Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Caprese Crostini With Grilled Basil Serrano Chicken

Simple. That's what I think of when warm weather and sunshine roll around this way again. Once the temperatures climb and soft breezes stir the leaves in the trees, I want nothing more after a long weekend day of working in the yard than to chill on the deck. Honestly, after a long weekday of sitting and squinting at the computer, I want the exact same thing! 

Dinner? Simple food. Pop a few veggies onto the grill with burgers or chicken or a nice thick steak and add a crisp green salad and sliced sweet watermelon or juicy pineapple. I want clean, fresh flavors. Which brought this recipe to fruition last Sunday. 

Chicken tenders were marinated in a bright combination of fresh basil, serrano pepper, garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Then the grill was fired up, the chicken threaded onto one set of metal skewers and tomatoes onto another, while a few first of the season, new-to-the-market Vidalia onions and sweet red peppers roasted beside. Once the chicken and veggies came off the grill, thick baguette slices brushed with basil-serrano-garlic oil went on the grates to take on a golden hue...well, except for those two that incinerated on one side. Oops! 

The result? An early taste of summer. Using the beautifully browned baguette crostinis as a base, a grilled tomato was smooshed on top of each, then a whole bright green basil leaf, next a thin slice of creamy fresh mozzarella and finally pieces of warm, basil-y, garlic-y, slightly spicy chicken. Easy, simple, fresh and just right for dinner on the deck, listening to the birds and the leaves and the gurgling of the pond. This is the life...the simple life! 

Caprese Crostini 
With Grilled Basil Serrano Chicken 


  • 2 large fresh basil leaves 
  • 2 slices of a fresh serrano pepper - or jalapeno for a little less heat (Not a fan of heat at all? Leave the hot peppers out!) 
  • 1/4 C good extra virgin olive oil 
  • balsamic vinegar - see below for amount 
  • 1/2 t Kosher salt 
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste 
  • 1 clove minced garlic 

  • 1 1/2 pounds chicken tenders or thinly sliced boneless chicken breast - this is more than you need, but I make extra for salads during the week
  • Extra large cherry or grape tomatoes - I used small Marzano tomatoes I found at the sweet! 
  • fresh mozzarella 
  • fresh basil leaves 
  • 1 baguette, sliced diagonally about 1" thick, brushed with the reserved marinade on both sides (do NOT use the marinade the chicken was in!) - I used Udi's gluten free baguette - to make this GF  (BTW, this is a fabulous gluten-free product...good old-fashioned hoagies, here I come!) 

Marinade: In a see-through liquid measuring cup, add slices of serrano chilis (or jalapeno if you want a little less heat...or leave out completely if you don't want any heat at all), 2 large basil leaves, good extra virgin olive oil up to the 1/4 C line and muddle the oil, chilies and basil nicely. 
Then add balsamic vinegar up to 1/3 C line. 

To the same measuring cup, add 1 minced garlic clove, 1/2 t Kosher salt and a hefty grinding of  black peppercorns. Whisk well, pour 1/4 of the mixture into a small dish (this is the reserved marinade), then pour the rest into a quart-sized zip top bag. Add the chicken tenders, squeeze out all the air and zip securely. Squeeze the bag and moosh everything around until the marinade surrounds all the chicken; put the bag into a bowl that holds it securely to prevent any leaks from going all over your fridge (yuck!) and refrigerate for 2-4 hours. 

When you're ready for dinner, fire up the grill. Thread the chicken on metal skewers, thread the tomatoes long-ways onto separate metal skewers (if you don't have metal skewers, use wooden or bamboo skewers and soak them in water for at least an hour before grilling to keep them from going up in flames!) Turn the heat down to medium and grill the chicken on both sides until cooked through. Grill the tomatoes until they blister and soften, but take them off before they're so soft they fall of the skewers! 

Once the chicken and tomatoes are done, that's when I put the baguette slices on the grill - watch them carefully so they don't burn - and grill to golden on both sides. 

Assembly: Take a grilled baguette slice and smoosh a grilled tomato on top with a sprinkle of Kosher salt, then a nice basil leaf, a slice of fresh mozzarella, then a piece of grilled chicken and finish with another sprinkle of Kosher salt and a grind of black pepper. 

A few crostini, a few grilled veggies, a simple green salad, a glass of wine...aaaahhhhhhh....summer grilling season is here!!!!!

NOTE: This makes a festive appetizer or starter for deck parties, too!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Bacon Crusted Upside Down Pimiento Mac N Cheese

Yeah, yeah...I's grilling season when we all go super healthy and eat nothing but lean meats and fish and rainbow colored veggies and kale salads and we all absolutely GLOW with all the vitamins surging through our bodies in preparation for bathing suit season. Nobody craves those bad-for-you, but oh-so-good, carb-loaded dishes from the blustery days of winter. Nobody but me, apparently.

Mac n cheese was my downfall over the weekend. Obviously I somehow didn't manage to get my minimum daily requirement (MDR) of golden cheddar and toothsome, perfectly cooked pasta over the last few weather-appropriate-for-pasta months. So I fixed that oversight! 

Of course, it wasn't ALL that bad...there was a healthy dose of pimientos mixed in to cover the veggie portion of this show. Vitamin C loaded pimientos - the essential ingredient of the down south favorite, pimiento cheese - counts as a good-for-you vegetable, right? Whew. In that case, pay no attention to the crisp and golden bacon bottom crust. LIKE YOU COULD!

How did I get that crunchy, golden, upside down bacon crust? My trusty old cast iron skillet. I lined it with thin strips of bacon, popped it into a HOT oven, cooked the bacon almost all the way through and then poured the macaroni and cheese mixture into the hot skillet. 

Hot skillet + Bacon + Oven = Crisp, crunchy, golden crust. A few minutes of rest, once the skillet came out of the oven, and Bacon Crusted Upside Down Pimiento Mac n Cheese became reality.  

Speaking of reality, remember that bathing suit season I mentioned earlier? No worries. There's LOTS of time to compensate for the mac n cheese transgression. There are almost three whole weeks to work this all off. Ooof.

Ready to cut into wedges and serve!

Bacon Crusted Upside Down Pimiento Mac n Cheese

  • 1/2 lb elbow macaroni - you know I used a good gluten-free type to make this GF - cooked al dente
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 T cornstarch - check to be sure it's gluten-free to make this GF
  • 1/2 t salt
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup milk - I use skim milk, but use what you like...there's so much cheese, what difference does it make?
  • 10 oz. extra sharp cheddar, shredded
  • 1/2  of an 8 oz container of Philadelphia Chipotle Cream Cheese spread - yes, you read that secret ingredient for creaminess. If you don't like the heat, feel free to use 4 oz of regular cream cheese!
  • 1  jar sliced pimientos, drained (you know, the bright red, squat jar Dromedary kind?) 
  • 8-10 slices of THIN-sliced bacon

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Take a 9-10" cast iron skillet and line the bottom with with the strips of bacon. I did mine in a circular pattern and made sure the sides of the bacon strips touched. When the oven comes up to temp, pop the skillet into the oven and cook the bacon to almost done. Remove the skillet from the oven, CAREFULLY drain the dripping from the skillet.

While the bacon is cooking, in a saucepan, melt the butter and gradually add the cornstarch while whisking. When smooth, add salt & pepper. Gradually add milk, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens. Add the cream cheese and whisk until smooth, then add the cheddar and melt completely into the mixture; stir in the drained pimientos.

Add the sauce to the cooked, drained macaroni and set aside while keeping warm.

After cooking the bacon and draining the drippings, CAREFULLY pour the mac n cheese mixture into the HOT skillet right on top of the bacon in the skillet. Lower the oven to 400 degrees and bake for about 45 minutes. 

Remove the skillet from the oven, let rest for 5 minutes or so, then run a knife around the perimeter of the skillet to loosen the contents. 

Then take a large platter - larger than the cast iron skillet - and place the platter upside down over the skillet. CAREFULLY, using oven mitts, flip the skillet and platter over and let the contents sit for a moment before lifting the skillet. You should have a beautiful bacon-crusted vision of mac and cheese on the plate. Cut into wedges and enjoy!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

New Orleans Red Beans, Rice and Greens - The Best of Both Worlds

Red beans and rice OR beans and greens? That was the question. Hmmmm. Why not the best of both?! 

Sunday's dinner was a simple, quick and easy cedar-planked, Cajun-seasoned filet of salmon on the grill with some bright green, thick spears of asparagus grilling right alongside. The side dish of beans, greens AND rice? Definitely simple, too.

A classic Cajun trinity - green pepper, celery and onion - was the base of the dish along with a kick of finely diced Andouille sausage to amp up the bayou flavors. After the veggies were softened and the Andouille had surrendered it's fat and flavor into the mix, I added lots and lots of sweet, green baby kale. 

Once the kale cooked down a bit, rice, chicken broth and, what else(?) Cajun seasonings emphasized the decidedly down home dish. You already know I kept this easy, so I used a bottled Cajun seasoning instead of mixing one up myself. Timesaver!

One thing for sure, this is one delicious, best-of-both-worlds, beans AND greens AND rice dinner decision that will be repeated!

New Orleans Red Beans, Rice & Greens

  • 1 T canola oil
  • 1 link Andouille sausage, diced small
  • 1 small onion, diced small
  • 2 ribs celery, diced small
  • 1/2 green pepper, seeds removed & diced small
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 5 oz. baby kale left whole or regular sized kale, roughly chopped - feel free to sub-in whatever greens strike your fancy or whatever you have on hand instead of kale
  • 2 T tomato paste - I love tomato paste in tubes, don't you?
  • 1 T Cajun seasoning - I used Weber's N'Orleans Cajun Seasoning
  • 1 can red beans (15 oz) WITH the liquid
  • 3/4 C arborio rice or long grain white rice - whatever you have on hand
  • 10 oz can chicken broth

Heat the oil in a large heavy pot. Saute andouille, garlic, onion, celery, green pepper until soft. Add kale and stir until wilted. Add tomato paste and cajun seasoning, beans WITH their liquid, rice and broth. Stir well and bring the mixture to a boil.

When the mixture comes to a boil, immediate reduce heat to low cover and cook until rice is tender, approximately 25 minutes. Fluff with fork and serve!