Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Horseradish Bacon Cheese for Burgers

Really. Is there anything better than a burger? Sizzling hot, seared and seasoned to perfection, cradled in a soft white bun with crisp green lettuce and sweet red tomato, piled high with melting cheese? Spring hasn't sprung until that first burger of the new season goes from grill to table to my mouth!

Actually, the cheese I was craving to top off my burger wasn't American or cheddar or even provolone, it was that good old Southern favorite - pimiento cheese. But there wasn't a jar of pimientos to be found in the house. I did, however, have a brand spanking new unopened bottle of horseradish. And there was bacon! (Truth be told, there is always's a Dinner Plan-it staple!)

Now that the beginnings were there for a twist on the classic, I added sharp white cheddar, smooth, creamy Havarti, grated onion, just a smidge of mayo - well "smidge" compared to the mountain of mayo that normally goes into pimiento cheese...and a great big pile of horseradish. I was aiming for HORSERADISH bacon cheese! That goal was accomplished.

Smoky, zippy, salty, tangy, smooth and creamy...what a burger topping! Have some left over when the grilling is done? Spread Horseradish Bacon Cheese for Burgers on crackers or scoop it up with celery or carrot sticks or how about grilled Horseradish Bacon Cheese sandwiches. Who knows? Pimiento cheese might have just met it's match.

Horseradish Bacon Cheese for Burgers

  • 5 slices of thick-sliced bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
  • 4 oz. white cheddar, grated
  • 3 1/2 oz. Havarti cheese, grated
  • 1 T. onion, grated
  • 3 T. horseradish
  • 2 T. mayonnaise, Hellman's preferably

Using the shredder disk of your food processor, shred the cheddar, then the Havarti into the bowl. Remove the shredder disk and place the blade in the bowl. 

Add the bacon, onion, horseradish and mayo to the bowl and process until the cheese is smooth, creamy and spreadable.

Grill your burgers as you normally would and pile the cheese spread on top. Put the burger onto a bun with lettuce and tomato...maybe a little sweet onion and there you have it. Enjoy!

NOTE: Why does this spread use less mayo than pimiento cheese? It's the creamy Havarti and horseradish that makes it really smooth and spreadable without all the mayo...and cuts down on the calories...but then again, let's not think about calories. There is all that bacon. Sigh.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Look! Up In The Sky! It's A Bird? It's A Superhero Cocktail!

You know I don't need much of an excuse to whip up a cocktail and this morning was no exception. Kimber and Jenn (101 Achievements blogger with her husband Michael) both ran in the Superhero 5K this bright and early morn. The run was for the benefit of The Superhero Foundation which fights the crusade against child abuse. 

Superheroes of all varieties - The Hulk, Batman and The Flash, caped superhero dogs and babies, even Superman himself to name a very few - ran side by side to help victims of child abuse. Superheroes to the rescue!

Wonder Woman and Katniss Everdeen

From the beginning, Jenn joked about having a cocktail waiting for her and Kimber at the finish line. Me? Cocktail? You know I did! 

The Beach Bum Berry tiki drink, the Jungle Bird, has been making the rounds on Facebook the last day or two so that seemed like a good jumping off point for a little riff. 

Hum (a lovely liqueur of hibiscus, ginger, cardamom and kaffir lime in a rum base made right here in Pittsburgh for Hum Spirits) subbed in for the Campari used in the original recipe. I used Mount Gay Rum instead of aged rum, cinnamon syrup in place of simple syrup (because that's what I had in the fridge...frugal you know), and because we'd be imbibing before noon, I lightened it up with a spritz of seltzer just before serving. And besides, pineapple juice is a great breakfast accompaniment and there's plenty of it in the cocktail so its perfectly appropriate in the morning! 

Look. Up in the sky. It's A Bird!

The unfancy version of It's A Bird?...perfectly acceptable apres run in the parking lot.

It's A Bird!

Makes enough for 4 large or 8 small cocktails

  • 3 oz. cinnamon simple syrup (see note below for recipe)
  • 12 oz. Mount Gay rum
  • 6 oz. Hum 
  • 12 oz. pineapple juice
  • 4 oz. fresh lime juice
  • seltzer or club soda

Mix all but the club soda in a small pitcher. Add lots of ice to a glass, pour the cocktail over and top with seltzer. Cheers!

Cinnamon syrup: In a small pot, bring 1/2 C water and 1/2 C demerara sugar to a boil and stir until dissolved. Add 3 cinnamon sticks to the hot liquid and let cool. Remove all but 1 cinnamon stick and pour the cooled liquid and remaining cinnamon stick into a Mason jar, cap and refrigerate. Keeps 1-2 weeks.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Spring Spinach, Strawberry, Pea Shoot Salad With Chived Lemon Buttermilk Dressing

Spinach, radishes, asparagus and peas are the first brave soldiers of the springtime garden to poke their bold noses above ground. Like the very first robins of the season, these early birds might just be veggie garden harbingers of spring. 

Despite Mother Nature's indecisiveness...20's and snow one day, 80's and sun another...the vernal equinox has finally been crossed, days have grown longer, and warmer temperatures seem as if they're (finally) here to stay. Time for a celebration of salad! 

A riot of green pea shoots, shaved raw asparagus and spinach  mixed with raucous red radishes and strawberries - all things spring - were heaped high onto a great big platter and drizzled with an equally springy chive, lemon, buttermilk and poppyseed dressing. 

This fresh, light and very seasonal salad was just what was needed alongside great big burgers from the grill on a warm weeknight evening. Welcome spring! Finally.

Spring Spinach, Strawberry, Pea Shoot Salad
With Chived Lemony Buttermilk Dressing

  • 2 C baby spinach, washed and dried
  • 3/4 C pea shoots, bottoms torn off - got them at Whole Foods
  • 2 giant radishes, cut in half lengthwise and sliced across thinly
  • 5 large asparagus spears, raw - cut into ribbons lengthwise with a vegetable peeler
  • 2 green onions, sliced across well into the green
  • 3/4 - 1 C strawberries, washed and sliced lengthwise

  • 1/3 C buttermilk
  • 1/4 C fresh lemon juice
  • 3 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed or minced finely
  • 1 t poppy seeds
  • 1 1/2 T fresh chives, sliced across thinly
  • 1/2 t kosher salt
  • a hefty grind of black peppercorns

Toss all salad ingredients in a large bowl.Combine the dressing ingredients in a Mason jar, screw on the lid and shake until well-combined. 

Drizzle salad with dressing and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Fresh Blackberry Chipotle BBQ Pork Chops

I have sinned. Although I try my darnedest to abide by the dogma of fresh, LOCAL ingredients, this burning craving for the taste of barbecue blazed in my summer-starved soul. 

In order to quench it, I actually had the audacity to buy fresh, gorgeous, sweet, thumb-sized, shiny blackberries to make blackberry chipotle BBQ sauce (for pork chops on the grill) when Lord knows they aren't in season around Western Pennsylvania. Not even close...the bushes don't even have blossoms on them yet! How DARE I?! 

Somehow, I think my error in judgment is worthy of whatever minor penance might be in the offing. 

Seriously, don't we sometimes take this whole thing just a little too far? Once in a while can't we abandon root vegetables and all varieties of cabbage after a long HARD winter, loosen up and live it up with a few out-of-season berries? I say yes! So we did. Deliciously. 

Chill out a bit and rush the blackberry season yourself, here's my recipe for Fresh Blackberry Chipotle BBQ Pork Chops. Oh...and I won't tell you've also committed the "local" trangression. That issue - and whatever your conscience demands - is between you and your CSA to work out!

Fresh Blackberry Chipotle BBQ Sauce for Pork Chops

  • 2 medium chipotle peppers from a can
  • 2 T adobo sauce (from the same can!)
  • 16 fresh blackberries - nice BIG ones - or 32 smaller ones
  • 2 t rice vinegar
  • 1 t granulated garlic
  • 1 T molasses
  • 4 nice thick bone-in center cut loin pork chops 

In a gallon size zip top plastic bag, add all the sauce ingredients, seal the top, and smoosh (yes, "smoosh" IS a proper culinary read it here first) everything together until completely mixed and (relatively) smooth. Then add the chops. Marinate overnight. 

The "smooshing" of chipotles, blackberries and other sauce components into a proper sauce.

Take the chops out of the fridge about an hour before you're going to put them on the grill. Grill over low heat so the sauce doesn't burn...too much. 

While you've got the grill going, throw on lots of fresh sliced veggies for a whole meal on the grill!

NOTE: Think you can only use this sauce on pork chops? Really good on chicken and turkey, too!

NOTE 2: When I use only 1 or 2 peppers from a whole can of chipotles in adobo, I sure don't throw out what's left. I put the rest of the can into a snack-size ziplock bag and pop it into the freezer. When I need a pepper or two the next time, I just pull the bag out of the freezer, pluck what I need out and put the rest back in the freezer until the next time. Easy. And thrifty!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Garlicky Spinach, Feta, Tomato & Eggplant Stuffed Baby Eggplants

Dinner inspiration can...and definitely is...found everywhere. A walk through downtown might bring heavenly scents of garlic wafting on the breeze from open restaurant doors. My brain says, "Go home, woman, and make garlic butter shrimp!"

A stroll through the Strip along sidewalk displays of vibrant veggies has me craving stir frys of sweet red and yellow peppers, crunchy, candy-like bright green sugar snap peas and creamy white cauliflower to be heaped atop rice noodles found in one of a myriad of Asian shops we pass.

The Mediterranean blue tiled storefront of Penn Avenue Fish Company lures me in with its always-kept promise of fresh fish, both finny and shelled. I find it's always best to go looking for what might catch my fancy instead of having a plan. An open mind for what's new or on sale is requisite for a creative, spur-of-the-moment evening's repast. (Hmmmm...maybe some gorgeous fresh-not-frozen wild caught Georgia shrimp for that garlic butter shrimp?!)

And then there's Costco. Costco's inspirational? Sure is! If you've ever ventured into the Siberian cold of the veggie section, you know what I mean.

Lately, my favorite warehouse store seems to be the reigning champion of small veggies. Bags of mixed, tiny and colorful peppers, adorable, teeny weeny, finger-long cucumbers, giant containers of the smallest baby (preemie?) spinach around. Head-high stacked boxes of Brussels sprouts are the most minuscule green orbs I've found anywhere, ironically in the biggest bags to boot. Heads of Romaine or mixed red and green heads of lettuce no longer than 4 inches to make perfect lettuce wraps!

What did I find on my latest tour-de-Costco? Deep, deep purple...almost eggplants. Bought 'em, stuffed 'em, baked 'em, devoured 'em, loved 'em. Here's the recipe.

Baked and ready to enjoy. The top pic is "before"!

Garlicky Spinach, Feta, Tomato & Eggplant 
Stuffed Baby Eggplants 

  • Olive oil spray 
  • 1 T olive oil 
  • 3 mini eggplants, cap cut off, sliced in half lengthwise, pulp removed leaving a 1/4" shell - chop the pulp roughly 
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, chopped roughly 
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped 
  • 1 1/2 cups spinach, left whole if it's baby (or preemie) spinach, otherwise chop roughly 
  • 3/4 t dried oregano 
  • 4 small tomatoes, chopped (or 12 cherry tomatoes) 
  • 1 t salt 
  • 2 oz crumbled feta 

Set the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a shallow baking dish with olive oil and set the hollowed out eggplant halves in the dish cut side up. Spray the eggplant edges with olive oil

In a skillet over medium heat, heat 1 T olive oil and add chopped eggplant, onion and garlic. Saute until they start to wilt, but don't let the garlic burn. Add spinach, oregano, chopped tomatoes and salt. Stir until the spinach wilts. Remove from heat and stir in feta.

Spoon the spinach mixture into the eggplant shells. Cover the dish with foil and bake until the eggplants are soft, but not falling apart. Maybe 45 minutes or so. Remove the foil and brown slightly. Serve with chicken, steak, lamb (really nice!) or whatever protein strikes your fancy!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Twist On The Traditional Tuna Noodle Casserole

Is there anything as easy as a tuna noodle casserole? Take a can of tuna, cooked noodles, a can of mushroom soup, maybe a little cheddar, bake until its browned and bubbly and there you have your typical Friday Lenten dinner. Wham, bam, done. Unless you're gluten-free. Then it's a wee bit more complicated. (But not ALL that much!)

When it comes to a gluten-free tuna casserole, some of the basics are the same...or nearly so. Tuna? No issue there. Noodles? There are REALLY good GF noodles, so that's not an issue either. Good ol' Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup? Nope. That's where one of the things we (old fashioned) cooks take for granted goes awry.

Condensed cream of mushroom soup, this basic ingredient of the All American casserole is laden with gluten! What's more, this pantry shelf wonder is almost irreplaceable for that good, rich, traditional favorite national casserole dish. (Note the word almost in the previous sentence?) You may think what will I do?! How will I live the rest of my life without this old timey staple for nearly every family favorite casserole? The answer? Not a big deal, really.

These days I make my dish with lots of big slices of browned-in-butter fresh mushrooms instead of those teeny, tiny mushroom-ish specks in the tan-gray glop from the can. I add the color and flavor of sauteed red (and maybe yellow and orange, too, if I have them on hand) peppers and beautiful green spinach, a little onion and not only is the tuna mixture looking colorfully gorgeous, it's been pumped up with vitamins and fiber, too! Creaminess? Just a little Greek yogurt or sour cream (if you're feeling indulgent) takes care of that just fine along with lots of good sharp cheddar chunks that melt into ooey, gooey treasures studded throughout the noodles. Sounds even better than the original, doesn't it? It is!

Even if you don't have to watch out for that old demon gluten, you may just want to give this version a spin with regular "gluten-FULL" noodles. You know, the same ones you used in your old version? Maybe this one does require a few more steps than just opening a couple of cans, but I think YOU might just think those extra couple of minutes are worth it. I do!

Tuna Casserole Twist

Serves 6-8

  • 12 oz. package rotini pasta (twist shapes to go with the 'twist' theme!) - I used Barilla gluten-free rotini or you can use whatever shape you like best. Be sure not to overcook. Cook them just short of al dente because the pasta continues to cook in the oven and absorbs the flavors of the casserole.
  • 2 T butter, plus another 2 T to butter the casserole dish - soft butter to make the buttering easier
  • 8 oz. sliced mushrooms
  • 1/3 C red pepper, diced
  • 1/3 C yellow pepper, diced
  • 1 1/2 C fresh baby spinach, left whole (or if you have bigger spinach, cut into ribbons or chop roughly)
  • 1/4 C onion, finely diced
  • 2 cans light tuns in water, do NOT drain - broken into smaller pieces (I like light tuna for a casserole, but white for tuna salad)
  • 1 C Greek yogurt (you know I use Fage 0%) or sour cream, if you wish
  • Jane's Crazy Salt (my fave seasoned salt) - I used about a tablespoon as this is a big casserole and LOTS of freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 6-7 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, diced small

Set oven to 350 degrees.

While the noodles are cooking, melt 2 T butter in a skillet. Saute the mushrooms, peppers and onion until just wilted. Set aside.

Drain the cooked noodles in a colander. When all the water is drained off, put the noodles carefully back into the pot. Add the sauteed veggies, spinach, tuna, yogurt (or sour cream), Jane's Crazy Salt and pepper and stir gently. Add the diced cheddar, stir gently again. Butter a large, deep casserole dish with the remaining 2 T of soft butter.

Pour the mixture into the casserole dish. Bake approximately 45 minutes or until golden and bubbly.