Turkish Chicken Kebabs

No stranger to skewers of chicken, beef, lamb or pork served with a pilaf and salad, I experimented a bit last night with the ratio of olive oil to yogurt, and the herb and spice components taken from several favorite Mideast preparations.

The result was by far the best rendition of chicken kebabs I can recall.  Deeply flavorful and moist, seasoned to perfection with a slight tang of lemon – although I did serve with a bit of tahini sauce on the side,  left from our kefta kebabs last week.  Two pounds of boneless chicken thighs were ample to serve four, but there were just two of us, so…leftovers!

TURKISH CHICKEN KEBABS

IMG_0420INGREDIENTS:

2 lbs boneless air-chilled chicken thighs cut into 1-1-1/2 inch pieces (each thigh should yield 3-4 chunks)

1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper and one medium sweet onion cut into chunks

MARINADE:

1/4 cup EVOO; 1/4 cup plain yogurt (preferably goat-milk); 1 T dried oregano; 1 T dried mint; 1 t ground cumin; 1 t allspice; 1 t coriander; 3 medium garlic cloves crushed in a press or finely minced; 1 lemon quartered and then cut crosswise into small chunks; 2 t kosher salt; 1 t ground black pepper

TECHNIQUE:

Combine the marinade ingredients in a baking dish large enough to hold the chicken pieces, toss to coat completely, and let marinate refrigerated for at least 2 hours, longer if possible.  When time to grill, heat grill to very hot and thread bamboo skewers with the chicken alternating with the cut peppers and onions.  You may want to fold over some of the chicken chunks to keep them more firmly on the skewer, as the pieces of boneless thigh tend to be somewhat flat.  Grill about 10 minutes, turning once or twice.

We enjoyed this with a simple basmati pilaf laced with minced carrots, shallots, and complementary seasonings, and a small Greek salad.

Grilled Sirloin & Potatoes with Salad

IMG_0587What could be simpler and more satisfying on a hot summer night than grilling a thick, juicy sirloin, with well-seasoned potatoes and a big salad on the side?  Husband and I share  one steak, usually between 1-1.2 lbs, and split it about 60/40, with his portion being the larger.  My technique for grilling steaks has been constant for many years – a light brushing of either Kitchen Bouquet or Gravy Master, followed by seasoning rub, so,etimes with coffee or mushroom powder.  Last night the rub was lots of black pepper and a seasoning salt mix I had on hand from Frontier, and former client in the herb & spice business.

The potatoes were medium-sized red-skin, par-cooked in the microwave for about 4 minutes, then halved when cooled off a bit and tossed in a Ziploc bag with EVOO, minced garlic, S&P and herbes de provence.  These were then grilled alongside the steak for about 10 minutes, 5 minutes per side.

The salad was a semi-antipasto – spring mix, halved grape tomatoes, onion, anchovies, slivered Genoa salami, and shaved Pecorino Romano tossed with Italian dressing – posted 4 months ago, but reprinted here:

ITALIAN SALAD DRESSING

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil; 1/4 cup cider vinegar; 2 tbsp water; 1 minced or crushed garlic clove; 2 tsp sugar; 1-1/2 tsp Kosher salt; 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1 or 2 tbsp grated Pecorino Romano; 1/2 tsp oregano; 1/2 tsp basil

Combine all in a tightly lidded jar and shake well.  (The dressing keeps well in fridge, but should be brought to room temperature again before using, as the EVOO solidifies when chilled.  This can be done by running your container under hot water a bit)

Beet Salad 1, Lemon-Blueberry Cake 0

Feeling energetic first thing this morning – after walking and feeding the pups – I set out to make a side dish for lunch and a dessert for dinner.

My friend Rockie posted a promising Onion & Beet Salad to our FB group and I had two cryovac packages of steamed beets in the fridge screaming to be set free.  So much easier than starting with fresh beets, I adapted her recipe with just one more modification, using only half the dressing called for.  The original recipe would have yielded about a cup of dressing.  I often find that to be true with marinades as well – cutting the recipe in half with nothing lost in flavor.

The salad turned out beautifully – just the right combination of sweet and sour, with a nice bit of crunch from the diced red onions:

RED ONION AND BEET SALAD

 IMG_0581In medium bowl, combine the following: 6 large steamed beets (as mentioned, from cryovac packages) diced about 1/2″; 1 medium red onion diced about 1/4″

In smaller bowl, whisk together the dressing: 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar; 3 T red or white wine vinegar; 2 T sugar; 1/2 t salt; 1 t basil; 1/4 tsp pepper

Toss the beets and onion with the dressing, chill at least an hour, and enjoy!

LEMON BLUEBERRY CAKE – FAIL

IMG_0580

Yes, we all have our days, and I have made this lemony yogurt pound cake so many times, I decided to add blueberries to the mix.  Everything went swimmingly until it came time to release the cooled cake from the loaf pan.  The end result, as seen here – blueberry crumble cake.  Too tasty to throw out, but not what I had in mind.  Should have placed a sheet of parchment in the bottom of the pan, as I’m sure both the weight and sugar content of the blueberries made the whole thing stick.  Half came out, the rest had to be scraped out.  But the basic recipe is one worth repeating, posted herewith from Epicurious.  I use Redwood Hill Farm Goat Milk Yogurt, the zest of a whole lemon, and whatever marmalade we have available – today, it was tangerine:

YOGURT CAKE WITH MARMALADE GLAZE

(courtesy of Epicurious)

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/yogurt-cake-with-marmalade-glaze-231588

Tabbouleh on the Brain

When my foodie friend Valerie posted a request for help making tabbouleh on our FB group site, I was reminded of how long it’s been since I made this at home.  Our local health food store sells Cedars tabbouleh in just the right size for me to have alone, and since no one else in the family shares my passion for this dish, that’s been my stand-in of late.

But – with plenty of Italian parsley, lemons, tomatoes and fresh mint in the fridge, all I needed was the bulghur grain to get this going today.  I found Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Red Bulgur at Stop & Shop

IMG_0384

Coarser than the usual bulghur that requires only about 10 minutes to absorb liquid, this variety had to sit for an hour after I poured boiling water over it.  After an hour, one cup of bulghur with one cup of water looked like this – all the moisture fully absorbed, and nothing to drain.

IMG_0385

While that was sitting and doing its thing, I prepared the other elements from the recipe on the package, since this variety of grain was a departure from my usual-

3 cups finely chopped parsley; 1/4 cup each finely chopped fresh mint and scallions; about 1-1/2 cups diced grape tomatoes, squeezed out to eliminate water and seeds; 1/2 tsp salt; 1/4 tsp each pepper and cumin; and 3 tbsp each fresh lemon juice and olive oil.  I left out the suggested diced cucumber since that’s always in our Greek salad.

It’s resting in the fridge now, as the flavors marry.  Then I’ll know whether it needs a bit more of lemon juice or salt:

IMG_0386 (1)

Thanks, Valerie, for reminding me how quick and easy it is to assemble this bright-tasting and healthful side dish.

Update…tasted after it sat in the fridge for a few hours and found it needed another tbsp of lemon juice and a bit more salt.  Now it’s just right.

Crab Salad on a Croissant & French Potato Salad

The one-pound can of claw crabmeat drew my attention at Trader Joe’s on Saturday so I scooped it up with plans to make crab salad for sandwiches.  While I love crab cakes, husband is not a fan, so the salad is a choice that provides me with lunch material for a few days.  Had the avocadoes there not been rock-hard, I would have enjoyed adding that to the plan, thinly sliced over the crab salad on soft multi-grain bread or – even better – one of the croissants that my son’s girlfriend brought over.

The perfect accompaniment – a side of French potato salad.  No mayo, just a light dressing of mustardy vinaigrette with a few additions for crunch and color.  I first discovered this in Julia’s recipe as a component for salad Nicoise, and prefer it now over anything with mayonnaise-based dressing.

IMG_0569

CILANTRO-LIME CRAB SALAD

INGREDIENTS:  1-lb can claw crab-meat (no need to spend a fortune – $9.99 at TJ’s); 1/3 cup Hellman’s Light Mayo; 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion; 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions; 1/2 rib finely chopped celery; 3 T minced red or yellow bell pepper; 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro; juice of one lime plus some of the grated peel; 1 t ground cumin; 1 t Old Bay Seasoning; s&p to taste

PREPARATION: Drain and lightly rinse the crabmeat in a colander and set aside while you combine all other ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Fold the crabmeat into the dressing and chill well before serving.

This makes a lovely centerpiece for a composed salad plate, or a sandwich as shown above.  A soft bread or croissant is perfect, with just a few leaves of spring mix or thinly sliced avocado.

FRENCH POTATO SALAD

INGREDIENTS: 2 lbs small red-skinned potatoes cut into pieces about 3/4″; 2t Kosher salt; 2 T finely chopped shallots; 1 T whole-grain mustard; 1/2 T Dijon mustard; 1 T white wine vinegar; 3-4 minced cornichons or 1 T small capers; 2 T minced red or yellow bell pepper; splash of dry white wine; 3 T extra virgin olive oil; 2 T chopped flat-leaf parsley

PREPARATION: Bring potatoes to a boil in water salted with 1 tsp kosher salt, cover and simmer until fork-tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain in a colander and let sit while you prepare the dressing.

In a large bowl, whisk together all dressing components except the oil; then continue whisking as you slowly add the olive oil so it will emulsify.

Add the still-warm potatoes to the dressing and toss to combine.  Delicious served warm, but leftovers are just fine when chilled.

Memorial Day Weekend – Ribs and Tips

While shopping at Trader Joe’s for what to grill this past Sunday and Monday, I was undecided between the beautiful baby back ribs or the cryovac packaged sirloin tips.  So I got both.  The ribs actually never touched down on the grill – I slow baked them in a 275 oven for about 2-1/2 hours after rubbing them down generously with a dry rub adapted from “Thrill of the Grill”.  I like to keep a supply of this on hand for when the mood strikes.  My Thanksgiving roasting pan is just perfect for accommodating two racks:

IMG_0376At the end of 2-1/2 hours,  the ends of the bones are protruding and the fat has mostly dripped into the pan.  I then lightly brush both sides with TJ’s Bold & Smokey Kansas City Style Barbecue Sauce, turn up the heat to 350 for only a few minutes, and serve them with more sauce on the side.  Couldn’t be any easier.

IMG_2454 (1)

Here’s the rub:

Dry Rub for Ribs: 2 T kosher salt; 4 T light brown sugar ( or 2 T each of white and dark brown sugar); 2 T ground cumin; 2 T ground black pepper; 2 T chili powder; 4 T sweet Hungarian paprika

The meat was quite literally falling off the bone, so succulent and tender, and all guilt about fat dispelled by my witnessing of the fat that dripped off into the bottom of the pan.  Soon to be repeated.

Now for the tips – sirloin tips on skewers with sweet onion and red peppers.  The marinade was delicious – a paste rub heavily comprised of oregano, cumin and garlic – but sad to say the sirloin tips were not as tender as I would have liked.  TJ’s refunded the $21.60 I paid for these, after I served much of my portion to our little Cicero.  But the recipe, courtesy of Gourmet (August 2009) will be repeated with a better selection of sirloin tips:

Cumin-Scented Beef Kebabs Marinade: 1/4 cup olive oil; 2 T finely chopped fresh oregano; 1 very large garlic clove minced; 2 t ground cumin; 1 t ground coriander; 1/4 t cayenne; 1/2 t ground black pepper; 1 t Kosher salt.  Stir all together and coat the beef – marinate at least 2 hours or all day, and grill on skewers laced with onions and peppers.

Superstars in my Larder

Among the superstars in my kitchen larder, there are items for which I’d rather go without than switch to a substitute:

Hellman's#1 on the list is Hellman’s Light Mayonnaise.  I’ve been using this for so long I cannot fathom the taste of full-fat mayonnaise.  But it didn’t take long to train the taste buds – this low fat version is so rich and creamy, like Hellman’s Real, that I miss nothing in flavor and certainly not in added calories.  At just 35 calories per Tbsp, 30 from fat, this product is the bomb.  Fat free mayonnaise is an abomination, no matter whose label is on the jar, and other ‘lite’ versions either have more calories or simply taste a bit off.

Daisy litght#2, and just as indispensable, is Daisy Light sour cream.  Just about every other light sour cream brand, except from some over-the-top pricey organics – are laden with additives such as corn starch and guar gum to replicate the mouth-feel of their full-fat counterparts.  Not this Daisy – ingredients are simply cultured cream, skim milk, and Vitamin A palmitate.  Like it’s Hellman’s Light counterpart, this product looks and tastes to me like the full-fat version.

Breakstone#3 Breakstone’s 2% milkfat low fat cottage cheese.  Been eating this brand since childhood, when I fell in love with its pleasantly tangy curds.  Alone as a mid-day snack, schmeered on toast, or as a side to a lunch plate of cut fruit, no other brand compares.

Redwood#4 Redwood Hill Farm goat milk yogurt, naturally much lower in fat than full-fat cow’s milk yogurt and, while not a concern for me, well-tolerated by those with a lactose issue – as are other goat milk products.  The only acceptable substitute is Trader Joe’s goat milk yogurt, which is private-labeled for them by the people at Redwood.  I use this in any recipe calling for yogurt, and often enjoy it plain or with a hint of maple syrup or honey as a snack.

Garden patch#5 Trader Joe’s Garden Patch Juice, either Low Sodium or Regular.  Forget about V-8 – if you enjoy a richly flavored vegetable juice with lots of body, this is the drink for you.  Private-labeled for TJ’s by Knudsen’s, makers of Very Veggie, at a fraction of the cost, which just makes it taste that much better.  Delicious by itself, but also the perfect base for a Bloody Mary.  Stay away from the Mr. & Mrs. T, loaded with sodium.  Just add your own tabasco, horseradish, Worcestershire, lemon or lime juice, and celery salt.  And vodka, of course.

Helluva#6 Speaking of horseradish, unless you’re out on the back porch grating your own horseradish root, this is the killer for hots.  Stays pretty powerful too, after opening, provided you screw the cap on tightly.  We’ve tried Gold’s and found it too wimpy.  However, there’a also a brand called Atomic which is supposedly favored by restaurants and sold online…might give it the taste test someday.  For a while, TJ’s had a knock-me-dead horseradish in their refrigerated section, but like so many items that they regard as slow movers, it was discontinued a few years ago.

Bubbies#7 Bubbie’s Kosher Dills are the only pickles I’ve ever tasted that remind me of the ones my nana used to make.  They are aptly name for Bubbie.  The brine is so cloudy and garlicky you have to shake the jar to disperse it all before plucking out one of the crisp little pickles.  You can even save the brine and throw some cabbage in there as my nana used to do with her leftover pickle juice – in just a day or so, pickled cabbage.

Locatelli#8 Locatelli Pecorino Romano, widely considered the world’s finest grating cheese – I use it exclusively in lieu of Parmesan, and grate it as needed in the Vitamix.  It takes mere seconds.  Only $8.99/lb at BJ’s versus $10.99 for the same amount already grated.  Besides the cost savings, I prefer grating my own and saving some of the chunk to add cheese shavings to a dish – easy e nough with a vegetable peeler.

Genova#9 Genova solid light tuna in olive oil.  I buy it by the case from Amazon, but sometimes find it at Hannaford’s for about the same price per can – $1.79.  I’ve written before about the sawdust that passes for tuna packed in water, serving only as a medium for copious amounts of mayonnaise.  Despite it’s shrinking size, now at 5 ounces, this little can is a meal in itself over a bed of greens, onion and tomato.  You can drain the oil off or dress your greens with it before sprinkling with a bit of white balsamic or lemon juice.

AMY-00536-6#10 Amy’s Organic Chunky Tomato Bisque.  You’d never know you were eating canned soup.  Thick and chunky with bits of tomato, not in the least acidic, mildly sweet.  The first time I tasted this I sent the Amy’s people a fan email and got a thank you note with about $17 in coupons – a few for entire items such as “any frozen item” (pizza!).  The best accompaniment on this planet to a grilled cheese sandwich.

Cape Cod#11 Cape Cod potato chips, 40% less fat.  Yes, I probably eat more of them knowing they’re lower in fat.  But the crunch factor is simply perfect, and now that they’re making flavored varieties in the less-fat format, they’ve stolen my heart away from their rival in my kitchen cabinet, TJ’s Less Guilt chips.

San Marzano#12 San Marzano tomatoes – worth the extra expense versus any other “Italian style” plum tomatoes, regardless of what you’re cooking with them.  Never mushy, these plump beauties are sweeter and more tomato-ey than anything else other than perhaps your own home-grown variety.  I look for them on sale and stock up.

Corn

#13 Trader Joe’s Organic Supersweet Corn, the only frozen corn for me, the basis of a corn bisque I make every year for Thanksgiving.  Incredibly naturally sweet and golden.  A few years ago I forgot to stock up before Thanksgiving and found they were sold out.  Having to search every supermarket in a 10-mile radius for a reasonable substitute, I settled on something else and will never make that mistake again.  There’s always a 1 lb bag in the freezer.

Olivia#14 Olivia’s Organic Spring Mix, always stay fresh up to the best-buy date and beyond, and almost never turns soggy or wilty unless mishandled at the store.  If and when that happens, a refund is unquestioningly given.  A better blend of greens than most packaged spring mix that are comprised largely of baby romaine and oak leaf lettuces.  I tried Stop & Shop’s clamshell packaged spring mix and had to return it for refund four times due to mushiness.  Look for a package without much condensation inside, and a generous amount of raddichio and frisee.  Keep the inside lid dry and the greens will stay crisp.

Ducktrap  #15 Ducktrap Smoked Trout filets.  We often enjoy these with Sunday brunch, alongside a plate of bagels with smoked salmon and scallion cream cheese.  It also makes a delicious spread when processed with cream cheese and seasonings.  And it’s one of the three fish ingredients in my version of gefilte fish, along with fresh cod and salmon (see blog post dated 3/7/15)

When Life Handed Me Lemons….

…I made lemon mousse.  Seriously.  Having purchased a packet of Knox gelatin for the sole purpose of incorporating into the lamb kefte (previous post), I started googling for interesting ways to use more of it…other than jello (ugh).  Also, having just acquired some sweet Italian dessert dishes from Horchow, I was also jonesing for something to serve in them.  I now have nine of these beauties, since the first shipment of six arrived with three broken from careless handling by Fedex, so Horchow replaced the set right away.

The search yielded an interesting idea for an eggless and creamless, basically low-fat lemon mousse.  I adjusted it, as always, to make it my own and so we enjoyed Lemony Yogurt Mousse after dinner last night:

LEMONY YOGURT MOUSSE

IMG_0375 (1)INGREDIENTS: 1/2 cup lemon juice, 1 packet Knox gelatin (.25 ounce); 2/3 cup organic sugar; 2 cups plain Redwood Hill Goat Yogurt (or your favorite plain yogurt, such as non-fat Fage or Chobani); berries of your choice;  mint sprigs for garnish.

TECHNIQUE: Pour lemon juice into medium saucepan and sprinkle the surface with the gelatin.  Let sit for about 3 minutes.  Add sugar and whisk over medium heat until well incorporated, about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and whisk in the yogurt until smooth.  Pour into four dessert cups, cover with plastic, and chill at least two hours until it’s set.  Just before serving, add berries of your choce and garnish with a sprig of mint if you have it on hand.

The berries are an essential complement to the tartness of the lemon mousse.  Together they make a pretty and relatively low-fat dessert.

Kefte Kebabs – A Taste Trip to the Middle East

Of all the lamb creations we have enjoyed both at home and in Middle Eastern restaurants, one of my favorites is kefte – lavishly seasoned skewers of ground lamb grilled and served with a lemony yogurt tahini sauce, pilaf, salad, and moist, chewy pillows of pita bread.

Last night’s dinner was my first effort at the kefte, from a recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen, Season 14 and it beat the pants off of any version I’ve had before.  Their recipe called for 1-1/2 lbs of ground lamb – I adjusted it for just 1 lb for the two of us, and it was more than we could finish:

GRILLED LAMB KEFTE KEBABS

(can also be made into lamb burgers, no skewers involved)

IMG_0566

INGREDIENTS FOR THE LAMB:  1/3 cup pine nuts; 1 plump garlic clove, 1 tsp smoked paprika, 3/4 tsp Kosher salt, 3/4 tsp cumin; 1/4 tsp ground pepper, 1/4 tsp ground coriander, 1/8 tsp each ground cloves, nutmeg & cinnamon; 1 lb ground Australian or New Zealand lamb; 1/4 of a medium sized sweet onion (enough to yield 1/3 cup when minced); 1/4 cup each minced fresh parsley and fresh mint; 1 tsp unflavored Knox gelatin (keeps the kefte moist after grilling)

METHOD: In a food processor, process the pine nuts, garlic and all dried spices and seasoning to a coarse paste, then transfer to large mixing bowl.  Process the fresh mint, parsley, and onion together to mince, then add to the mixing bowl.  Add the lamb and tsp of gelatin and knead by hand until thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes.  Divide the mixture into four equal portions, about 5 ounces each, and shape each one into a 5″ cylinder about 1″ in diameter.  Thread each onto a metal skewer , pressing gently to adhere, and chill on a lightly greased platter or baking pan at least an hour before grilling. When ready to grill, heat gas grill to high and place skewers at 45-degree angles on the grate.  Should need only 10 minutes – 5 minutes per side:

Serve with the Yogurt-Tahini Sauce on the side for dipping:

2/3 cup plain goat-milk yogurt; 4 tsp lemon juice; 2 tsp tahini; 1 small garlic clove minced; pinch of salt – whisk and chill until ready to serve.

IMG_0565Accompanied by a simple rice pilaf:

IMG_0564

And salad of mixed greens, diced cucumber, grape tomatoes, slivered radishes, red onion, Sheep’s milk feta, Kalamata olives, more fresh parsley and mint leaves, and dressed with a lemony vinaigrette:

IMG_0563It was a meal that transported us across the sea.  The tangy sauce was a perfect complement to the springy yet tender lamb, flavored with the heat and depth of dried spices and the bright, grassy flavors of fresh parsley and mint.  Certain to be repeated.

IMG_0567

Chicken Under a Brick, or other weighted object

Last night’s dinner was a low carb feast of our favorite herb-marinated chicken under a brick, served with sauteed green beans and a salad of greens, fruit, Roquefort and balsamic glaze.

IMG_2857 (1)It’s helpful to have the butcher butterfly a whole 4.5-5lb chicken for you, but doing it at home – if you have the kitchen shears and stomach for it – is as simple as cutting out the backbone and then pressing on the breastbone to help flatten it out a bit like an open book.  I also prefer to snip of the wing-tips, since they get in the way of the breast meat.

My marinade is a combination of about 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, fresh-squeezed juice and grated rind of one lemon, 2-3 roughly chopped garlic cloves, about 1/2 cup minced fresh herbs – in this case, rosemary, oregano and thyme – and a generous hand with salt and pepper.  The chicken can marinate flesh side down and then skin side down over several hours – even overnight – in a large shallow dish or pan.

Our “other weighted object” is a cast iron grill pan with handles that we wrap with foil.  It weighs down the whole surface area of the chicken, which we then grill with indirect heat at about 400 for 35-40 minutes.  First skin side down, then skin side up.  All the fat melts out of the skin, leaving a crispy, herby veneer on the juicy chicken.  Easy to cut into serving pieces with poultry shears.

Having purchased an abundance of green beans at the Chinese market last week (many of which get served in small pieces to my dear Cicero mixed in with his kibble…we love the sound of his crunching on them), I simply blanched two large handfuls and then sauteed them lightly in EVOO with minced shallot and sun-dried tomato.

Our salad, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, was a mixtures of spring greens – mostly baby spinach – diced nectarine, blueberries, and Roquefort.  Lightly tossed with EVOO, salt  pepper, and drizzled on each serving with balsamic glaze.

Looking foeward to the leftovers tonight – a composed salad plate topped with shredded chicken.