Friday, June 29, 2012

Cherries are a welcome addition
to gin rickey recipe

The rickey is a cocktail with a long history going all the way back to the 1880s.
   The base recipe is gin, or bourbon, or rye whiskey + lime juice + sparkling mineral water.
   And there can also be cherries, as it turns out.
   Cherry-Lime Gin Rickey (click for the recipe) from Eating Well magazine is a delicious twist on the basic rickey recipe.
   The cherries make the hard-nosed cocktail more summery, and, for some cocktail drinkers like me, a lot more palatable.
   It’s the kind of cocktail that can be served before dinner, but will work nicely with the main course as well.
   Since I prefer the taste of club soda, that’s what I used in this recipe rather than seltzer or carbonated water.
   The rickeys are very easy to make.
   Sugar and water are brought to a boil in a small saucepan or the microwave, being stirred until the sugar is dissolved. (This simple sugar syrup can be made ahead and refrigerated.)
   Pitted sour or sweet cherries, fresh or frozen, are pureed in a blender with lime juice. The sugar syrup is added, along with the club soda or seltzer, gin, and 12 dashes of bitters. The mixture is pulsed to combine.
   Glasses are filled with ice, and topped with the cherry-lime rickey.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pork Fajitas with Smoky Cherry
Salsa are drool-worthy

My husband and I both had the same reaction when we first read the recipe for Pork Fajitas with Smoky Cherry Salsa (click for the recipe): We practically drooled.
   Barbecued pork tenderloin topped with a salsa made of fresh cherries, all wrapped up together in a tortilla?
   Yes, please.
   Our instincts were correct, because the fajitas were marvellous – terrific flavor combinations that made for a deeply satisfying meal.
   The fajitas can be as smoky as you want them to be, depending on how much ground chipotle pepper is used. (We bought ground chipotle pepper, by the way, from a gourmet spice supplier. However, it appears that McCormick, a very common supermarket brand, has ground chipotle).
   The more ground chipotle, the smokier and spicer the fajitas will be. I used ¾ of a teaspoon total in the recipe, instead of the called-for 1 ¼ teaspoons. If even less chipotle is used, I could see children as young as 9 or 10 giving these a try.
   The fajitas were quite easy to make, but a bit labor-intensive. Two people working on this recipe will make quicker work of it.
   Salt and minced garlic are mashed together until a paste forms. Lime zest (finely-grated lime peel), lime juice and ground chipotle are added, and the resulting paste is rubbed over pork tenderloin.
   The pork, a sliced white onion and a green or red bell pepper are grilled. After the pork rests for five minutes, it is thinly sliced. The onion and bell pepper are also thinly sliced.
   The salsa is made by combining chopped fresh pitted sweet or sour cherries, lime juice and more ground chipotle. (The recipe says to also use chopped fresh cilantro, but we skipped it because we hate the stuff. We used fresh parsley instead.) One of the chopped, grilled onion slices is stirred into the salsa.
   The pork, vegetables, salsa and shredded Manchego or cheddar cheese are served on tortillas. The recipe calls for corn tortillas, but we used whole wheat flour tortillas instead, and warmed them briefly in the microwave.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Halloumi cheese and romaine lettuce:
a match made for the grill

I’ve seen Halloumi cheese called for in recipes, all of which had one thing in common – the cheese was cooked on the grill.
   This intrigued me, a cheese that could do well on a grill, so when I saw it in our local cheese store recently, I bought it.
   I went searching for a recipe in which to try it, and happened upon Grilled Romaine and Halloumi Cheese with Mint Vinaigrette (click for the recipe).
   I wanted to try the recipe because, not only did it call for grilling Halloumi cheese, it also called for grilling romaine lettuce, another common cooking technique which we have never tried.
   Well, we tried the recipe, and it was absolutely wonderful.
   Honestly, I can’t recommend it enough. Try it this summer and you’ll impress yourself and your friends.
   Not only is it suitable for a casual dinner party, it was weeknight easy. We made it on a weeknight and it came together easily.
   Halloumi cheese, made from a mixture of goat and sheep milk, has a high melting point, making it ideal for grilling and frying.
   My husband put it on the grill at first, then finished it up in a frying pan on the burner on the side of the barbecue. He wanted to make sure it didn’t melt through the grill, although he said if he kept the cheese on the grill it probably would have been OK.
   The grilling creates a salty, crisp outer shell and gooey middle for each piece of cheese. Luckily, the Halloumi is not only great fresh off the grill, it’s also great even after the cheese has cooled down.
   And then there’s the romaine. The romaine hearts did very well on the grill. They took on the delicious flavour of the dressing that is brushed on it.
   The dressing is made by whisking together olive oil, red wine vinegar, fresh mint, Dijon mustard and finely-chopped garlic. The dressing is brushed on sliced red onion and quartered hearts of romaine (easily found in most supermarkets).
   The grilling is done in three steps: First the red onion, then the lettuce, and finely the cheese.
   To serve, the romaine hearts are put on plates, the onion is scattered over, and the Halloumi set beside it. The dishes are drizzled with additional dressing and sprinkled with more fresh mint.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I hate fresh cilantro, but I don't mind dried, especially in these shrimp tacos

I made a discovery last week. I hate fresh cilantro, but I don’t mind dried.
   Ground coriander, or cilantro, is used in Quick Shrimp Tacos (click for the recipe) from Fine Cooking magazine, and the taste didn’t gross me out at all – in fact, it was quite wonderful.
   The recipe does call for fresh cilantro, but I left that out.
   The ground coriander, easily found in any supermarket spice aisle, is used in the sour cream dressing and in the shrimp as it cooks.
   These tacos were a satisfying weeknight dinner, and were quick and easy to make. The shredded cabbage is a surprising but welcome addition to the tacos.
   Although the recipe calls these tacos, you could roll them up as wraps – they use tortilla shells, after all.
   Flour tortillas (I used whole wheat) are wrapped in aluminum foil and heated in an oven for 15 minutes.
   A dressing is made from sour cream, lime juice, lime zest (finely-grated lime peel), ground coriander and salt.
   Finely-diced red onion is cooked in a skillet, then peeled and deveined shrimp is added, along with ground coriander, ground cumin, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and salt. The shrimp is cooked, then lime juice and lime zest are added, and the mixture is stirred and removed from the heat.
   To serve, shredded green cabbage, the sour cream dressing and the shrimp are placed in the warmed tortillas.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The menu for my husband's
birthday and Father's Day

It seems to have become a bit of a tradition for us: My husband and I get together with my Mom and Dad on the weekend of Father's Day to celebrate both my husband's birthday and Father's Day with a nice summertime meal.
   This year, my husband's birthday is on June 16, and Father's Day is June 17, so we're going to have our little celebration on June 16, Saturday night.
   Here's what I'm going to make for the meal that night. Everything can be prepared in advance, and the only thing we'll need to do when my husband and Dad get home from fishing is throw the chicken on the grill.

Mango-Cucumber Wine Cooler: Nothing icky and sugary here - just pure summer sophistication in a glass.

Tuscan Potato Salad: Haters of gloopy, overly-mayoed potato salad rejoice - this potato salad is made with rosemary, roasted red peppers, Parmesan cheese and olive oil.

Orzo with Feta, Tomatoes and Dill: This is one of my husband's fave summer salads. The feta, tomatoes and dill complement each other magnificently.

Grilled Lemon-Oregano Drumsticks: Another favorite of my husband's, the chicken in this super-easy recipe can be marinated anywhere from 30 minutes to 48 hours.

Coca-Cola Chocolate Cake: A scrumptious and moist cake that the whole family will love.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A summer roast, indoors

If you’re like me, summer cooking means getting outside and using the grill, or, if things need to made indoors, preparing a cold wrap or salad.
   But I have to break with that as I tell you about a couple of dishes, both suited to summertime weather, that require turning on the broiler in the oven – but they’re so good, you won’t mind roasting away inside (roasting the food, I mean).

The first is Broiled Chicken Thighs with Pineapple-Cucumber Salad (click for the recipe) from Everyday Food magazine.
   My husband and I were very impressed with how delicious the chicken was for the very little work involved in preparing and cooking it – crispy skin and juicy meat abounded.
   The side salad, with the pineapple and cucumber, is optional, but it was quite summery and refreshing.
   One warning: Chicken broiled this close to the heat source at the top of the oven will mean some fat and oil will splatter upwards, potentially creating some smoke and an oven that needs cleaning at the top. I sprayed some Easy-Off on the top of the oven, left it overnight, and gave it a quick wash the next day. Problem solved.
   Lime zest (finely-grated lime peel), chili powder and coarse salt are combined and rubbed on bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, which are placed on a rimmed baking sheet. The broiler is heated, and the chicken broiled under it for about 14 minutes total, flipping once.
   Lime juice, pineapple and cucumber (we skipped the cilantro – yuck) are combined together to make a side salad.

The second is Pork Tenderloin with Apricot Mustard (click for the recipe). Making this dish in June is a must, as it the best time to get fresh apricots at the supermarket.
   The recipe yields tender pork surrounded by warm, roasted apricots. With a side salad and bread, this makes a very nice weeknight supper.
   My husband found it took less time and less heat than what the recipe said to cook the pork and broil the apricots. The recipe said to cook them for 15 minutes total under the broiler; he cooked them for about 12 minutes total, flipping at the six-minute mark, with heat at about 500 F. Keeping an eye on the pork and apricots is certainly key to prevent burning.
   The recipe is very easy to prepare.
   Grainy mustard and apricot jam are mixed together in a large bowl, and minced garlic is added to 1/3 cup of the mustard and apricot mixture.
   Two pork tenderloins are patted dry and sprinkled with salt and pepper before being coated with two tablespoons of the mustard-garlic mixture. The tenderloins are arranged on a broiler pan that’s been lined with foil.
   Pitted and quartered fresh apricots are tossed with the remainder of the mustard-garlic mixture, and are arranged around the pork.
   The pork and apricots are broiled five to six inches from heat (see note on time and temperature my husband used above).
   The pork is transferred to a cutting board, left to stand for five minutes, then cut crosswise into ½ inch thick slices and transferred to a platter.
   The apricots are spooned over the pork and served with the remaining mustard-jam mixture on the side.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Pineapple-Orange Sangria:
Perfect for a backyard barbecue

Take this one to the patio: Pineapple-Orange Sangria (click for the recipe).
   It’s the perfect drink for a backyard barbecue, as nearly everyone will like it and it will go with all types of food. And it’s easy to double and triple if needed.
   This summery sangria is very easy going down, with the peach vodka and pineapple juice being a fine complement to dry Riesling, a type of white wine.
   Essential to this drink’s success is the splash of club soda on top – it just won’t taste fantastic without it, so don’t forget it. In fact, I used more than a splash for each drink – probably about an ounce or so – and made sure to stir it in. I found the drink to be best that way.
   The sangria is very easy to make, and has just a minimum two-hour chilling time (maximum 24 hours).
   The recipe calls for agave nectar, a sweetener with the consistency of syrup. It can be found at well-stocked supermarkets or health-food stores.
   A bottle of dry Riesling, peach vodka, canned pineapple juice (we used pineapple juice from a Tetra pack), and agave nectar are mixed together in a pitcher. A small navel orange, thinly sliced, and pieces of fresh pineapple (I used canned pineapple) are added, and the sangria is refrigerated for at least two hours.
   To serve, the sangria is poured into glasses over ice, and a splash (or a bit more) or club soda poured on top and mixed in.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A dream dish realized: Spinach Salad with Chicken, Strawberries, Blue Cheese and Almonds

A dream dish: One that’s fresh, healthy, easy to make and suitable for both weeknights or a casual dinner party.
   The dream realized: Spinach Salad with Chicken, Strawberries, Blue Cheese and Almonds (click for the recipe) from Fine Cooking magazine.
   I’m still impressed with how well this recipe worked. It looks gorgeous and it tasted fantastic -- the fresh seasonal flavours are allowed to burst through and speak for themselves.
   The red wine vinegar beautifully amplifies the taste of the strawberries, and the toasted almonds and blue cheese are perfect companions. It makes a great salad for a backyard barbecue, or, with some crusty bread on the side, a lovely spring or summer meal.
   It took me, working alone without hurrying, about half an hour to make.
   Boneless, skinless chicken breast halves are seasoned with salt and pepper, and cooked in a skillet until just cooked through (this took me about 14 minutes total, not the 10 listed in the recipe). The chicken is transferred to a cutting board and left to rest.
   While the chicken cooks, sliced almonds are toasted in a skillet, and transferred to a plate to cool.
   Olive oil, red wine vinegar, honey, minced shallot, salt and pepper are whisked together to create a dressing.
   In a large bowl, fresh baby spinach, strawberries, blue cheese and the almonds are tossed with enough of the dressing to coat (I found this took about ¾ of the available dressing).
   The chicken is sliced. The salad is arranged on a plate or plates, and the sliced chicken arranged on top. The remaining dressing is drizzled on top if desired.