, chopped medium

1
quart water

2
quarts low-sodium chicken broth

2
bay leaves

2
teaspoons table salt

1 small fryer (chicken), broken down

Soup  

3 large carrots, peeled, cut roughly on bias

2 – 3 Ribs of swiss (or rainbow) chard, chopped medium

4 – 6
Swiss chard leaves, ribs removed, torn into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)

4 whole cloves of garlic

2 cups of tortellini noodles (cooked separately according to directions)

How to bring it all together

For the stock:

1. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add ground chicken, onion, carrot, chard, and celery. Cook, stirring frequently, until chicken is no longer pink, 5 to 10 minutes (do not brown chicken).

2. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add water, broth, bay leaves, salt, and chicken breasts; cover and cook for 30 minutes. Remove lid, increase heat to high, and bring to boil. (If liquid is already boiling when lid is removed, remove chicken pieces immediately and continue with recipe.) Transfer chicken pieces to large plate and set aside. Continue to cook stock for 20 minutes, adjusting heat to maintain gentle boil. Strain stock through fine-mesh strainer into large pot or container, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Allow liquid to settle about 5 minutes and skim off 90 percent of the fat.

For the soup:

3. Remove skin and bones from reserved cooked chicken and discard. Shred meat with fingers or 2 forks. Separate dark meat and white meat.

4. Return stock to Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Add carrots, chard, garlic, and shredded dark meat of chicken, cook 10 to 15 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary to maintain gentle boil. Add chard leaves and continue to cook until all vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes longer.

5. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve:

Add desired amount of tortellini noodles to each person’s bowl. Ladle soup over noodles.