Saturday, July 23, 2011

Grilled Chicken and Vegetable Kebabs

This is probably the last post you're going to see here for a few weeks. I'm going off to London in a few days to do some research, and I hear the cooking facilities in the University of London dorms aren't up to par (yet another reason that I do not miss dorm living).

Since I will soon be reduced to eating stale crackers and reheated takeout, I'm trying to make the most of the few fresh, healthy meals I have left. Naturally, we've been using the grill. Of course, it would be far pleasanter if we were grilling while chilling out on the deck, enjoying the summer evenings. But alas, triple-digit temperatures have been lasting well into the evening, meaning that dinner has been on the couch, in front of the TV, and near the A/C vents. These are not the bucolic sort of evenings they should be. Nevertheless, the food has been excellent!

I love anything grilled. Even a gas grill manages to impart some sort of magical flavor to everything that lands on it. Grilled meat is just so much more delicious than meat prepared any other way. And that goes the same for vegetables. These skewers showcase summer produce at its best: tender zucchini with its skin beginning to blister, extra-sweet bell peppers and red onions, bright little tomatoes bursting open with the heat, and soft, juicy chicken with tiny bits of char at the edges. It would be delightful on its own, but the addition of a garlic-lemon-parsley marinade really puts it over the top, binding all the flavors together. We've done this recipe three times already - once for a crowd - and it hasn't failed to please. The original recipe calls for a creamy pesto dipping sauce (I originally bookmarked the recipe as a way to use up some basil), but I see no need. What makes this so delicious is that the flavors of the individual pieces are allowed to shine through - even the marinade serves to highlight the beautiful summer produce.

If you're looking for something to make on a lazy summer's evening, chatting in the backyard until the sun goes down - or even if you're huddling around the A/C vents like me - this is a great recipe to try with any summer veggies that you have available.

Grilled Chicken and Vegetable Kebabs
Adapted from

zest and juice of 1 lemon
2-3 stalks fresh parsley
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 bell pepper, cut into 1" pieces (I cut mine into eighths)
8 cherry or grape tomatoes
1 red onion, cut into 1" pieces
1 zucchini, cut into 1" pieces (I cut the smaller zucchini into rounds and the bigger one into half-moons)
1 chicken breast, cut into 1" pieces

Combine lemon zest, parsley and garlic in the food processor and chop.

Pour mixture into a large bowl and add lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper. Whisk to blend. Toss with vegetables and chicken.

Thread onto skewers (this recipe made six skewers for us - enough for dinner and leftovers!). Coat your grill with cooking spray. Lay the skewers on the grill and cook 12 minutes, turning occasionally. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Farmers Market Pizza

Sometimes a pizza is more than just a pizza.

Now, I'm a bit finicky when it comes to pizza (and many other things, as you may have caught on to). I love bread and sauce. I am not such a fan of cheese. I prefer shredded cheese in limited quantities, preferably browned (which changes the texture to something I'm happy with).

When I make pizza for dinner, I typically play to my own taste: heavy on the sauce, skimpy cheese, and generally a nice vegetable topping (which almost always ends up being broccoli, peppers and onions). I do not think outside the box. I definitely do not venture into the realm of the sauceless.

So perhaps it was surprising that this recipe caught my eye. There is no sauce on this pizza and there is a ton of cheese. But I chose to overlook those issues in favor of the ton of fresh vegetables that are involved. I'm very glad I did. If there were a sauce, it would overwhelm the wonderful delicate veggie flavors. The corn is a brilliant addition, adding a delightful sweetness. The fresh mozzarella, rather than distracting me with its goopiness, sort of blended into the crust - all the flavor without the texture I dislike. And the Parmesan added a nice salty note.

This pizza will overwhelm you with its freshness. The beautiful in-season ingredients are really allowed to shine here. The only thing that could have improved it would have been freshly made pizza dough. I did try - you might notice my dough in the picture of my ingredients, hiding in the measuring cup - but the recipe I used made far too little dough, so I had to send Jeff out for store-bought dough at the last minute (I have yet to find a go-to pizza dough recipe - if you've got a good one, let me know!) But the dough isn't my biggest regret - it is rather that we didn't think to enjoy this outside, as part of a lazy summer's evening, on perhaps the coolest day we're going to have for some time. Definitely next time.

Farmers Market Pizza
Adapted from Cooking Light July 2011.

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 c onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 c bell pepper, thinly sliced (this would be great with red bell pepper, but green is what's currently in season at the farmers market)
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 c fresh corn kernels (I only needed one medium-sized ear)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 pizza dough (the recipe called for 16 oz - to be honest, I didn't even look at the size of mine - if it's too big or small, just adjust your toppings)
cooking spray
5 oz fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
1/3 c Parmesan cheese, grated
1 c grape tomatoes, halved
1/3 c fresh basil leaves, chopped

Preheat oven to 425° F. Position an oven rack in the next to lowest setting (I just used my small top oven). Place a pizza stone on the rack to preheat.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil to the pan. Add the onion and thyme and cook 3 minutes, until the onion is tender. Add bell pepper and garlic and cook 2 more minutes. Add corn, salt and pepper and cook 1 minute more, until thoroughly heated. Remove pan from heat.

Roll out your pizza dough on a lightly floured surface. Remove the pizza stone from the oven. Coat the pan with cooking spray, and place the dough on the pan (I forgot the cooking spray, but this was the first time I ever put a pizza on a hot stone, so as I moved it around and fussed with it, the little bit of cooking it did prevented it from sticking to the stone later on). Spread the mozzarella slices over the crust. Spread the corn mixture over that, and finally sprinkle the Parmesan on top. Bake for 23 minutes (why so precise? I have no idea).

Remove the pizza from the oven. Arrange the tomato halves evenly over the top.

Return to the oven for 5 more minutes. If the tomatoes aren't browned a bit, you can turn on the broiler for a minute or two (this made my crust a little extra brown, but that was fine by me). Remove from the oven, sprinkle with basil, and enjoy! (Just try to give it a few minutes to cool so you don't burn your mouth!)

Monday, July 11, 2011

French Silk Pie

Jeff and I hosted a barbecue on Saturday night, so I got to make some tasty desserts. I made my peach crumb bars again, this time with cherries (a decent filling, but not worth the effort of pitting and chopping them!), and some oatmeal cookies. I also wanted to do some kind of pie (I'm always looking for an excuse for pie), so I dug out this recipe. I'd made this pie for a summer function at my parents' house last year and it was a huge hit. And this past weekend it didn't disappoint either.

This pie is so easy to make. Just throw things in the stand mixer and go. It takes a bit of time, since each egg needs to be beaten for five minutes, but that meant I could get all my kitchen clean-up done at the same time. The result is a light, fluffy cream pie with just the right hint of chocolate. The raw eggs are what give it the silky texture.

What? Raw eggs, you ask? Yes, this recipe includes raw eggs. But if you're using eggs from a source you trust, it's not so risky an endeavor (my eggs were from these chickens at Cherry Grove Farm). Also, most harmful bacteria lives on the outside of the shells, so if you crack your eggs cleanly, you can keep the inside from having much contact with any germs. And anyway, is eating a few raw eggs any riskier than many of the chemical substances we put into our bodies on a daily basis? I'd rather trust nature . . .

So try this pie at your next cookout. It's fluffy texture is perfect for a summer evening. And you'll get lots of nice compliments from your friends and neighbors, as I did from mine!

French Silk Pie
Adapted from Tracy's Culinary Adventures.

1 9" pie crust (recipe below)
1/2 c butter, room temperature
3/4 c + 1 tsp sugar
1 oz bittersweet chocolate (doesn't sound like much, but it's enough)
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs, room temperature
1 c heavy cream
1/4 tsp cornstarch

Bake your pie crust first and let cool.

Chop your chocolate and melt it using a double boiler (I use a metal bowl on top of a pot, as you can see below). Cool slightly.

Use a stand mixer to cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the melted chocolate and vanilla extract. Add one egg and beat at medium speed for 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Add the second egg and beat another 5 minutes. The mixture should be light and smooth.

Pour the chocolate into a pre-baked pie shell and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving (I let mine set up for a few hours before adding the whipped cream).

Using a mixer (I sometimes prefer my hand mixer for whipped cream), whip the cream, 1 tsp sugar and 1/4 tsp cornstarch (the cornstarch helps the cream maintain its texture, but don't add too much or it will taste funny!). Spread whipped cream over the chocolate filling. Garnish with shaved chocolate and serve!

Single Pie Crust
From The Baking Bites Cookbook. (I've posted this crust recipe before, but did not include the pre-baking information, so here it is again!)

1 1/4 c flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
8 tbsp cold butter, cut into small chunks
4-5 tbsp ice water (using the food processor, 4 is enough)

Combine your flour, salt and sugar in a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the chunks of butter and pulse until no pieces larger than a pea remain. Add ice water and mix until the dough comes together as a ball. (If you don't have a food processor, combine the butter with the flour mixture using your hands or a pastry cutter.) Form the dough into a small disc, wrap it in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for at least one hour before using.

Prick the bottom a few times with a fork. Line the inside of the crust with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake 25 minutes at 375°, until lightly browned. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, until the edges are medium brown. Cool before filling.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Peach Crumb Bars

Ah, the morning sun on a tray of peach crumb bars. This picture just proves that the light in my kitchen is always weird. I made these last night, so all the other pictures are rather dark. Que sera sera.

Today was the last day of my French class, so we decided to have a party while we went over the final exam. I had ambitious thoughts about making something awesomely French, like a tart tatin, but realized that would involve bringing plates and forks and a sharp knife, and also should be served the day it's baked, which wasn't going to happen. So I made these awesome peach crumb bars instead. These also recommended serving the day they were baked, but I baked at night for a morning function and they still turned out fine.

These bars have the right combination of sweetness and tartness (brought out by the lemon juice). And since they're fruity, they were a great choice for a morning function. And I love crumbs on anything. Who doesn't?

This recipe also gave me an excuse to go to the farmers market and get a big basket of delicious peaches.

I love them. They look so pretty. It's a shame that the fresh, beautiful ones also tend to ripen and then rot in a 36 hour period. Jeff and I have a lot of leftover peaches to eat today . . . unless I make another batch of these bars and freeze them! Maybe I'll even add some raspberries next time . . .

I've never baked with peaches before. They need to be blanched so you can get the skins off more easily. Fortunately, having made many batches of tomato sauce, I was already familiar with that process (described below). It is not quite so easy with peaches as it is with tomatoes, or perhaps a few of my peaches were not yet at the appropriate stage of ripeness to be cooperative. Rather than pull the skin off with my fingers, I had to resort to actually shaving it off with a paring knife (like peeling an apple) with a few of them. Still, in the end there was plenty of peachy goodness to go around.

There still is, actually, since I came home with leftovers. I might need to go downstairs soon and . . . put them away. Yeah.

Peach Crumb Bars
From Annie's Eats.

1 1/2 c sugar, divided
1 tsp baking powder
3 c flour
1/4 tsp salt
zest from 1/2 lemon
1 lb cold butter, cut into small chunks
1 egg
5 c peaches (5-6, depending on their size)
5 tsp cornstarch
juice from 1 lemon
pinch of ground nutmeg

Set a pot of water (large enough to hold your peaches) to boil. With a paring knife, cut a shallow "X" into the bottom of each peach. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. When the water is boiling, add the peaches for 40 seconds to a minute. Remove and place in the ice bath. (This should loosen the skins so they can be removed easily.)

Remove the skins from the peaches (pull with your fingers, although my tougher ones needed to be peeled with a knife). Halve the peaches and remove the pits (I found this very difficult to do once the skins were off, but I think they'd be even more difficult to skin if that were done first). Finally, dice the peaches.

Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease a 9x13" baking pan.

In a food processor, combine 1 c sugar, baking powder, flour, salt and lemon zest. Pulse to mix. Add chunks of butter and egg and pulse until a crumbly dough forms.

Spread half the dough mixture into the prepared pan and press down firmly to form the crust.

In another bowl, combine 1/2 c sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and nutmeg. Whisk well. Gently fold in peaches. Using a slotted spoon (to drain any excess liquid, which could make the crust soggy), spread peach mixture evenly over the crust.

Crumble the remaining dough over the peaches.

Bake for 45 minutes, until slightly golden on top. Cool completely before cutting and serving.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sausage and Spinach Hand Pies

Move over Hot Pockets! There's a new pastry-wrapped meat creation in town!

To be honest, I've never (to my present knowledge) eaten a Hot Pocket, but I still feel secure in my contention that this is far superior.

Wrap anything in flaky pastry and I'm on board. These puppies are good hot out of the oven (not too hot, though, or you'll burn your mouth on some spinach!) or at room temperature for lunch the next day. I've been in class until 12:30 most days lately, so my lunch tends to be eaten in the car on the long drive home. This is a great driving lunch because it only requires one hand (unlike some of the things I've attempted to eat on the way home . . . good thing Route 1 has tons of traffic lights!).

One thing I am changing from the original recipe is the egg wash - for some reason it called for watering down the egg wash. I think that's why our hand pies didn't turn a lovely shade of golden brown on top. Also, the original called for far too much Parmesan cheese on top, so I cut it down. Finally, next time I would roll out my dough more carefully, endeavoring to make actual circles. The odd shapes caused some problems when they were folded over and the edges didn't meet. (I can get away with this while making pie dough because I cut off the unruly edges!)

Sausage and Spinach Hand Pies
Adapted from Cooking Light April 2011.

olive oil cooking spray
2/3 c red potatoes, diced (the recipe says to peel them, but I might not bother next time since I like the skins)
1/3 c red bell pepper, diced
1/3 c yellow onion, diced
2 links Italian sausage, casings removed (I used local Simply Grazin' sausage that I bought at Whole Foods)
3 c baby spinach
2 tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 single pie crust (you could use a store bought crust as the recipe suggests, but I don't see the point since they're so easy to make fresh - the recipe I use is here)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat the pan with cooking spray (please remove it from the burner before doing so!). Add potatoes, bell pepper and onion to the pan and cook 4 minutes, until onion begins to brown, stirring frequently.

Add the sausage and cook 4 more minutes, breaking up the meat as you stir. Stir in spinach and cook 2 minutes, until wilted. Stir in basil, salt and red pepper. Remove from heat.

Cut pie dough into four equal portions. Roll each portion into a 5" circle (like I said above, try to get yours rounder than I did!). Spoon about 1/2 c of the potato mixture into the center of each circle, leaving a 1/2" border.

Fold the dough over the mixture until the edges meet. Bring the bottom edge of the dough over the top edge and crimp the edges to form a rim (I did an ugly job of this - it's not as easy as it may sound).

Place hand pies on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Brush with egg white and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 18 minutes or until golden brown.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Oven-Fried Zucchini Sticks

For a girl who doesn't like zucchini, I've been eating quite a bit of it lately. I've come to accept its presence in stir fries, mixed in with other things I actually like. And it was recently brought to my attention that it is delicious when fried.

Of course, deep frying is not my thing. Using that much oil seems like a waste, and I get enough fat in my diet. But this recipe captures a bit of the crunch of a fried treat without the extra oil. These zucchini sticks are battered, breaded and baked in the oven. The resulting texture is not as crunchy as a truly fried item, but pleasing enough that I kept coming back for more.

If you, too, have zucchini coming out your ears at the moment, this is a fun new way to prepare it!

Oven-Fried Zucchini Sticks
Adapted from Cooking Light's Way to Cook Vegetarian.

1 1/2 lb zucchini
1 c dry breadcrumbs
1/2 c panko
1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2-3 eggs (how many depends on the size of your eggs and the generosity of your dipping)
cooking spray (I used an olive oil one)

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Cut zucchini in half crosswise and cut each half lengthwise into eight to twelve wedges (depends on the thickness of your zucchini - I used two very fat ones, so I went with twelve).

Combine bread crumbs, panko, cheese, salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Add your egg to another shallow dish and whisk (I used one egg at a time, in case just one was enough). Take a wire cooling rack, coat it with baking spray, and place it over a baking sheet (to catch the crumbs).

Dip your zucchini into the egg mixture, then dredge in the bread crumb mixture. Place finished zucchini on the wire rack. Once they are all breaded (or, at least, your first batch - we had two batches), coat the whole tray with cooking spray once again (this is what will allow them to get a little crispy). Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

Serve immediately (they get cold quickly, although I ate them that way, too!) with tomato sauce for dipping.