Saturday, July 28, 2012

SoCal Chicken Salad with Avocado & Cilantro

The Farm-to-Table movement is one that’s new to a whole lot of people out there, but there are those of us who were raised that way and for whom it has always been a “thing.” 

I grew up in the city – just barely, mind you.  We lived in Lincoln Place just a couple of houses down from the West Mifflin line.  These days that might not sound like country, but back then, in the quiet of the evening, you could hear cows mooing from across the hills.  And there were train whistles in the distance mingled in with the lowing of the cows that melded into a sleepy nighttime lullaby.

As kids, my dad always bought our veggies and fruits from the back of the farm truck that drove up and down the neighborhood streets – the same farm that produced those beautiful night sounds produced produce!   Besides our local farm delivery, we regularly took Sunday drives into the country visiting farm stands along the way.

We’d all pile into the car - no seatbelts back then – and drive north on Route 19 in whatever car we owned in those days.  I remember our turquoise and white 1969 Chevy Impala with the fins and owl eye tail lights especially…it’s considered “classic” these days.  (Just a thought here…why are old cars considered classic and old broads like me are just old?  From now on I think I'd like to be referred to as a “classic broad.”  I like the sound of that.)  

Anyway, we’d count cows and pigs and horses – whoever saw the most got a whole nickel!  A nickel bought a lot of penny candy!  And we’d stop at the farm markets to stock up on apples, beets, corn, jars of jellies, jams and apple butters, maybe even a fresh rhubarb or blueberry pie – whatever was beautiful, fresh and struck my dad’s fancy. 

I was really lucky to grow up always knowing that “fresh is best.”  And I’ve passed that on to my kids who grew up visiting the family farms here north of Pittsburgh - Soergels, Shenots, Kaelins and the now long-lamented Altmyers – all within a 5 minute drive.  (Okay, maybe 8 minutes on a busy weekend.)

Which brings me to today’s recipe using avocados.  Which are not local.  But if avocados could be grown locally, you can bet I’d be driving out to get the freshest ones available!  Until global warming produces local avocados, I’ll just keep buying the freshest ones available at Whole Foods.

SoCal Chicken Salad with Avocado & Cilantro

  • 2 chicken breast halves, cooked, leftover is perfect
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 small avocado, ripe and buttery, 1/2 cubed, 1/2 smashed
  • 1/2 lime, juice - make sure it's a big juicy lime!
  • 3 tablespoons cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons red onion, cut into thin, short slivers
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Shred the chicken coarsely in a large bowl.  Add the rest of the ingredients mixing until well blended, but the avocado cubes still retain some shape.
Mound onto a plate with tomatoes and whatever else you'd like or mound it onto buns to make a great sandwich. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Smoked Pineapple Game Hens (aka Mini-Can Mini-Chickens)

Cornish game hens are kind of like having your own personal size chicken.  They’re so cute!  Not to mention, so tender, juicy and absolutely delicious.  

Years ago, they used to be all the rage…it occurred to me last week that we hadn’t had them for dinner in many years.  It was time to change that!  These days, they aren't easy to find.  You used to be able to buy them in the fresh poultry area of the grocery store, not so any more.  I found them in the frozen section wrapped two to a package at a very reasonable price, so I very happily tossed them into my cart.  Oh yes, Sunday would be the day to resurrect an old favorite! 

The plan was to marinate those adorable little suckers in pineapple juice along with some Asian flavors and let them spend some time on the smoker.  For some reason, crisp, succulent skin isn’t something I can achieve on a smoker.  (Am I the only one with that problem?  Anyone know the solution to rubbery poultry skin on the smoker?) And so, to achieve both the smokiness AND the nice crispy skin I was looking for, a turn on the grill with a smoker box filled with applewood chips was the choice for this day.

As I was prepping the game hens, I kept looking at the single-serving pineapple juice can I’d emptied into the marinade and then I’d look at the cavity of the hens…and back again.  You know, the small juice cans were the perfect size to make a sort of beer can chicken only with juice cans and game hens.  Aha!  Mini-Can Mini-Chickens it would be!  

If you haven't had game hens in a while, or if you've never tried them at all, maybe the time has come to enjoy your very own personal sized, adorable and DELICIOUS little chickens!   

Don't they look like old men sitting on stools outside the barbershop?!

Smoked Pineapple Game Hens (aka Mini-Can Mini-Chickens)

  • 1/4 cup tamari soy sauce, wheat free to make this GF
  • 1/4 cup hot sauce, Frank's Red Hot Sweet Chile Sauce (this is new, look for it on your grocery store shelf by the regular Frank's)
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 2 cans pineapple juice, 1 single serving size can - save the cans!

  • 2 cornish game hens, rinsed & patted dry

  • 2 tablespoons hot sauce, Frank's Red Hot Sweet Chile Sauce
  • 3 tablespoons pineapple juice
  • 2 tablespoons pineapple preserves

  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons tamari - wheat free to make this GF
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic

Marinade:  In a gallon sized zip top bag, mix the tamari, Frank's, granulated garlic and 1 can of pineapple juice - be sure you use the single serving size.  Set the can aside to use later.  Put the game hens in the bag with the marinade, squeeze out all the air and seal tightly.  Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight if you have the time.
At this point, remove the paper labels from the pineapple juice cans and wash well. Set aside until you need them.
If you want to smoke the game hens on the grill, start soaking applewood chips an hour before you plan to start cooking them. 
When you're ready to grill, remove the hens from the marinade and pat them dry.  Set aside. 
Baste:  Mix up 2 T. Frank's Red Hot Sweet Chile Sauce, 3 T. pineapple juice, 2 T. pineapple preserves.  Set aside.
Now it's time to get the hens ready.  Pour HALF the juice in one can into the other can so both cans have equal amounts of liquid.  Add 1/2  t. cayenne pepper to each can, then add 1 T. tamari to each can and last 1/2  t. granulated garlic to each can.  Swish the cans carefully to mix, being careful not to spill them.  Place a game hen over each juice can just like you would with a beer can chicken and put them on the hot grill.  (See the picture above.)  Arrange those little legs like a tripod to keep them upright!  

If you're smoking, put the soaked applewood chips into a smoker box under the grates - if you don't have a smoker box, wrap them in several layers of foil securely and cut a couple of 1/2" slits into the top of the foil packet.  

Arrange the hens carefully on the grill, tripod style, so they don't tip over.  Grill over medium low heat until the hens are cooked through.and beautifully browned , basting every 10 minutes during the last half hour of cooking. 

To Serve:   VERY CAREFULLY remove the cans from the hens.  Keep them upright at all times to the hot liquid doesn't spill and burn you!  Let the hens rest before serving  Cut each in half along the breastbone and back to serve. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Peach & Ginger Meringue Pie

To me, peaches are the absolute essence of summer.  That sweet, slightly tart, woozy scent when you bite into it, the juice that slides down your chin, into your hand (sometimes even your arm and your clothes if you’re not careful!) and the luscious taste that echoes all the same notes that hit your nose all meld into one thing…hot, sultry, carefree summertime.

Nana used to make this peach pie every summer…I think she first served it in the late 60’s.  Nope, not a typical double crust peach pie or even a pretty latticed peach pie.  It was a stunningly beautiful peach MERINGUE pie!  It's Mark’s favorite pie to this very day.   

Semi-freestone peaches were piled high at Soergel's farm market the other day – Red Havens – so I picked a peck up to make THE pie!  There are a few leftover for eating, too....and maybe for my Grilled Peach Vodka Basil Sweet Tea cocktail, too????

This is a little different version of Nana's Peach Meringue pie - that old gluten issue precludes a regular Crisco crust (I don’t think there’s a better crust out there than the Crisco one!).  I made a (gluten-free) gingersnap cookie crumb and pecan crust instead. To emphasize the ginger from the crust, I added a touch of crystallized ginger to the filling, too.  Ginger and peach are such natural partners!

Treat your family to one of these soon.  It might just become your favorite pie, too!

Peach & Ginger Meringue Pie

  • 7 ounces gingersnap cookies, Pamela's gluten-free Ginger Mini Snaps or regular gingersnaps if you don't have a gluten issue
  • 1/3 cup pecans
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted

  • 3 tablespoons tapioca
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon crystallized ginger, chopped fine
  • 1 tablespoon butter, cubed
  • 4 cups peaches, peeled and sliced
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice

  • 6 egg whites
  • 12 tablespoons sugar

Put the gingersnaps, pecan halves and melted butter into a food processor; pulse until the cookies are ground, the nuts are fine and it all comes together.  Dump into a 9" pie plate and press down firmly into the bottom and up the sides.  Bake at 325 for 10 minutes.  Remove.


Mix the peaches, tapioca, sugar, salt, chopped crystallized ginger, butter and lemon juice well.  Pour into crust.  Bake at 450 for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350 and bake the pie for another 20 minutes. 

Just before the pie is done, make the meringue.  Beat the whites until foamy, then gradually add sugar and beat until it holds stiff peaks.  Don't overbeat until it's dry, though. 

When the timer goes off for the pie, take it out, mound the meringue on top and spread, being SURE the meringue touches the crust all the way around.  (This keeps the meringue from shrinking back and exposing the filling.)  Create pretty peaks with the back of a spoon.

Bake the meringue covered pie at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes until the meringue is browned and beautiful!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Blueberry Basil Gin Schpritz

Buster Poindexter wants to know, “Are you feelin’ hot hot hot?!”  Well, are you?  If you’re not, my friend, you are in the minority this summer. 

Driving home from work last night, weaving my way through creeping traffic amidst the ripples of heat rising from the pavement, I kept thinking, “What could possibly help relieve this suffocatingly steamy and sultry workday?”  Only one answer kept echoing through my parched brain….GIN!  Classic. 

So upon trudging up the stairs and slipping off my shoes, I rifled through the bar until I found that beautiful blue bottle of Bluecoat gin.  Ahhhhh.  Then to the fridge to ferret out the limes…double ahhhhhh.  The produce drawer held some gorgeous in-season blueberries and a squeeze bottle of basil simple syrup beckoned from the shelf.  I had the makings of one astonishingly refreshing summer cocktail!  In a flash it was mixed, shaken, strained and poured into my waiting glass.    
I'd like to say I settled back into the azure blue Adirondack chair by the gurgling pond while I sipped my cooling cocktail slowly.  Nah....too damned hot for that.  I took the pic then hied it immediately up to the  living room to put my feet up and chill in cool, air conditioned comfort. I ain't no fool!  

Mix one up yourself tonight.  Your very own parched brain will thank you for it's very own ahhhhhh moment. 

Blueberry Basil Gin Schpritz

Serves 1

  • 2 ounces gin - whatever YOUR favorite is!
  • 3 ounces basil simple syrup (see my Grilled Peach Vodka Basil Cocktail for this recipe)
  • 1/2 lime , juiced
  • 12 blueberries
  • ice
  • club soda or tonic

In the glass of a cocktail shaker, muddle lime juice and blueberries; add simple syrup and gin.  Add ice 3/4 of the way up the tin of the shaker and pour the liquid over.  Cap tightly and shake until the tin is frosted over.  Strain into a collins glass, add ice and add just a touch of soda.  Garnish with a slice of lime and a few blueberries. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sweet Corn and Mango Salsa

Whew, it's been busy around here!  Way back before the big trip to Annapolis and the excitement behind the bar at Emilia Romagna, I promised you one more mango recipe from Kimber's and my foray through West Side Market in Cleveland.   Hope you weren't holding your breath waiting for this can exhale now.  Feel better?

This is a simple salsa...pretty traditional really, and versatile.  Scoop it up with tortilla chips or pile it onto tacos or grilled chicken or pork chops.  No matter how you use it, this fresh combo of sugary summer corn and tart lime, lush mango and perky peppers, and the classic contrast of sweet and heat, it is the star of your show.  

The tacos pictured above were a sort of Caribbean/Mexican fusion using jerk chicken breast, corn and mango salsa, crema and cilantro - a little sprinkle of cotija topped them off. Experiment with your own favorite way to use it!

Sweet Corn and Mango Salsa

  • 1 mango, small yellow, champagne type
  • 2 leftover cooked ears of corn, kernels cut off cob
  • 1/2 small red onion, diced small
  • 2 tablespoons red bell pepper, diced small
  • 1 jalapeno, ribs & seeds removed, minced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin

Combine all ingredients.  Serve!

Great as a dip with tortilla chips, on grilled meats or on fish or chicken tacos! 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Grilled Peach Vodka Basil Sweet Tea with Friends!

Crabby friends make for really good company!  No, not disgruntled and unpleasant acquaintances…who wants to be friends with grumps?!  I mean good friends with whom you can share a day of hauling up beautiful blue crabs from the Severn River in Annapolis, hiking them up what must have been 100 stairs to the top of the cliff, steaming them in a giant pot outside on the grill and then sitting down together to enjoy the rewards of the effort.  


Crabby friends got to share not just succulent, sweet white meat pried from bright red shells, we also shared good stories, memories of Maryland and Baltimore and created more than a few great new memories, too.  

What goes with crabs around the Baltimore and Annapolis area?  Beer.  Specifically, the locally brewed National Bohemian beer affectionately nicknamed Natty Boh.  It ain’t crabs & beer if you’re not drinkin' a Natty Boh!  

What brought these fortunate friends and (unfortunate) crabs together this bright, sunny and HOT July day?  Another fabulous Food With Friends get together at Donna & Tommy’s!  Crabs were just a small part of the excitement!

The theme was "Bounty of the Chesapeake"…which was (very) loosely interpreted.  Besides the aforementioned hard crabs that Tommy and Donna caught at their dock AND the pretty, almost lacy, soft shell crabs that Donna sauteed up, Greg grilled rockfish with his own Georgia-style peach pecan chutney (Greg came all the way from GA!), Ben and his wife, Emily (who made the trek from New Jersey!), brought crabs, too.  Only these crabs were red jam-filled linzer crab cookies!  Beautiful. I wish I had gotten pictures of them!

Brian whipped up a perfectly made shrimp risotto with brie (I told you the theme was loosely interpreted - I'm not aware of any shrimp in the Chesapeake), homemade Kosher dill pickles and a Chesapeake coleslaw he created using his very own salt-free version of Old Bay.  He outdoes himself EVERY time!

Brian's pickles.

Brian proudly showing off his pickle.

Remember Greg back there with the rockfish?  He's a very creative caterer who apparently has friends in high places down south...or maybe it's more like that Garth Brooks song, "I've Got Friends In Low Places."?  He brought Donna a very "special" present!  Any guesses?  Anyone who knows NASCAR and how it started may have guessed what it is already - but I'm not telling!  (Hint: Jimmy Johnson makes it.)  

Donna & Greg & the "Special" Present

There were other surprises and special guests!  Chef Duane Keller and his lovely wife, Jen came by with food in hand!  Chef Duane - aw heck, it's just Duane now that we've met - made a gorgeous smoked salmon cheesecake and Jen made one of the best potato salads I've ever had....accompanied by a dish of black truffle salt.  And Jen isn't a chef!  Duane was invited to cook (and, in fact, did!) at the James Beard House and also cooked for Julia Childs' 90th birthday party.  Needless to say, we were very honored to have them both join us.

The Kellers

A professional food photographer joined us, too!  Sherron not only took pictures that look like they came straight from Bon Appetit or Food & Wine, she cooks!  She brought crab dip and homemade bread.  A woman of many talents!

One other surprise.  Our little foodie group made an appearance on Grilliant Ideas, an online radio show!  Various members of the group were interviewed live by phone as our event went on.  Here are Donna and Ben while they were LIVE on radio! 

Were we making too much noise for Ben?!

What does Donna have in her hand?  And I don't mean the phone.

Back to the food...and drink!  It looks like Donna is holding the cocktail I made....a Grilled Peach Basil Sweet Tea.  And, yes, there's a little(?) liquor involved.  The peach part is my own grilled peach infused vodka!  Instead of mixing up individual cocktails, I made it easy and did it up in a big batch for a crowd.  I'll share the recipe at the end of this post, but here's what it looked like.

Grilled Peach (Vodka) Basil Sweet Tea

Besides crab cookies, Ben brought some outrageously good Bloody Marys!  Wine was provided by Brian and Marti.  The weather was hot, folks, we had to stay hydrated!

Let me see if I can remember all the other dishes....Marti's Caesar Salad was more than classically delicious; Iris - who claims she doesn't cook - brought beautiful deviled eggs; Bonnie brought a smoked trout dip made with trout her sons caught!; Sherron made smooth, delicious, creamy crab dip and that aforesaid homemade bread; there was pasta salad, but I don't remember who brought it!  Sorry.  And of course there was some of that sweet, sweet Maryland white wouldn't be "bounty" of the Chesapeake without sugary summer MD corn. 

And then there was dessert.  Cat, who couldn't join us this time because of her busy schedule, still dropped off whoopie pies and brownies and almond cookies and all sorts of sweet delights ahead of time.  Thank you!!!!!!

Maria, our authentic Austrian pastry chef, brought an array of sweet treats, too!  Her peach cobbler and sour cherry cake were to die for, but the star of the show?  The Black Forest cake she brought to celebrate Greg's birthday!  Wow!

Happy Birthday, Greg!

What a fabulous day with a group of fabulous cooks whom I feel blessed to call friends.  We are Food With Friends...or is that friends with food?  Here we all are...well, except for me because I'm taking the picture!

Food With Friends - on the deck.

One more thing...the promised recipe!

 Grilled Peach Vodka Basil Sweet Tea
Serves 48-60

  • 3 liters vodka, grilled peach infused vodka - see below (I used Clique vodka - if you can find it by you, buy it!  VERY good vodka at a very good price!)
  • 1 gallon tea, brewed - see below
  • 3 cups basil simple syrup - see below
  • 24 lemons, juiced

Vodka:  A week before you want to serve this, make the grilled peach vodka.  Grill 4 1/2 pounds of peaches that have been split in half, stones removed.  In a LARGE glass container, place the peaches and vodka, cover the container and let sit for several days in a cool, dark place.  Stir once or twice a day, gently.  Strain into glass bottles and store until needed.  You can made this in smaller batches instead of one big one.

Basil simple syrup: In a large saucepan, mix together 3 cups sugar and 3 cups water, stir over high heat to dissolve and bring to a boil.  Add 3-4 cups of loosely packed basil leaves and turn off heat immediately.  Cool.  Then pour into a clean glass bottle.

Tea:  Bring a gallon of water to a boil.  Turn off heat and add 16 Salada British Blend (find it in your grocery store) tea bags.  After 5 minutes, remove the tea bags, but DO NOT squeeze them.  Cool tea.

Now you're read to make the cocktail!  Finally. 

In a punch bowl, combine the tea, vodka (yes, all of it!), basil simple syrup, lemon juice and stir.  That's it.  Serve over ice.

To make this pretty, what I did was:  I froze 6 clean, fresh peaches and floated them (to keep the punch cool instead of an ice ring - the ice ring would have melted and diluted the cocktail!) and a few clean, whole, fresh basil leaves to make it pretty.  Just by looking you know what's in it!  Peach and basil. 

The infusion begins...

Look at the color on the finished infusion! 

Don't want to make enough for an army?  Here's the recipe for a single serving.

 Grilled Peach Vodka Basil Sweet Tea
Serves 1

  • 2 1/2 ounces grilled peach vodka (again, find Clique vodka!)
  • 2 ounces basil simple syrup
  • 1/2 lemon
  • tea, double strength (as above)
  • basil, fresh, a nice sprig
  • ice

In the glass of a shaker, mix vodka, basil simple syrup, juice of half a lemon.  Add ice 3/4 of the way up & add tea to within 1" of the top of the glass.  Cap and shake until tin is frosty.

Pour contents into a Mason jar and garnish with a basil sprig.  Enjoy!

NOTE: Don't have time to do an infusion?  Muddle peaches in the bottom of the cocktail shaker along with some fresh basil - add plain simple syrup and proceed as above, being sure to strain well. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mango Tango Turkey Burgers

Piles of gorgeous, ripe Champagne mangoes (those small golden ones shaped like cashews) beckoned from the fruit stalls at West Side Market the other weekend, so Kimber and I did what any sane (?) shopper would do...we bought a full case!  At the bargain price of 75 cents each, how could we resist?!   

A mango tequila infusion was my plan and Kimber's idea was a curried sliced chicken and mango salad …we knew we’d figure out what to do with the rest.  And we did. 

So far, the intended tequila infusion (very nice so far with about a week to go before it’s fully ready) has come to fruition (pun!), a mango and corn salsa went to work with me (the gang was happy with that!), and, of course, the burgers.  That’s my favorite of far anyway.   

How can you not like a burger with all the good stuff of mango salsa crammed INTO it?  Mark really liked this one – and let me repeat, it’s a TURKEY burger! There's so much going on flavor-wise - sweet mango, spicy siracha, smoky cumin, bright cilantro, peppers, onion....fantastic!  With all those gorgeous colors, the burger has the look of party confetti!

The mango madness isn’t over yet in the kitchen, folks.  Chicken salad with cashews, celery, Thai green curry, a little mayo, lime and mango is the dinner plan tonight.  And that last mango?  I’m craving the corn and mango salsa again…and there’s leftover corn from tonight’s dinner.  Another plan!

One more thing before the burger recipe, did you know that mangoes, cashews and pistachios are botanically related?  People with tree nut allergies need to be careful not to eat mangoes to avoid the same allergic reaction.  Don't make these burgers for anyone with a nut allergy!  Okay, that was my public service announcement of the day.  Now on to the recipe!

Mango Tango Turkey Burgers

  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 2 tablespoons red bell pepper, diced fine
  • 2 tablespoons green bell pepper, diced fine
  • 2 tablespoons purple onion, diced fine
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon siracha
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 mango, chopped fine, use a Champagne mango - those small yellow ones that are cashew shaped

Before grilling...look at the mango!

Mix all together lightly and make into 4 patties.
Grill in a grill basket...they're soft so this way there won't be any accidental bits falling through the grates.  You can pan fry them, too.  (The "before" picture doesn't look like the patties are in a basket, but they are.  I took the pic before closing it up.)
Serve with or without buns.  It's nice to grill some of that onion in slabs and grill some mango, too...delicious on top of the burger!  Avocado would be a good addition, too.