Thursday, May 12, 2016

Pickled Jalapeno Avocado Potato Salad

What do you serve with Mexican or Southwestern main dishes? Refried beans? Rice? Green salad? Or maybe something a little unexpected?

Now that warmer weather is here...for the moment again, anyway...I decided to accompany black bean tostadas with something just a bit more summery. Not potato salad, not even guacamole, but a fresh take on the old salad standby that's kind of a mashup of both. With a big kick of heat!

The idea came about by accident when I'd tried a batch of jalapeno pickled eggs. The results were okay, but not what I was looking for exactly. I had this big jar of pickled jalapenos and onions leftover that I couldn't bear to just toss in the disposal. So I got busy and came up with this spicy twist on a standard.

Just a bit of advice. Taste your pickled jalapenos before you decide what quantity to use in the potato salad. Some brands are hotter than others. I've found the Old El Paso brand is comparatively mild (to my heat loving tastebuds, anyway), so I used the full cup. If you like more cilantro, use more...if you don't like it at all, leave it out. Like it tarter? Use more pickling liquid or more lime juice. Let your own taste and preference be your guide.

You know, I'm pretty sure I won't be saving this just for a TexMex meal. The heat of the jalapenos, soft creaminess of the avocado, the zing of lime and the crunch of celery all work together for one especially crave-able summer salad. It's too good NOT to have it a lot more often than that!

The inspiration.

Pickled Jalapeno Avocado Potato Salad

  • 2 1/2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, cooked, cooled slightly, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 C celery, diced
  • 2 hardboiled eggs, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 C - 1 C pickled jalapenos, drained and sliced across - reserve liquid (the amount of pickled jalapenos you use depends on how spicy you like things and how hot the peppers are. Some pickled jalapenos are hotter than others.)
  • 1/4 - 1/3 C minced fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 C onion, finely minced
  • 2 avocados, 1 very ripe, the 2nd not quite so ripe. The very soft one will be used in the dressing, the other diced for the salad.
  • juice of 1 lime (2 T approx)
  • 1/2 C mayonnaise
  • 1/4 C reserved pickled jalapeno liquid
  • 1 T Jane's Crazy Salt

In a large bowl, mix potatoes, celery, eggs, jalapenos, cilantro, onion, and the diced avocado. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mash the soft avocado with a fork and add mayo, pickled jalapeno liquid, lime juice and Crazy Salt. Mix well and pour over the potato mixture. Mix gently, but thoroughly.

Chill until serving time.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Black Bean And Pork Chipotle Burgers

If you don't grill year round, I'll bet you're itching to fire up the the old Weber! I'd venture a guess the mental wheels are already turning to pick the perfect inaugural protein. Chicken? Steak? Salmon? For most of us, probably the first thing you want is a damned good burger. After that annoying recent run of snow and cold, isn't a burger just the thing to put away all those chilly memories of winter? 

Since my grill gets lots of use during ALL seasons of the year (and includes non-stop sizzling hamburgers), I was craving something a little different than a traditional, first-of-the-season, basic burger. Maybe something with a little south of the border flair? I decided to mix up a ground pork burger with black beans for color and even more protein, some heat in the form of smoky chipotles in adobo, even more smoky flavor from a touch of cumin, and a TON of burger personality. Let the burger season begin!

Black Bean And Pork Chipotle Burgers

  • 1/2 C canned black beans, drained and rinsed - mash beans coarsely with a fork
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1/4 C onion, finely minced
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t granulated garlic
  • 2 T canned chipotles in adobo - use some of the adobo sauce, too
  • 1 t ground cumin
Mix all ingredients well, but lightly. Form into 3-4 patties - depending on how big you like your burgers.

Fire up the grill and cook to desired doneness...I like my pork burgers well done. I'm old school like that.

I topped mine with a fresh salsa, slices of ripe avocado, and a few crumbles of queso fresco. Top yours just the way you want!


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Coconut Almond Bourbon Blondies - Gluten Free!

Thanks to Kentucky bourbon country, I'm still finding ways to enjoy memories of the trip we made last year. The Woodford Reserve cooking and baking items I picked up at Bourbon Barrel Foods in Louisville are still finding new uses in my kitchen. 

Blame it on the Strip District and Enrico's, but since wandering into that incredible bakery a couple of weeks ago, I haven't been able to stop thinking about my favorite, fondly remembered, blondies. Why on earth would I tempt myself when all that gluten taunted me? I simply felt the urge to peruse beautiful pastries, biscotti, breads, cakes and cookies...and to inhale deeply. And I did.

Duplicate Enrico's blondies at home? And make them gluten free? Why try to recreate perfection? Why not? I used my basic gluten free blondie recipe, added toasted almonds, coconut shreds, mega chocolate chips, then sanded everything with Bourbon Vanilla Sugar and a sprinkle of Bourbon Smoked Sea Salt - both from Bourbon Barrel Foods in Louisville. Also from BBF, I incorporated Bourbon - Madagascar Vanilla Extract. The secret ingredient, of course, is a bit of Woodford Reserve Bourbon! 

Kentucky tastes SO GOOD!

Coconut Almond Bourbon Blondies Gluten Free

  • 4 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 4 T coconut oil
  • 1 C light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 t Woodford Reserve bourbon - or whatever you have on hand (bet dark rum would be pretty amazing, too)
  • 1 t vanilla extract (see above for the brand I used and a link to order your own)
  • 1 C Jule's gluten free all purpose flour
  • 1/4 t baking soda - be sure it's gluten free
  • 1/2 t baking powder - be sure it's gluten free
  • 1/2 t fine kosher salt
  • 3/4 C chocolate chips - I used Guittard mega chocolate chips
  • 1 T Jule's gluten free all purpose flour (for tossing with the chocolate chips to keep them from sinking in the batter)
  • 1/2 C toasted almond slices - toast them in a dry skillet until lightly browned and fragrant
  • 1/2 C Trader Joe's Roasted Coconut Chips
  • 1 T Bourbon Vanilla Sugar
  • a large pinch of Bourbon Smoked Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter an 8" X 8" square baking pan. Set aside. Toss chocolate chips with the 1 T flour in a small bowl. Set aside.

In a medium mixer bowl, add the butter and coconut oil and blend well, then add brown sugar and beat at medium speed until thoroughly blended. Add egg, vanilla and bourbon to the mixture and beat until smooth.

In a small separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder and kosher salt. Add this dry mixture to the mixer bowl with the wet ingredients and mix at slow speed until just incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips by hand.

Pour the batter into the buttered pan, working it into the corners and smoothing the top with an offset spatula. Scatter the almonds and coconut over the top, sprinkle with bourbon vanilla sugar, and finally with a big pinch of bourbon smoked sea salt.

Bake for 45 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool the pan on a rack and cut into squares or bars to serve. 

Why not make a good cup of coffee (and maybe add just a splash of bourbon?) for quite the enjoyable break...kind of like a mental visit to the Bourbon Trail!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Quick Cod Poached in Fennel, Onion, Tomato and Basil

What a busy week! You too? If you've been looking for a quick and easy Lenten dinner that uses only one pan and is easy on the waistline, here's something for you.

This simple dish simmers together thinly sliced fresh fennel and onion along with slivered tomato and fresh basil. Once the veggies are ready, cod fillets are nestled down into the mixture to pick up all the rich, fresh flavor and is finished with a sprinkle of fennel pollen to really jazz things up! That "easy on the waistline" part? There are only about 375 calories per satisfying serving.

While you're at the store (or the Strip District) buying your fish, grab a bag of salad mix, some crusty rolls from the bakery, and there's nothing else you need to get dinner on the table in no time. The only thing that could make that better would be why not splurge those saved calories and pick up a few cookies while you're at it?!

Cod Poached in Fennel, Onion, Tomato and Basil

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 fennel bulb, fronds removed, cut in quarters lengthwise and sliced thinly across the bulb
  • 1 medium onion, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and sliced thinly across
  • 3 fresh tomatoes (I use Campari tomatoes, but Romas would work well, too), sliced lengthwise, then sliced across into julienne pieces - approx. 1 C
  • 6 large leaves basil, sliced across thinly 
  • 4 nice sized cod fillets - or use your own favorite mild fish
  • fennel pollen - look for it on'll be glad you did for fish and veggies

Warm the olive oil in a large skillet on top of the stove, then add the veggies and basil. Let simmer until tender. Season the code with salt and pepper.

When the veggies are ready, move them to the sides of the pan and nestle the cod into the center of the pan and let the fillets gently cook through until flaky. To finish, sprinkle a couple of pinches of fennel pollen over the cod and veggies and serve.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Bourbon Blood Orange Mini Bundts - Gluten-Free (and regular, too)

It's not often that I bake, I don't really have much of a sweet tooth. Well, that and the gluten free stuff makes it more trouble than its worth...most of the time. Occasionally, I do get a craving that just won't stop. Usually chocolate is the culprit, but this time it was blood orange. 

Gluten free baking can be tricky, unless you start with a mix. Why reinvent the wheel and the delicate balance of just the right amount of ingredients when a good mix starts it off just right? If you're gluten free and haven't picked up a copy of The Cake  Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten-Free by Anne Byrn, DO IT NOW!!!!! I usually use Anne's recipes as a base for what I want to make and create from there. As I did this time.

Tart, sweet, richly decadent with demerara sugar, bourbon and sliced blood oranges that look like jewels and taste like candied oranges these cakes are simple to make. Even though I used a yellow cake base this time, I'm sure a deep, dark chocolate batter would be fantastic. Who doesn't like luscious chocolate and orange together?!

Depending on which variety of blood orange is in your market (I like Whole Foods for blood oranges), the season is either smack dab in the middle (Tarocco variety) or at the tail end (Moro variety). It's not always easy to find them, so when you spot a display of blood oranges, buy them. And make these!

Bourbon Blood Orange Mini Bundts

Makes 8 mini bundt cakes or large cupcakes

(These instructions use a gluten-free yellow cake mix which makes just one layer. If you use a regular cake mix which makes 2 layers, double all the ingredients except for the cake mix itself. It should make approximately 16 cakes instead of 8.) 

Sugar Mixture for bottoms of cakes:

  • 5 T butter
  • 3/4 C Demerara sugar
  • 2 T bourbon (I used Woodford Reserve)
  • 1 T Woodford Reserve Sassafras & Sorghum Bitters (or Angostura)
In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Then stir in the demerara sugar until everything is wet and well combined. Stir in bourbon and bitters and set aside.

  • 2-3 large blood oranges (if you can't find blood oranges, use navel oranges...they won't give quite as dramatic a look, but will be delicious nontheless) - cut 1 in half across the equator of the orange, then in half the other way. Cut very thin slices across the grain. Juice the second orange, reserving 1/4 C of juice. Set aside. (The extra orange is just in case you need more orange slices.)
  • 1 yellow gluten-free cake mix (15 oz) (I used Betty Crocker)
  • 1/2 a box of instant vanilla pudding (1/4 C)
  • 1/2 C sour cream or Greek yogurt (I used half of each)
  • 1 stick (1/2 C) melted butter
  • 1 t finely grated orange zest (blood orange)
  • 2 t vanilla extract
  • 1 T bourbon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixer bowl with an electric mixer, add the cake mix, 1/4 C instant vanilla pudding, 1/2 C sour cream or Greek yogurt (or half of each like I did), orange juice, orange zest, vanilla and bourbon. Mix on low until just incorporated, scrape down sides and mix again at medium for about 2 minutes. Batter will be thick.

Spray the mini bundt pans  (or large size muffin tins) with Pam. Divide the sugar mixture evenly among the tins, then arrange the orange slices around the bottoms. When all the bottoms are covered, evenly spoon the cake batter into the mini bundt pans or tins.

Bake for 23-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cakes.

Remove from oven. Take a rimmed cookie sheet and cover it with parchment paper. Turn them upside down over the mini bundt cakes and carefully flip the sheet over. Let them sit for a minute, then gently lift the edge of the mini bundt pan up. The cakes should come out easily.

You notice I used Woodford Reserve bourbon. Why? Because Kimber just won the Pittsburgh Woodford Reserve Manhattan Experience! Now she moves on to a fun and informative few days in Kentucky and the Woodford Reserve Distillery where she and the other regional champions will find out which six go on to compete in NYC for the national championship. Exciting!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Crunchy Roasted Bacon Slabs With Bourbon Peanut Butter Dip


Now that I have your attention, let's get right down to the business of this perfect storm of smoky, salty, sweet and spicy, crunchy bacon goodness. 

If you've been following Dinner Plan-it since our trip to Kentucky Bourbon Country, I've mentioned the crush I have on the Bacon In A Glass at OBC Kitchen in Lexington, Kentucky. It's just one of those food memories that haunts your taste buds, beckons you to indulge again..and again. But it's a 6 hour drive to OBC Kitchen. There was nothing else to do but recreate the dish at home.

Although the OBC Kitchen serves this as an app, I've been making it for brunch without the peanut butter dip. If you can't make it to Kentucky to sample this wonderfulness for yourself, here's my version of their classic. If you CAN make the trip to Lexington (and I strongly urge you to visit the Bourbon Trail), be sure not to miss it!

Crunchy Roasted Bacon Slabs 
With Bourbon Peanut Butter Dip 

  • 1 lb VERY thick sliced (slabs of) bacon - packaged bacon just won't do, get it from your butcher. My bacon butcher is Butcher On Butler - tell them I sent you.
  • 2/3 C brown sugar
  • 2 t ancho chile powder
  • Demerara sugar for finishing - Demerara is a large crystal raw cane sugar with a rich molasses note. It's not hard to find, even Giant Eagle has it!

  • 1/3 C smooth peanut butter
  • 2 T Mike's Hot Honey - or regular honey if you don't want extra heat
  • 2 T bourbon - I used Bulleit
  • 1 T maple syrup
  • 2 T water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Line a large baking sheet WITH A RIM (so you don't have molten sugar and bacon grease all over the bottom of your oven) with parchment paper (for easy clean up, you'll thank me). Then set a wire rack on top of the parchment covered baking sheet. 

Mix brown sugar and ancho chile powder together and spread on a plate. Dredge each slice of bacon in the sugar mixture on both sides, then lay the slabs, without touching each other, on the rack on top of the rimmed baking sheet. Bake for approximately 20 minutes. The time could be more or less depending on the thickness of your bacon. 

While the bacon is roasting, spread demerara sugar on a dinner plate or paper plate.

Remove from the oven when the bacon is well browned, but not burned. If the slices are not crisp, that's just fine as they will firm up as they cool. 

As you remove each slice from the rack, immediately coat both sides in demerara sugar. Lay each slice on another parchment covered baking sheet to cool and set. 

For the dip: In a microwave safe small bowl, mix all the dip ingredients. Nuke for a few seconds, stir, nuke again until well combined and warm but not hot. If the mixture is too thick, add a little more water.

Once the bacon slices have firmed up, stand them in a glass, dip in peanut butter and it's party time!

Bourbon Honey Bacon In A Glass with peanut butter dip at OBC Kitchen in Lexington, KY.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Pittsburgh Strip District Italian Deli Pasta Bake

Winter in Pittsburgh. Temps are in the 50's and 60's one day, the teens the next. I don't know about you, but my internal appropriate-recipe-for-the-weather indicator has been swinging back and forth like some kind of crazed pendulum. 

My kitchen is as likely to see a fresh off the grill sizzling chicken breast atop a crisp, green salad as it is a pot of stew or chili simmering on the stove. As a result, I'm behind on making my favorite cold weather recipes, like my family's favorite macaroni and cheese with ground beef and tomatoes. I'd bet this old fashioned, homey casserole is one of your family's favorites, too. 

My mom used to make the dish with elbow macaroni, browned ground beef, onion, green pepper, cubes of cheddar (or even Velveeta!) and a can of tomato soup. Nope, she used no seasoning or garlic at all except for salt and (maybe) pepper. 

My version, many years later, ditched the soup for canned tomatoes, added fresh spinach (to pack more nutrition and the kids never knew there was spinach hidden in there), sometimes I used feta, sometimes mozzarella, sometimes mushrooms made it in, and always garlic. The recipe has always been changeable, but still maintained the basic tomatoes, ground beef, cheese and macaroni base. As does this twist.

As always with this casserole, a visual sweep of what's on hand is the first step. At first glance, the fridge revealed leftover cooked hot sausage links from last night's dinner and several slices of some good Strip District Parma Sausage Salami Rustico. That would be waaaaay better than plain old hamburger! Looking further down, I discovered my own home-smoked hot pepper cheese and even a little home-smoked mozz! The pantry, as always, contained cans of San Marzano tomatoes thanks to Penn Mac in the Strip. The Strip District Italian Deli Pasta Bake came into being. 

Maybe there IS a benefit to this oddball winter. A warm and sunny day is perfect for strolling the Strip picking up components for a comforting casserole to make when the temperature inevitably dips back into the chill zone. Maybe this IS the perfect winter weather after all.

Pittsburgh Strip District Italian Deli Pasta Bake

  • 4 C cooked pasta - al dente, of course - I used gluten free penne
  • 2 links cooked hot Italian sausage, sliced into rounds
  • 1/2 C pre-sliced salami, cut into ribbons - I used Parma Sausage Salami Rustico, use whatever you have on hand...pepperoni works really well, too!
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, medium dice
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 1/2 C real San Marzano tomatoes, don't drain off the liquid, use it all!
  • 1 T dried oregano
  • 1 t dried basil
  • 1 t Jane's Crazy salt or kosher salt
  • 2 T tomato paste - buy the tube so you don't waste the rest of a small can
  • 1/2 lb diced smoked hot pepper cheese (or use your own favorite - cheddar, smoked cheddar, hot pepper cheese that hasn't been smoked)
  • 1/2 C smoked mozzarella or smoked provolone for the top, shredded

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a shallow casserole dish with olive oil and set aside.

In a nonstick saute pan over medium heat, warm the cooked sausage slices and salami until both release their fats and the salami separates and no longer sticks together. Remove to a plate. In the same pan, add the olive oil and then the onion and garlic. Cook until soft, but not browned.

Stir in the tomatoes, oregano, basil, Jane's Crazy Salt and tomato paste. Combine well, then add the sausage and salami back to the pan. Combine all thoroughly.

In a large mixing bowl, add the cooked pasta and the tomato mixture, stir well. Add the diced cheese and mix gently again until everything is evenly distributed throughout. Pour into the prepared casserole dish, top with shredded cheese and bake 25-35 minutes.

Add a green salad and it's dinner, folks!

NOTE: If you like your version less spicy, use cheddar instead of hot pepper cheese and sweet Italian sausage in place of the hot version. Like it spicier? Top the casserole with pickled hot peppers after it comes out of the oven for a real Italian deli touch!