Tag Archives: vinegar

Zucchini-Grilled

30 Mar

I really like vegetables. Even more than fruit.  Eating seasonally and taking advantage of farm fresh vegetables all year long not only provides great flavor and variety, but eating seasonally is budget friendly. My kids and I are adventurous when it comes to food, so I am challenged to find new ways to cook veggies.

Since it is winter, root vegetables have been the staple lately.  Luckily, my family enjoys carrots, potatoes, squash,beets…all the delicious colorful winter vegetables.  Did I say all?  Um, I meant most.  My kids aren’t crazy about one winter vegetable…brussel sprouts.

My kids tend to delight in normal kid stuff like, well, farts.  Brussel sprouts, closely related to cabbage, are notoriously gas producing.  Shouldn’t that be my number one selling point in adding brussel sprouts to our dinner repertoire?  I mean, what could be more fun than that for my kids….seriously.  With their competitive nature, I see this as a win win food offering, if you catch my drift (waft, hang time…).

And that’s how I tried to sell it to my kids. They know enough to know what a cruciferous vegetable is, and what that produces.  Slow roasted fresh brussel sprouts gently browning in the oven smell, well, cabbage like.  Rats.  That wasn’t going to sell my kids on these delicious sprouts.  Of course my mouth is watering, but the kids are scrunching their nose up.  So in the interest of family peace, I now reserve brussel spouts for when I dine at a restaurant.   So I took the sprouts out of the family dinner rotation, but continue on a quest for a fresh seasonal change.

Still wanting variety, I reverted back to another inexpensive vegetable…zucchini.  I like to roast these with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, with perhaps a few shreds of fresh parmesan.  But on this particular night, I was pinched for time and looking for a quick veggie option.  I still used zucchini, but took it in a super quick and easy direction.

Splitting the zucchini down the middle, I then pulled my cast iron grill pan out and heated it up.  I drizzled with zucchini with olive oil, and onto the grill pan it went.  I seared it much like a piece of meat, not quite knowing how it would end up.   After searing one side, I turned it over and seared the second side.  I then put a bit of fresh parmesan cheese on top.  The result was fantastic.

Grilled zucchini in my (very inexpensive) cast iron grill pan.  It was sizzling and searing.  Yum!

Grilled zucchini in my (very inexpensive) cast iron grill pan. It was sizzling and searing. Yum!

I flipped the fleshy side of the zucchini up and put a little freshly served parmesan on top.  Ooh!  So good!

I flipped the fleshy side of the zucchini up and put a little freshly served parmesan on top. Ooh! So good!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a keeper.  It was super quick, hardly any ingredients, and oh so tasty!  It was beautiful on the plate as well.  So look for variety not only in your food, but in ways to prepare them.

Oh, and  you may want to take a page out of my book and order your brussel sprouts out at your favorite place Saturday night!

 

 

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Resolutions. Really?

18 Jan

So it’s the beginning of the year, and the season of resolutions.  This is the time many folks decide to make healthy lifestyle changes.  People at work are buzzing about losing weight, eating better, detox potions, and avoiding fast food.  And, of course, I am no different.

I do not make new years resolutions.  I do, however, reflect on making  positive changes in the new year.  I too have been making an effort to eat a little healthier since ringing in the new year.  Getting kind of bored with my regular “go to” recipes, I have tried to energize my normal recipe repertoire by trying to put fresh new combinations together.  The other day I came up with a real winner.

I made a super healthy quinoa salad.  One day I took it for lunch at work.  Another day I had it in the morning after my workout for a healthy protein boost.  I do not limit my meals with traditional labels.    If I feel like chicken for breakfast, I eat that.  A bowl of cereal for dinner?  Sure. Why not.  So I enjoyed my quinoa all day.  And it was delicious.

Simple fresh healthy quinoa salad!  Yum!

Simple fresh healthy quinoa salad! Yum!

How did I make it?  I had about 2 cups of leftover quinoa, a handful of shredded carrots, a green onion, a half bag of spinach, and homemade vinaigrette in the fridge.  I tossed it together with a can of rinsed canned beets and Voila!  A healthful flexible meal packed with protein and veggies.  It had a nice crunch, great flavor, and a colorful appearance.

Vinaigrettes are easy to make and even easier to customize to certain tastes.  Want to try one?  Start with this.

  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • 2 T Dijon mustard
  • 1 t. of sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients and stir vigorously with a fork.  Use to dress vegetables or your favorite salad.  Yes, it’s that simple.  I customize this recipe by using different vinegars and different mustards.  Some times I use honey instead of sugar.  If I am in a crazy mood I will add some red pepper flakes to heat things up a bit.

So anyway, this is the vinaigrette that I added to my quinoa salad.  Simple dimple.  And so good.  So as 2015 rolls on, I hope to make some more fresh and healthful dishes.  No resolutions…just a positive change or two.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This ‘n That

16 Jul

The weather is hot.  Summer is in full swing.  It is hot outside, and the air conditioning is blasting inside.  That adds up to one thing…time to take the cooking outside.  Fire up that grill!  Marinate and toss some tuna, chicken or tofu on the grill.  Cook a meal without heating up the house.  Oh, but wait.  There has to be a side dish to go with the delicious grilled food.  Hhhmm.  What is an easy cold refreshing summer side dish?  I have the answer and I just made it!  Try it!

Amy’s Summer Side Quinoa Salad

  • 2 cups cooked and cooled quinoa
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced free onions including green tops
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped arugula
  • 1 cucumber peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 4 ounces feta cheese

Vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 T. honey
  • 1 t. fresh lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Mix vinaigrette and set aside.   In large bowl, combine quinoa through cheese.  Stir.  Add vinaigrette and stir to combine thoroughly.  Cover and refrigerate.  Next step..enjoy!

This is an easy recipe to quickly toss together as a side dish. I had the leftover salad for breakfast the following morning after my morning workout.  It is a nutrient packed salad, and the ingredients can be easily substituted with any veggies on hand. Toss in some of this, a little of that.  Make a this ‘n that salad!  So go ahead!  Keep the energy bills low and take the cooking outside.  Toss this fabulous cold salad together and enjoy!

 

Fresh summer side dish.  Yum!

Fresh summer side dish. Yum!

Dressings just aren’t that hard!

14 Jul

Its time to step up here.  Beautiful summer vegetables are bursting out of gardens and farmers markets.  They can be fixed a million ways.  Vegetables can be steamed, sautéed, roasted, grilled, blanched.  The list goes on, but as the summer steamy weather is also upon us let’s go for something cool and refreshing.  Many veggies can be prepared then chilled, or eaten raw.  When we prepare vegetables that way we can also add a nice dressing.  And they just aren’t that difficult to create.  So let’s get busy!

I have passed along to you my bleu cheese dressing recipe.  Now let’s just focus on a simple vinaigrette.  Vinaigrettes are fabulous on a salad, but also on cold vegetables.  Like cooked fresh green beans?  Try cooking them, cooling them and serving them chilled with a lovely home made vinaigrette.  Once you get the hang of this super easy dressing, develop your own relationship with it, and let it reflect your own personal taste, I promise you will quickly become an enthusiast!  Soon you will be dousing your cucumbers and cold carrots with a light vinaigrette to reflect the season!

First, a word about vinaigrette.  Generally, the base is one part vinegar to 3 parts good olive oil.  You can use a bold vinegar like balsamic, a mild vinegar such as apple cider, or get a little crazy with grapefruit infused vinegar!  But best to start slowly and let your flavors grow and develop as you get the hang of making this.  Also, you can add a little lemon juice to your vinegar. Here we go.

  • 2 T. vinegar
  • 1 t. lemon juice (optional)
  • 6 T. olive oil
  • 1 t. Dijon mustard or dried mustard (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • a pinch of fresh herbs in season, or dried, such as  parsley, chives, or tarragon.

Put vinegar in a bowl.  Whisk the vinegar with a pinch of salt.  This is the time to add your mustard if you prefer it in your vinaigrette.  Whisk until salt is dissolved.  Add other ingredients and whisk until well incorporated.  Sometimes I make my vinaigrette in a jar with a lid and shake it.  That is all there is to it.  Budget friendly, delicious, simple and easy.  Start making yours today.  Dress your salad or cold vegetables and celebrate the season with this chilled refreshing twist!

Pimento Cheese

16 Jan

I moved to the southeastern part of the country about 15 years ago.  I had spent my entire life prior to that living in the midwest.  My culinary roots are steeped in basic farm to table food.  I was not exposed to a lot of different food growing up.  Strictly regional and deliciously 50’s Americana food is what I ate growing up.  When I started cooking, I began with what I knew.  I pretty much nailed good midwestern cooking.  You know, roasts, whole chickens, potatoes, green beans, and the crowning jewel…lumpless rich gravy!   Yummy, but basic.  Which is exactly the way to begin something.  Learn the basics first.  Get some techniques down.  Become confident.  Then stretch your wings!

When I moved to this part of the country,  I read “Gone with the Wind”, a great Southern classic.  A friend had suggested reading something southern in celebration of moving to the southern part of our country.  Yes, its fiction.  But I came from Illinois, the “Land of Lincoln”, and I found that reading this book was a colorful expansion of culture, and a wonderful one at that.  I caught myself up on southern history and southeastern geography as well.  I tried to immerse myself in my new home town in a new and unfamiliar part of the country.  Naturally, that led me to learning about southern food.  In doing so, I discovered a new favorite appetizer.

I had never heard of pimento cheese prior to moving to this part of the country.  I am thrilled to have not only discovered it, but to have a whiz bang recipe for it that I love.  I whip this up quickly and let it sit in the fridge.  Believe me, it does not last long in my house.  We toss it on crackers, slather it on sandwiches, and heat it up in quessadillas.

As with most of my recipes, I do have some secrets that go with this one.  I usually add a tablespoon or two of diced jalapeno peppers to this recipe.  This brings nothing but praise from my teenagers, who tend to  like a little zip in their food.  I also usually mix 1 cup each of 2 different kinds of cheddar cheese, such as a mild cheddar and a sharp cheddar.

Years ago when I began making and tweaking this recipe, I liked to chat about it. You know us foodies…we just have to talk about food!  Anywhooo, I was chatting about pimento cheese with a lovely elderly lady with whom I shared a friendship.  This lady was the epitome of southern charm and graciousness.  Never without lipstick, she had the most beautiful gray hair, always perfectly coiffed.  Her clothes were always perfectly modest and pressed.  She had a lovely lilt to her voice and was proud to have her roots firmly planted in the south.  As I excitedly told her about my new found fondness for pimento cheese, she inquired as to my recipe.  I shared it with her.

Sure my recipe was basic.  I thought it to be a great starting point.  When she heard it, she oh so gently lifted her hand to her mouth and cupped it around her lips.  A secret was about to be revealed!  (Usually ladies do this when they are proudly revealing that they just got an additional 25% off on a new dress, or what the neighbor spent on their new car.  There is an exciting element of collusion when the mouth gets cupped in such a way!).  “Do you add any vinegar to your pimento cheese?” she asked with raised eyebrows and a proud little smirk.  Why no, I said.  A little thrill went through me and I asked her how much to add.  She held her hand up like she was holding a bottle of vinegar.  She then gestured tilting of the bottle to a quick 2 count and said that was how much to add.  Brilliant!!

So my pimento cheese evolved simply into what it is today.  I don’t want to jazz it up too much so it holds true to what it is.  But adding the vinegar is fantastic, as is adding the diced peppers.  Try it and tell me what you think!  Bon appetite!

Amy’s Pimento Cheese

  • 2 cups freshly shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4-1/3 cup mayonnaise -do not use salad dressing
  • I small jar pimento, undrained
  • 2 T. white vinegar
  • Salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate.  This gets better as it sits in the fridge, but it sure doesn’t last long!   Use as desired!

Rub the Butt!

19 Jun

I was born and raised in the midwest.  My family has deep midwestern roots.  I grew up on midwestern type food.  I consider midwestern food to be “farm table” food, like roasts, late summer sweet corn, casseroles, and fresh vegetables (canned all winter long).  Wait…was that my moms 70’s housewife menu or midwest fare?  No idea, but it was all I knew!   So when I moved to the southeastern part of the country, I had a lot to learn about regional foods!

Barbecue in North Carolina is a regional food that I knew nothing about prior to moving to North Carolina. But there’s more.  Evidently it’s not simply “North Carolina” barbecue. There is western North Carolina barbecue and eastern North Carolina barebecue. Wow!  So much to learn!

Barbecue sauces and techniques vary in the great state of North Carolina. There is a red sauce, much like the barbecue sauce that I grew up with, resembling ketchup.  Then there is a vinegar based sauce, somewhat translucent, that is completely new to me. Growing up, the only time I even had barbecue sauce was when it was slathered on baked chicken or in a “sloppy joe”.  And it was always commercial bottled sauce.  So clearly my knowledge and experience was somewhat limited.  But that has certainly changed!

In North Carolina, the barbecue that I have become familiar with and started cooking is pulled pork. So I started at the beginning: the cut of meat to use. From my research, experimentation, and dining pleasure, I discovered that I needed to get a pork butt, with a six to eight pound butt being sufficient for my purposes.  As a true foodie, I have jumped on this bandwagon big time!  Something that starts out with a big butt is bound to be loads of fun!

Now that I had my butt, I was ready for the next step…giving it a good butt rub!  And that is what I did.  I love to cook from scratch, and I know enough about seasonings that I was able to get a solid dry rub together.  I used cayenne pepper, season salt, black pepper, chili powder, paprika, dry mustard, sugar, and a surprise ingredient!   I used a dash of instant coffee granules.  But don’t tell!  It’s my secret!

Another secret…I rub my butt the night before, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and toss it in the fridge.  The next day, 6 or so hours before I want to serve it, I unwrap the butt, set it in my big black cast iron skillet and put it into a 300 degree oven. I have also done the butt in my slow cooker, but like the oven for a better texture.  The grill is the best option though!  Afte, I simply use 2 forks to pull the meat apart, put it on a plate, and stand back!  Add baked beans, some crisp slaw, soft sandwich buns, and it’s barbecue time.  Well, at least my novice level type!  Make it and they will come!

Oh yeah…back to the barbeque sauce.  I am now a huge fan of the vinegar based barbecue sauce.  I have played with the following ingredient combinations to make my vinegar sauce: vinegar, mustard, ketchup, sugar, garlic, and some red pepper flakes.  So delish!  I like my barbecue sandwich wet and sloppy, so I drench it in the vinegar sauce,  toss slaw onto my sandwich, and don’t bother with a napkin till the end.

I would like to “hog” credit for developing these recipes and techniques, but truth be told I have had my wonderful companion Denis (thankfully a fellow foodie) in the kitchen too, contributing, tasting, and adding.  Credit also goes to both of our families, parents and kids alike, for offering up that coveted closed eye “moaning moment” when eating our barbecue.  The “food moan”, along with mouth stuffed muffled dinner conversation, is a positive sign.  At this point, I won’t attempt to catapult myself to any sort of barbecue aficionado status. But happily am on the right road.

Post Script:  A word to the singles out there.  This is not a good 1st date meal.  Like s’mores or ribs, barbecue just doesn’t work when trying to look cute.  1st date cute.  Nope!  Hold out a bit for this pulled pork barbecue.  This is a flat out down and dirty, sloppy, finger licking meal.  Know your dining companions before attempting this!