Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Few Summer Pastas

Every now and then this summer I went back inside to make a pasta dish figuring that if the only thing on the range was a pot of water I might survive the heat. In these cases I tried to stick to "no-cook" sauces or at least sauces requiring little additional cooking. Here are a few examples:
From the Gourmet cookbook I tried Pasta with Arugula Puree and Cherry Tomato Sauce. Arugula goes nicely with pasta and this sauce had a distinct flavor. I like the way the cherry tomatoes look on top. A good dish with a nice visual flair.
An old stand-by from when I was a new husband is the "365 Ways to Cook Pasta" cookbook. The collection of no-cook pasta sauces are nice and quick and perfect for the summer. This pasta with artichoke's, Kalamata olives, and roasted red peppers relies on canned products but if comes together nicely and really pops with flavor.
July's Bon Appetit magazine had a Pasta with Shrimp and Cilantro Lime Pesto that was a wonderful summer dish. It calls for tequila, and since the bottle was out... I did serve this with BA's Chilled Watercress-Spinach Soup and this was quite a special dinner on the patio.
I veered off for a few nights into roast chicken and pasta combinations that included Chicken Orzo Salad with Goat Cheese, and Roasted Chicken and Bow-Tie Pasta Salad, both from The trick to keeping these simple is in the roasted chicken. If your supermarket has a salad bar, get the cooked chicken from there. If they have prepared roasted breasts (cooked on premises) get the chicken there. As a last result I suggest Perdue roasted chicken sold in 9 oz. packs. A bit process-flavored but it will do in a pinch. Look, you could always roast your own if you have an air-conditioned kitchen.
So there you have it, a handful of summer pasta ideas that all taste great, are easy to prepare, and if you serve them out of a nice large serving platter, look summery and impressive.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Grilled Chicken Paillards with Nectarine Chutney

If you want to grill something fast give chicken paillards a try. You remeber them, chicken breasts pounded to 1/4 inch thickness. Well, just like on the range, these items grill up in one-two minutes each side and they mark up nicely. You could do the quarter turn and try for diamond grill marks if you're inclined.
So the chicken cooks fast,stays tender and this recipe has a sweet chutney to serve with it. You can imagine the combination of grilled flavor and chutney go well. This recipe came from the Gourmet Today cookbook that I've been tearing through since December.

Servings: 4
1 lb. firm-ripe nectarines, cut in 1 inch pieces
1 large tomato, coarsely chopped
1 small garlic clove, chopped
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3 Tbsp packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. curry powder (preferably Madras)
1/4 tsp. salt
4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves (1 1/2 pounds total)
1 Tbsp vegetable oil

Prepare grill for cooking

Simmer nectarines, tomato, garlic, vinegar, brown sugar, curry powder, and salt, uncovered, in a 2 quart heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened but still saucy, about 20 minutes.

While chutney is cooking, sandwich chicken between pieces of plastic wrap and pound with the flat side of a meat pounder or a rolling pin until 1/4 inch thick. Pat chicken dry and brush tops with oil, then season with salt and pepper.

When the fire is hot (you can hold your hand 5 inches above rack for 1 to 2 seconds), place chicken, oiled sides down, on lightly oiled grill rack and grill 1 minute. Brush tops with oil and season with salt and pepper, then turn chicken over and grill until just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes more.

I served this with a Romaine, Radish and Cucumber Salad with Tahini Dressing from the same cookbook. A nice combination for a dinner on a hot night out on the patio.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Baby It's Hot Outside...

Hot! July was merciless, even cooking outside was tough so more often than usual we took refuge in air-conditioned restaurants. When it's 97 degrees and I'm going out for dinner my only criteria is, "how strong is the AC?"
Anyway, I did a few items on the grill that I can share. Here's one from Mark Bittman's Skewered Chicken Thighs with Peanut Sauce from The Best Recipes in the World. These were a tasty and fun item, being on skewers and all... Anyway you're just making a marinade and then skewering the thighs. This version calls for the thighs to be chopped up but I spread them out and cut them in half long-ways. You could also skewer the thighs, cut the points off the skewers, put them, chicken end down, in a plastic bag, pour in the marinade, mush them all together and stand them up in a tall bar glass in the refrigerator...that's what I did. On the grill the peanut sauce can burn so pay attention. Also, grilled skewered thighs have a real Asian street food look to grilled seahorses. I served this with Herbed Jasmine Rice...from my wife's collection of potted herbs.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Falafel, Tahini and Tomato and Onion Salad

This really took be back. In the mid 1980s I worked in mid-town Manhattan and in the basement of the building across the street there was a tiny Kosher take out only restaurant that served amazing falafel. Owned, I guess, by Israelis as it was certainly staffed by Israeli immigrants, they would wrap falafel, tahini, lettuce, and tomato in pita bread and drizzle it with a hot sauce. Absolutely killer. With those memories in mind I gave a try to Mark Bittman's version found in The Best Recipes in the World. His recipe for falafel and tahini can be found at the NYT Diner's Journal. It's all pretty straight forward and to expedite things I used canned chick peas. I do, though, have a recommendation. Make your falafel patties SMALL. Any bigger than a rounded tablespoon and they broke apart. Don't fuss with them in the oil, one flip and then onto a paper towel. Remember, make them small! The tahini recipe is found in the introduction and then I decided to make Bittman's Tomato and Onion Salad as a topping for the pitas...wise choice.
Tomato and Onion Salad
Middle East, 4 servings
adapted from Mark Bittman, The Best Recipes in the World
1 large red onion, chopped
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
4 medium tomatoes, cored and chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Soak the onion in salted ice water for about 30 minutes, then drain and dry.
Whisk together garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and cumin. Salt and pepper to taste.
Toss tomatoes, onion, and parsley with dressing - adjust seasoning to taste.

Once I got over the frustration of the breaking falafels and remade my patties at half their original size, the meal came together nicely and served at room temperature was a nice dinner.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Grilled Octopus?

With some time on my hands I decided to try something unique and Mario Batali's Octopus and Potato Salad, from Italian Grill, fit the bill nicely. I've cooked and eaten smaller octopus before but never grilled it and certainly have not ever wrestled with a 2 lb octopus. So I thought I'd give it a try. This was a special order item from our local fish store and it took a few days to arrive. I did ask for it to be cleaned (eyes, sac, and beak removed) but alas it came with the beak so I did that myself. I followed the directions for boiling the octopus, even going so far as to throw in a couple of corks. The cork seems to be an old Italian wives tale as there may be a better way to ensure tenderness as described in a New York Times article. From the stewing pot onto the grill and then off to the cutting board. I'm not sure if I would cook this again...but if I did I would not "slice into 1/2 inch pieces" but rather slice into thinner slices to give the salad dressing a chance to compete with the Octopus.
I served this with turkey sausage grilled grilled with Vidalia onions and a mixed pepper compote that was really quite good. Together this made for a nice warm weather dinner.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Fish Tacos with Papaya Salsa

We went south of the border for this dinner and managed to work in a completely new ingredient experience, that being papaya. Alas, I can't find an online copy of the Mark Bittman recipe for Fish Tacos from his Best Recipes in the World cookbook. I did use a halibut fillet and cut it into about 8 small pieces. They were breaded and fried and the tacos were served with shredded red cabbage. The recipe called for steamed corn tortilla which I used and will not use again. I just don't get it, they end up wet and rubbery and they stick together. Next time I'll use small flour tortillas. The meal was made special by the addition of a papaya salsa which turned out quite nice. Never cooked with papaya and I have to say its similarity to a melon; color, texture and flavor, took me by surprise. You can guess that when you mix it with some red onion, minced hot pepper, and cilantro, you end up with a colorful, flavorful salsa.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Salmon with Sweet Chili Glaze, Sugar Snap Peas, and Pea Tendrils

I think that this was the cover recipe of the April 2010 Bon Appetit magazine, but don't hold me to that.  Anyway, I'll take any excuse to grill salmon and Salmon with Sweet Chili Glaze was a good one.  Just a few notes on this great salmon meal; the pea tendrils proved elusive so I settled for bean sprouts which were fine and fit in nicely with the decidedly Asian feel of the meal; the recipe sent me out to purchase Asian Sweet Chili Sauce which was a great find and a wonderful addition to my pantry.  Since buying it I've used it a few times as a marinade (mixed with fish sauce and soy sauce) for grilled shrimp.  It has a nice sweetness and heat that some might find OK but I like to make it spicier by mixing in Huy Fong, Chili Garlic Sauce which is HOT and tasty.  I used to buy this by the case from the manufacturer, now it is carried by my local supermarket.  In addition to the snow peas and sprouts, I served the fish with a Leek Salad from Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes in the World.  If someone suggests that a recipe can be made with black olives, I give it a shot, it was a good addition.