Grilled Peach, Arugula and Burrata Salad

I’m going to start right of with a confession.  I absolutely love peaches in almost any form.  (Well, not canned, but any other form).  Ang and I were recently out to dinner with friends and we had a variation on this salad that was so good that I had to come home and try it myself.  It is comparatively easy and absolutely delicious.

Ingredients

  • Four Ripe Peaches, Halved
  • One Store-Bought Bag of Mixed Greens (preferably a mix containing arugula)
  • One Pint (two medium ‘pillows’) Buratta Mozzarella Cheese
  • ~1/4 Cup plus 3 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 3 TBs High Quality Sherry or Champagne Vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat your grill to medium hot.  Place halved peaches in a large mixing bowl and toss with 3 TBs olive oil.  When the grill is hot place the peaches skin side down on the grill.  For fun, watch them dance around.  Grill for approximately 10-15 minutes.  (The grill caramelizes the sugars in the peaches and gives them a deeper flavor). Remove the peaches from the grill and immediately submerge in an ice bath.  (“Blanching” the peaches stops the cooking process and will make it very easy for you to do the next step).  Peel the charred skins off of the peaches.  (don’t worry if you can’t get it all off).  Do this no more than 1 hour before you serve the salad or the peaches will lose their juices and flavor.

Cut the peaches into a rough dice (about 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces).

In a salad bowl combine the greens and the peaches.  Cut the burrata into bite sized slices (the loose middle will run out and you don’t care) and toss it lightly into the salad.  Dress with some of the olive oil (you won’t need the whole quarter cup) and the vinegar.  Add a pinch of salt and a few turns of your pepper mill and serve.

If you’re into wines, this pairs brilliantly with one of the new style (ML) Sauvignon Blancs from Napa Valley.

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Don’t Be Afraid of the Fire!

Grilling is a great summer pastime.  What I think is funny is that there are a lot of folks who grill, but who seem to have an aversion to open flame.  Squirt bottles, grills that promise no flare ups, and lots of other gadgets have been created, essentially to keep a grill from being a grill.  Here’s a little secret, the grill’s secret to great flavor, caramelization, is high heat.  In a high heat situation your grill will create fire.  Fire, in and of itself isn’t bad.  Don’t panic.  Just know your foods well (the higher the fat content the better your food will respond to a little flame) and make sure you don’t ever leave the grill for too long.

These marinaded lamb chops are perfect for a little fire and a very hot grill. Keep an eye on them or you will quickly have lamb charcoal!

Last night I made a family favorite, Lamb Chops or as we call them, Lamb Lollipops.  We buy the lamb by the rack from Costco.  Two racks feeds my family of four – but we’re lamb piggies.  Their lamb, like all of their meats, is tender and excellent.  I make a simple marinade of Balsamic, Worcestershire, Dijon, Italian Herbs (dried) and olive oil.  I’ll give you the recipe in a second.  Before I put the lamb on the grill I make sure the temperature (from the external gauge) is right around 500 degrees.  When I put the lamb on the grill I know it will flare up.  I want it to.  This makes me happy.  I am Og, the fire eating caveman.  Perhaps its a return to my man roots.  Bones, Meat and Fire!  Yum!

Sorry – digression there.

Brushing a little of the reserved (unused) marinade on the lamb makes a great final touch. Brushing some of the used marinade on the lamb makes you sick. (that’s bad).

I turn the chops about 3 minutes after I put them on the grill and they’ll be done about 3 minutes after that (to medium rare – which any real lamb aficionado will tell you is the only temperature at which lamb should be served.)  Alongside of the lamb, another family favorite is grilled Asparagus.  I just toss this in a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar and then toss it right on the grill.  If you cook the lamb first you can cook the Asparagus while the lamb is resting.  While my inner Og isn’t so sure about the vegetable, my metro 20th century male mind is very proud of myself for making a healthy vegetable side dish.  A little salt and pepper and they’re ready to serve.

Ready in about five minutes, grilled asparagus is a great accompaniment to the lamb.

Lamb marinade:

  • Two heaping tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (cooking grade)
  • 1/3 cup worcestershire (Yay!  I spelled that right on the first try!)
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic (right out of the jar)
  • 1 tsp dried Italian Herb mix – I prefer Spice Islands blend.
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup non extra virgin olive oil

Set aside about 3/4 cup of the completed marinade to baste on lamb as it finishes cooking.

In a medium sized mixing bowl mix the four first ingredients together.  While whisking, drizzle in olive oil in a slow and steady stream to create an emulsion.  (essentially to combine the olive oil and the other ingredients in a way that they won’t separate.  Watch Alton Brown on the food network if you want to know how this works).

Cut lamb apart along the ribs and lay out on a sheet of foil.  Season liberally with salt and pepper, patting the spices into the lamb.  In a mixing bowl or Pyrex baking dish, marinade the ribs separately for 30 minutes to 2 hours.  (Do not use a gallon sized zip lock as the lamb bones are prone to pierce these and you don’t want marinade and lamb juice all over your fridge.)

Heat your grill to 500 degrees and quickly distributed chops on the grill.  Flame may (hopefully) occur.  (most of this will initially be the olive oil in the marinade, but this will quickly start to melt the fat in the lamb chops).  Keep an eye on the chops.  Yellow fire is good.  Red fire is getting too hot.  Using a pair of long tongs (I prefer OSO Good Grips) turn chops after about 3 minutes, redistributing as necessary since any grill has warmer and cooler sections.  The more heat and flame your lamb is exposed to the more the fat will render and the more flavor you will experience when you eat them.  Yum.

For Asparagus.

Two grocery store bunches of Asparagus is good for a family of four.  I break off one of the stalks to see where it becomes tender. (Consult any of a million cookbooks on the topic).  Then I cut all of the rest of the stocks to that length.  If I’m having company I may use a vegetable peeler to peel the asparagus and I may not.  It depends on how much I like my guests.  Once they’re cut I just put them in a big mixing bowl and toss with some balsamic (cooking grade), olive oil – EV or not doesn’t matter, and salt and pepper.  When the lamb comes off of the grill I toss these on the grill.  Flame may happen.  This is good.  Make sure you put the asparagus on the grill across the grates or it will all fall through.  Don’t laugh.  I’ve seen this happen.  (right in front of me as it were).  Turn the asparagus after about two minutes and then turn again.  Taste one for doneness.  I take them off the grill while they’re still a little underdone.  They’re so hot that they will continue cooking.

Serve and Enjoy.  (leave your club outside).

Perfect Grilled Steelhead (or Salmon) Explained.

There are two foods in particular that I do a really good job on.  (If I do say so myself!)  Chili, which I only make once a year for Halloween, and Grilled Seafood, Salmon in particular.  My method for cooking great fish is pretty simple.

Season the fish heavily with a seafood oriented spice mix. (My favorite is “Trinity” from Penzey’s Spices).

The first step is to season the fish pretty heavily.  It’s going to go on a VERY hot grill and most of this will burn off.

If you know my secret, you can easily turn this and leave great grill marks!

The second step is to lay the fish down on a very clean and very hot grill flesh side down (Skin Up) for about three minutes.  In fancier restaurants they’ll usually cut into the skin several times (at intervals) to insure a crispy skin.  Since we’re going to leave it on the grill I don’t do this here.

Once the fish is turned, leave it until you begin to see the fat bubbling through in the thicker parts of the fish.

Once the fish is turned, the third step is to cook it until you begin to see the internal fats coming up through the thicker parts of the flesh.  This will yield a perfect, medium rare to medium finish.  Shaving the fish off of the skin on the grill (putting just the flesh on your platter) will save you a step inside and make it really easy to portion the fish.

So what’s the real secret?  Pam.  Simply “Paming” the flesh side of the fish (over your seasoning) AND the grill will make it very easy to flip the fish with those nice grill marks.  You don’t need too much on the fish and it will ALL burn off if your grill is hot enough.  Simple Pimple.

The last step is to serve the fish immediately.  While I don’t mind Salmon at various temperatures, when it’s dinner I like it hot.

Enjoy!

 

 

BS Breasts… a technique for Flavorful Chicken Breasts

I hate boneless skinless chicken breasts.  I like chicken with skin.  I like the fat, crackle, salt, FLAVOR, that comes from the skin.  My favorite chicken to cook, outside of a whole roasted chicken, is the “Split Breasts” available from most markets.  In a future post I’ll share my technique for barbecuing these so they’re perfect.  This post isn’t about that.  It’s about my least favorite kind of chicken; boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

Here’s the thing.  All of the good reasons to eat this food are all of the good reasons why it’s bad.  (From here on out in this post I’m going to call these BS Breasts, simply because I like the sound of that).  Let’s dissect a boneless, skinless chicken breast.  Ready?  They are made up of very lean chicken meat.  That’s it.  Extremely little fat, no connective tissue, no bones, no nothing.  Therefore, they have very little flavor and no natural tenderizers.  When most people cook them they turn out like semi soft hockey pucks.  Yuck!

It’s easy to make them better and the really good news is that all you need is a mallet, an ounce of aggression and a gallon sized ziplock bag.

Technically speaking there are really two problems with BS Breasts.  They have very little flavor-carrying surface area and they are so protein rich (and thick) that they get tough and dry easily.  How do you solve that problem?  It sounds like crazy talk, but pound them out flat.  This increases the flavor-carrying surface area geometrically and it also thins out the protein, making it much less likely that it will be tough.

Here’s a method for preparing these that we call “Dad’s ‘I’m Tired Tonight’ Chicken.”  It’s pretty close to foolproof.  (Which IS actually to say that if you mess it up, you’re a fool…. which is fine so long as you don’t tell anyone.)

Recipe.

  • BS Breasts.  (If you’re the plan ahead type you can buy these frozen for a fraction of the cost of the ones in the deli counter).
  • Seasoning.  Really anything you want, salt and pepper, chicken seasoning, cajon seasoning, fajita seasoning, whatever.
  • Olive Oil
  • Not essential but sometimes nice, lemon juice, flavor infused vinegar (those pretty bottles people give you that you don’t know what to do with)

Method

Heat a grill or large skillet to very hot…

Working one at a time, put the chicken breasts in a gallon sized ziplock bag.  Squeeze out all of the air and zip the bag shut, leaving about 1″ open at one end.  DO NOT SEAL THE BAG!  IT WILL POP OPEN IN A BAD PLACE AND SPRAY RAW CHICKEN ALL OVER YOUR KITCHEN OR YOU.  Use a rubber mallet from a hardware store, your fist, or one of those fancy kitchen mallets with a smooth side, to pound the chicken into a uniform 1/4″ thickness.  It will be surprisingly big.

Do this with all of your BS Breasts.

Drizzle liberally with whatever Olive Oil you have and then season.  (Heavily for the grill, not quite as heavily for indoor preparation.)

With either your grill or your skillet (Big flat frying pan for the uninitiated) fire cracker hot (I like my grill in the 500 degree range for this) lay the flattened breasts down and let them cook for about 1 minute.  If your grill flares from the olive oil, all the better.  Turn them over and let them cook for another two minutes.  No longer.

Drizzle with a little more of the olive oil and your reserved lemon juice or vinegar mix, slice into nice sized serving pieces and serve.  You will never just cook the whole damn BS Breast again.  Ever.  For anything.  I promise.

BTW – leftovers are perfect for salads, pastas, sandwiches, pretty much anything you might want to make chicken for…

Great, Simple, Pesto

We had our friends, Dan and Janci Farwell, over for dinner the other night.  After some go around about whether or not Janci eats fish (it turns out she does but that she doesn’t like Shellfish.  I don’t think this is really ‘outing’ her so I’m leaving this whole tangent in here unedited …  Living on the wild side!), we decided to have grilled Salmon for dinner.

The next step was figuring out how to make it special.  I’ve made Salmon many different ways.  The other night I made it and made a sauce with leeks, english peas, white wine, a little lemon and light cream that was really good.  On this day I thought about doing the same but decided I’d rather not deal with trying to park at Trader Joes so I could run in and pick up leeks and english peas.  Hmmm.. What to sauce the Salmon with?

Whenever I’m at a loss I find the nearest cookbook or Bon Appetit and flip through it for inspiration.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  On this day I saw a restaurant review that mentioned Salmon with a pesto sauce.  Brilliant!  I had everything I needed.  Off to the races.

Never start a race unless you know you have what it takes to finish.

I had two of the three ingredients I needed.  I had Basil and I had Garlic.  However, my stash of frozen Pine Nuts was inexplicably missing from the freezer.  (Pine nuts left in your pantry will go rancid quickly so if you want to save them, freeze them).  Curiously, it had been replaced by someone’s stash of Thin Mints.  Thin Mints won’t work in Pesto.  I thought about the Chefs on Chopped and decided I was not one of them.  I could not make garlic, basil and Thin Mints into a sauce.  So, now I was off to the store to buy pine nuts.  (I should add that once in the car I briefly thought about going to Trader Joes to get leeks and english peas but I ruled that out when a light turned red.)

When I laid the Salmon down face down on the grill Dan was very skeptical that I would be able to turn it.  When I did he dropped to his knees and kissed my ring.  (this may or may not be an exaggeration).  I divulge this trick in another recipe involving grilling Salmon here on the blog but suffice it to say that when you do it your friends will be impressed.

Now the pesto sauce … Yum.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Ounces Fresh Basil leaves.  (You cannot use dried for this recipe).
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 10 Garlic Cloves or Two-Three TBs crushed garlic
  • 1/4 cup very fresh extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine all of these ingredients in a food processor (17,000 italian chefs just rolled over in their graves because you are supposed to use a mortar and pestle.  However if one is not handy or you simply want to go faster just use your food processor – the blender looking thingy with the REALLY sharp blade.  No one can see those guys turning over in their graves anyway!).  Anyway, combine all ingredients in the food processor and pulse until everything is finely chopped – but not paste.  Taste it and add salt and pepper until you like it.  Try not to eat it all.  You’ll have to go back to the market.

During the last five minutes of cooking the Salmon (use the recipe elsewhere on the blog for cooking the fish) spoon the pesto onto the top of the fish.  Serve immediately with extra pesto on the side.  Receive the adoring accolades from your guests with grace.

Grilled Salmon with Herb, Mustard Sauce

Salmon topped with mustard, herb sauce, 4HB beans and sauteed asparagus makes a nice Sunday night dinner.

Grilled Salmon is a staple around my house.  I’ve gotten pretty good at cooking it over the years and it turns out with just the right combination of crunchy exterior and silky texture.  I got a new cookbook from our friends, Al and Debbie Frank, The Summertime Anytime Cookbook, based on the menus at  Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, California and authored by their executive chef, Dana Slatkin and I wanted to try out some of the recipes.  This is the first one.  Pretty good.

I’m not afraid of using cookbooks.  In fact, I use them all the time.  You’ll notice the page is dog-eared.  There are many pages in this cookbook that I’ve marked for recipes I want to try.  When I get a new cookbook I sit with it and a cup of coffee on a Saturday morning and go through it and mark everything that looks good.  Then I leave it out for a couple of days to remind me that there are dishes to try and when the time is right, yippee, I get to try something new. (I don’t ordinarily say yippee…)

Grilling Salmon is pretty straight forward, though I do use one big trick.  The first step is to dust the fish liberally with seasoning.  I use a mix from Penzey’s called Trinidad.  It is a lemon and garlic mix that has great flavor for seafood.  Since this is going to go on the grill, the Salmon needs to be coated pretty heavily with the seasoning, otherwise it will all burn off.  This recipe called for a sauce made with whole grain mustard, a dry white wine, a shallot, dill and thyme. I didn’t have a Shallot.  I used about 1/4 onion and 1 teaspoon garlic as a substitute since shallots basically taste like garlicky onions.  For this one, since the recipe is in a newly on the market cookbook I’m going to say, if it sounds good, buy the cookbook.  You should.  There are a number of recipes in this cookbook that look really good to me so it’d be worth it.

Now down to grilling the Salmon. Like I said, there is one big trick that I use when I’m cooking Salmon.  Ok.  Well, two or three actually.  The first is pretty simple…  Heat the grill to really hot. You’ll note that my grill temp is over 600 degrees!  I know, I know… That’s gonna burn the fish like crazy.  Only, it’s not.  You’ll see.

The next step is going to sound crazy.  I don’t know when I first tried it.  It would have sounded crazy to me too.  Spray the top of the fish liberally with PAM cooking spray. I know what you’re thinking.  Jim’s gone off the deep end. PAM?  Yes. Here’s why.  It has very little flavor and it is actually formulated to be slippery.  When you put the fish down on the grill, skin side up, you’re going to be glad you did this because you’re not going to want that fish to stick.

Lay the fish flesh side down on the grill for two to three minutes.  Using a large, sharp spatula lift and turn over the fish.  It will be nicely caramelized on the top.  Then close the grill and let the fish cook for four to five more minutes for medium rare.  (6 or 7 if it is thicker). Then, using the sharp end of your spatula, cut the fish off of the skin, leaving the skin on the grill.  (with as much oil as is in Salmon it will quickly catch fire and pretty much burn up (making disposal easier).  Serve on a warm plate with the sauce on the side.

For a much simpler sauce, melt four tablespoons of butter and combine with the juice of one lemon and 1/2 teaspoon of dried basil.  (this can be done in the microwave).  Pour over fish and serve…

You'll want to serve the fish right off the grill. So getting all of your sauce ingredients ready ahead of time will speed the finishing process.

Starting the salmon skin side up will make great grill marks on the top...

Use a sharp spatula to shave the fish from the skin, leaving the skin to burn up on the grill.

The Best Steak

We like Ribeye steaks.  You might like New Yorks.  We like bones, you might not.  No matter what, this recipe will work for you. Whichever cut you prefer buy at least USDA Choice.  If you have company coming over splurge and buy Prime.  There is a BIG difference.  Prime will be more tender and will have less imperfections such as gristle.  There are a lot of arguments about corn fed vs grass fed and organic, etc.  All of those things are up to you.  For most family dinners I buy the grocery store USDA Choice Ribeyes and I promise that our family dinners are better than most…

On the grill.  There are different schools of thought here to.  Tom Colicchio knows his way around a steak.  He doesn’t like flames near his meat.  (My favorite steakhouse in Las Vegas is his “Craft Steak” in the MGM).  I like char and flame.  A little burned is good for me.  Emeril likes them this way too as does Bobby Flay (and my second favorite restaurant in Las Vegas is Flay’s Mesa Grill in Caesar’s Palace).  For this reason I heat my grill to hot.  Nearly 600 degrees, before putting the steaks on.  I want a good crust.  Not burned, just nicely grilled and fire is a part of that process.  (It also helps me get in touch with my inner caveman … but that’s for another blog).

Ribeye Steaks, generally one less steak than you have people is enough.  (OK – like 2 for 3, 3 for 4.  I never grill less than two steaks).

Sauce

  • 1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar:  Buy cheap balsamic vinegar at Trader Joes if you’re lucky enough to have one.
  • 2-3 TBs Dijon Mustard   That’s Tablespoons. More if you like mustard more.  Less if you like mustard less.
  • 1/2 tsp dried Thyme .  That’s like a healthy pinch.
  • 1 tsp Kosher Salt.   (a really healthy pinch)
  • 1 tsp Fresh ground black pepper.   (several hearty turns of the grinder)
  • 2 TBs Worcestershire Sauce.   (I only use Lea and Perrins because the flavor is nice and deep).
  • 1/4 cup Olive Oil plus more for drizzling… (for this recipe it doesn’t matter if it’s Extra Virgin or Regular)

Snider’s Barbecue Seasoning  This is available at Barbecue’s Galore and many other places.  If you can’t get it nearby, get it online.

Heat the grill to HOT.  (If you have a thermometer between 500 and 600 degrees).

Remove the steaks from the packaging, rinse and pat dry.  Place dry steaks on a large sheet of foil.  Drizzle some of the oil on each steak and spread evenly with your hand.  For this method, using a “wet hand,” “dry hand,” technique where you only get one hand “dirty” with the meat and spice is a good idea.  Generously sprinkle the Snider’s seasoning on each side of the meat.  (Remember that a lot of this is going to burn off in the cooking process so don’t worry too much about too much … er – you get my point.)  Wrap the steaks back up in the foil and place in the refrigerator.

In a small mixing bowl whisk together all of the ingredients of the sauce accept for the olive oil.  Then add the olive oil to the sauce in a very slow even pour while you are whisking merrily away.  It is important that you are actually merry during this step or the sauce won’t work.  What will happen is that the olive oil and the other ingredients will combine into a single sauce instead of staying separate.  It’s called an emulsion – but that term tends to scare most guys as it’s too close to an emOtion, which is a much different thing.  Some guys get emotional about their emulsions.  But not me… Anyway.

When everything else is pretty much ready to serve it’s time to grill your steaks.  Use Tongs.  Not a fork or a spatula.  OXO Good grips makes great, long tongs that come in handy in the kitchen or on the grill.  They cost about $10.  Buy a pair.  Do not buy those silly oversized barbecue tongs.  They’re worthless.

On a clean (brushed) grill, add the steaks directly over the hottest part of the fire.  Close the lid.  Wait about 30 seconds.  Long enough for two considered swallows of your beverage of choice.  Open the grill.  You should have fire.  Do not panic.  Wait about 1.5 minutes and then flip the first steak, leaving it over the flames.  If it is nicely grilled go ahead and flip the other steaks.  If it’s a little light then let the other steaks sit for a little longer.  Once all of the steaks are flipped, use a basting brush to coat the tops of each steak with the sauce.  Shut the lid and wait for fire again.  Let the steaks grill for about another 2-3 minutes for medium rare to medium.  Do not cut the steaks, poke the steaks, or in any other way molest the steaks.  Leave them alone.  Turn them one more time, now resting them on a different part of the grill, and coat one more time with the sauce. Close the grill for another minute or so.  Open the grill and remove the steaks to a clean serving plate.

Let the steaks stand for at least five minutes before carving.  Carve across the grain into 1/4-1/2 inch strips. Put a little of the extra sauce in the bottom of your serving plate (which should be the same plate as the one you put them on when they came off the grill – with any accumulated juices) and then put the sliced steak on the plate.  Don’t be fancy.  This is steak.

Enjoy…