Spring Thanksgiving

Maybe because we’re so grateful that spring has finally arrived, we had a springtime version of Thanksgiving dinner last night.  I’ve been roasting chicken about once a week for years now, and although it’s always delicious, I decided to give my husband that “variety” he’s always asking for (I hope he’s talking about dinner).  Last night, I roasted a turkey breast, which is just as easy and might make the house smell even better than roast chicken.  Roast turkey breast requires less preparation than chicken, too.  I rinsed it, dried it with a paper towel, drizzled it with olive oil, salt and pepper and cooked it for two hours.  No tying legs together, stuffing or getting that gross bag out of the cavity.  I used a fresh turkey breast instead of frozen, but I’m sure frozen is just as good.

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Inspired by the chive situation in our garden, I made the Creamy Chive Potatoes from the latest issue of Bon Appétit to go with it.  These are so good.  I can’t decide if they taste like a sophisticated showcase for the chives, or cafeteria potatoes that you’re a little embarrassed to love.  They’re creamy and starchy and fresh at the same time.

I also made a spinach salad with dried cranberries, walnuts and feta cheese and a basic red wine vinaigrette.

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We loved it so much, we’re planning Christmas in May.

– Catherine

If You Grill It, It Will Come

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This weekend was the first one that felt like Spring in SoJo this year.  I don’t know if that has more to do with weather patterns or the fact that we grilled twice; I like to think we played a part in ushering in the warmer weather.  On Saturday, we had shrimp tacos, which can be made in under 30 minutes and everyone loves.  The hardest part about shrimp tacos is peeling and deveining the shrimp, but it’s so worth the effort this step takes instead of buying frozen.  I found fresh (not previously frozen) Gulf Shrimp on Saturday and knew instantly what we would be having for dinner.

This dinner is as easy as stringing the peeled and deveined shrimp on skewers, brushing them with olive oil, squeezing fresh lime juice over them and then dusting them with homemade blackening seasoning (I use this recipe for the rub).  I let this “marinate” for 15 minutes or so, just long enough to get the grill hot and then grilling them just until done, no more than 2-3 minutes per side.

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While the shrimp are grilling, I use my tortilla skillet to get the tortillas ready.  I don’t know what the original intention of this cast iron skillet was, but it’s the perfect size for these new uncooked tortillas you can find anywhere, and make the whole meal so much better.  After buying these tortillas, I’ll never go back to buying the cooked, doughy version that develop a gummy texture when you heat them up.

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My parents gave me this skillet, and I’ve looked online to determine what that number 8 (or B?) represents, but I haven’t figured it out yet.  My theory is the 8 denotes the number of tortillas you can get perfectly crisp and full of air bubbles while your shrimp are grilling.

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After the shrimp and tortillas are done, the rest of the meal is just condiments:  thinly sliced cabbage, guacamole, cotija cheese (or ricotta salata), diced tomatoes, avocado, cilantro and salsas, green and red.  Everyone can prepare their own tacos, making them as spicy as they like.

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Then on Sunday, we ate a quintessential Spring meal:  grilled chicken, coleslaw and potato salad.  Growing up, I loved coleslaw, but only at home.  The creamy version that other mothers made with mayonnaise tasted very foreign to my mother’s coleslaw.  Her coleslaw, made with a bracing vinaigrette was the perfectly crunchy, refreshing side dish to my dad’s black chicken.  (Yes, you read that correctly,  not “blackened” chicken, black chicken.  That’s a whole other post).  Because coleslaw is such a summertime food, I’m always puzzled at the creamy versions; who wants to put that on a picnic table under the hot sun to wait for the chicken to turn a perfect shade of black?  Not to mention that my mother’s version is so much healthier than those creamy versions.

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I hate to focus so much on why my mother is so much better than yours, so I’ll turn the focus to my husband, and why his grilled chicken is way better than anything your husband could make.  My husband doesn’t do much cooking, but his marinated grilled chicken is the indisputable favorite in our house for grilling occasions.  His marinade is one of the few recipes he has hand-written on a piece of scrap paper from a barbecue he went to sometime in the years after college and before meeting me.  I picture him at that barbecue, drinking a beer and politely turning down an offer to go out with a Victoria’s Secret model because he just wanted to wait to find “the one”, who I’m sure he described to his friends as being a lot like me.  (He assures me I’m much better looking than a Victoria’s Secret model; as long as mile-long legs and bouncy hair aren’t your thing.)

For the potato salad, there is no better recipe than Cook’s Illustrated’s French Potato Salad, which is actually a Julia Child recipe.  So, although you might not agree with my assertion that my mother and my husband are better cooks than those in your family, I think we can all agree that no one beats Julia.  Follow this recipe to the letter and you’ll never make potato salad another way again.

– Catherine

Not Your Mother’s Coleslaw, My Mother’s Coleslaw

1 small head cabbage, any color, thinly sliced (I use the food processor and the slicing attachment)

In a large bowl that you plan to serve the coleslaw in, whisk together a basic vinaigrette of 2 tsp whole grain Dijon mustard, 1/4 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar and just over 1/4 cup grape seed oil, salt and pepper (you want an acidic vinaigrette, so it’s about equal parts of vinegar to oil).  Add sliced cabbage and toss together until coated.  Shredded carrots are delicious in this coleslaw, but I didn’t have any this weekend.  Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Not Your Husband’s Grilled Chicken, My Husband’s Grilled Chicken

2 parts soy sauce (we use a little more than 1/2 cup for four to six large chicken breasts)

2 parts olive oil (my husband insists on olive oil, but I use canola because it’s cheaper and I don’t think the flavor of the olive oil comes through at all)

1 part white vinegar

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 Tbsp sugar

Whisk all ingredients in a container large enough to marinate your chicken.  Add chicken and marinate for at least one hour, up to six.  Discard marinade after removing the chicken.

Cook’s Illustrated French Potato Salad, from The New Best Recipe Cookbook All-New Edition

Serves 6

If fresh chervil isn’t available, substitute an additional 1/2 tablespoon of minced parsley and an additional 1/2 teaspoon of tarragon. For best flavor, serve the salad warm, but to make ahead, follow the recipe through step 2, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Before serving, bring the salad to room temperature, then add the shallots and herbs.

2 pounds red potatoes (about 6 medium or 18 small), scrubbed, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

2 tablespoons salt

1 medium clove of garlic, peeled and threaded on skewer

1 1/2 tablespoons champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)

1 tablespoon fresh minced chervil

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

1 tablespoon fresh minced chives

1 teaspoon fresh minced tarragon

1. Place potatoes, 6 cups cold tap water, and salt in large saucepan; bring to boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium. Lower skewered garlic into simmering water and partially blanch, about 45 seconds. Immediately run garlic under cold tap water to stop cooking; remove garlic from skewer and set aside. Continue to simmer potatoes, uncovered, until tender but still firm (thin-bladed paring knife can be slipped into and out of center of potato slice with no resistance), about 5 minutes. Drain potatoes, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water. Arrange hot potatoes close together in single layer on rimmed baking sheet.

2. Press garlic through garlic press or mince by hand. Whisk garlic, reserved potato cooking water, vinegar, mustard, oil, and pepper in small bowl until combined. Drizzle dressing evenly over warm potatoes; let stand 10 minutes.

3. Toss shallot and herbs in small bowl. Transfer potatoes to large serving bowl; add shallot/herb mixture and mix gently with rubber spatula to combine. Serve immediately.

Breakfast for Dinner

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Last night, we ate my kid’s favorite dinner, which is not dinner at all.  Breakfast for dinner is very popular in our house, especially after discovering Cook’s Illustrated’s Challah French Toast recipe a few years ago.  You know how when you go to a great brunch place on the weekends and order a mimosa and a specialty French Toast with some sort of amped up, fruit-laden syrup and it tastes so much better than any French Toast you could ever make at home?  Well, we don’t do that anymore.  This French Toast recipe is so good that I think any starchy pancake or French Toast order while out at brunch (or a diner in New Jersey) is a waste of a someone-else-is-cooking experience.  Better to let someone else do the really complicated stuff, like eggs Benedict, while we’re out.

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Breakfast for Dinner at our house is usually Challah French Toast, bacon and yogurt parfaits, made by layering yogurt, any berries we have on hand and granola.  My oldest daughter said last night, “We’ve been eating lots of healthy things, so we deserve a treat.”  She’s four.  Then my husband called and said he was leaving his office “shortly”.  I reminded him that last night was Breakfast for Dinner night and he came home immediately.  He’s not four.

Cook’s Illustrated Challah French Toast, from The New Best Recipe All-New Edition

Though thick-sliced challah is best for French toast, you can substitute high-quality, presliced sandwich bread. Flipping challah is easiest with tongs, but a spatula works best with sandwich bread…To vary the flavor of the batter, add ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon or ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg with the dry ingredients, or substitute almond extract for the vanilla.  (Note:  I’ve doubled the recipe.  This comfortably feeds four for dinner.)

2 large eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cup milk
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
8-10 slices day-old challah, ¾ inch thick,
or 12-16 slices day-old high-quality sandwich bread
Unsalted butter for frying
(1 tablespoon per batch)

Heat a 10- or 12- inch skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, beat the eggs lightly in a shallow pan or pie plate; whisk in the melted butter, then the milk and vanilla, and finally the sugar, flour and salt, continuing to whisk until smooth. Soak the bread without over saturating, about 40 seconds per side for challah or 30 seconds per side for sandwich bread. Pick up the bread and allow the excess batter to drip off; repeat with the remaining slices.

Swirl 1 tablespoon butter in the hot skillet. Transfer the prepared bread to the skillet in a single layer; cook until golden brown, about 1 minute 45 seconds on the first side and 1 minute on the second. Serve the French toast immediately. Continue, adding 1 tablespoon butter to the skillet for each new batch.

…but eating 23 is surprisingly easy.

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Andra’s right, eating 50 eggs is difficult.  But by the time we eat our sandwiches for lunch today, we will have eaten 23 (two dozen hard-boiled eggs, save one that the cook ate to ensure they were cooked perfectly).

How, you ask?  That’s four sandwiches for lunch yesterday and because my kids went to bed without dinner last night (on Easter??  Yep, we’re that mean), my husband and I ate them for dinner as well.  Our Monday After Easter menu is shaping up to be pretty spectacular:  lamb, rosemary potatoes, asparagus, and any remaining Easter candy for dessert.

I’m sure Andra’s Egg Salad is delicious, but I’ve never eaten hers while fuming over the behavior of a 4 and 2-year old.  My egg salad pairs nicely with kid’s Easter candy.  Trust me.

– Catherine

Egg Salad For a Rough Easter

23 hard-boiled eggs

1 cup mayonnaise

2 stalks celery, finely diced

8 teaspoons whole grain Dijon mustard

8 teaspoons lemon juice (about two lemons)

1/4 teaspoon celery seed

2 Tbsp chopped dill

Kosher salt (about 1 tsp)

Ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and use a potato masher to break up eggs until coarsely chopped.  Serve with fresh white pita or ciabatta bread with watercress or any crunchy lettuce.

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