Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Cola-Grilled Flank Steak with Fritos Chilaquiles

Coke-Marinated Flank Steak over Fritos Chilaquiles

Do you need a minute here?  A minute to process this?  It's crazy, I know.  When I told Joey what I was making for dinner, he asked if it was a "gas station food challenge." It was not. But what it was, was an irresistible recipe that I couldn't stop thinking and daydreaming about from the moment I saw it.  I have a not-so-secret love of Fritos, so Fritos, cooked in salsa?  Uh, yeah.  Sounds right up my alley.

This was a really fun dinner, and one that I would actually love to serve to company.  How kitschy  and cute is this?  A big platter of Fritos cooked in salsa, topped with a sweet and spicy grilled steak?  It's a little out there, but in the best way possible.  What a conversation starter this dinner is!

Because this is from Food and Wine, they give a wine pairing recommendation, but I'm hard pressed to serve this with anything other than a jack and coke or a forty of beer. ;)

Coke-Marinated Flank Steak over Fritos Chilaquiles 

Cola-Grilled Flank Steak with Fritos Chilaquiles
adapted from Food and Wine
serves 4 to 6

  • 4 cups of coca-cola, preferably made with cane sugar (instead of HFCS)
  • 1 Tbs This green curry paste
  • 1 jalapeño chiles, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 lbs flank steak, trimmed and cut lengthwise and crosswise to make 4 steaks
  • 1 Tbs canola oil, plus more for brushing
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups salsa verde
  • 8 oz Fritos, divided
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 avocados, diced
  • 3 Tbs Cotija or queso fresco cheese
  • lime wedges
In a 9x13 inch baking dish, whisk the coke with the green curry paste and jalapeños.  Add the flank steaks and turn them several times to thoroughly coat them with the marinade. Allow to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.  

Meanwhile, light and prepare the grill.  

Remove the steaks from the marinade and brush with oil and season generously with salt and pepper.  Grill, turning once, until medium-rarre, about 6 to 8 minutes total.  Transfer to a cutting board, tent loosely with foil, and allow rest for 10 minutues.

As the steaks rest, prepare the chilaquiles.  

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the salsa verde and bring to a simmer.  Cook until slightly reduced and thickened, about 4 minutes.  Add half of the fritos and cook, stirring constantly about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat, stir in the remaining fritos, along with 1/4 cup of the cilantro and half of the avocado and cheese.   Transfer the chilaquiles to a platter.

Sice the steak thinly across the grain, and arrange it over the chilaquiles, along with any accumulated juices.  Scatter the remaining avocado, cilantro, and cheese over top, and serve with lime wedges.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Macaroni and Cheese-Stuffed Zucchini Boats

Mac and Cheese Stuffed Zucchini Boats

Oh boy.  There's a lot to love about these babies.  Creamy, cheesy, mac and cheese baked inside tender, sweet zucchini?  Yeah, sign me right up.

Just because there's half a zucchini in every serving, I'm not fooling myself (or you guys) into thinking this is healthy.  BUT.  It is built in portion control.  And there's a serving of veggies along with your carbs and cheese.  Thus, it's not the most indulgent calorie bomb in the world, but rather a nice treat that you don't have to feel super totally guilty about enjoying.  Really you can use any mac and cheese recipe you'd like; I'm just sharing what I did this time… but feel free to mix it up or add some extras!  Bacon would be great, as would tomatoes, shredded zucchini, chicken, or an infinite number of cheeses as well.

My kids are mac and cheese aficionados… er, addicts.  So I fully expected them to just scoop out the mac and cheese and leave the zucchini, but surprisingly, they ate up the zucchini as well!  I've made countless variations of stuffed zucchini - sausage and cheese, chili, enchiladas, etc.  The mac and cheese was a new one for me, but it's definitely going into my rotation.  Do you have zucchini coming out of your ears these days?  If so, stuff it with some mac and cheese!

Macaroni and Cheese-Stuffed Zucchini Boats
inspired by Melt, by Stephanie Stiavetti & Garrett McCord

  • 3-4 medium zucchini (about 3 lbs)
  • olive oil, for brushing
  • 5 oz elbow macaroni or other small pasta shape
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 tsp dry mustard powder
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tbs flour
  • 1 cup milk or half-and-half
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 oz Swiss or Gruyere cheese, shredded
  • 3 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Halve each zucchini lengthwise, and use a large spoon of scrape out the seeds and filling, leaving a thin border on all sides.  Brush the inside lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Arrange in a single layer, cut side-down, on a baking sheet or 9x13 inch baking dish.  Cook 5 to 7 minutes, and remove from the oven.

Decrease the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook until just al dente, about 8 to 9 minutes (or according to the package instructions).

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the garlic, shallot, mustard powder, and cayenne pepper and cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute.  Add the flour and cook, again, stirring constantly, until the flour is golden-brown, 2 to 3 minutes.  Slowly pour in the milk, whisking constantly.  Bring to a simmer, reduce heat, and cook until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 4 minutes.  

Remove from heat and stir in the cheese, one handful at a time, until it's melted and the sauce is smooth.    Reserve about 1/4 cup of the shredded cheese for topping.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Stir in the cooked pasta.

Using a large spoon, fill each zucchini boat with the macaroni and cheese, and arrange the boats in a single layer in a 9x13 inch baking dish.  Sprinkle the reserved cheese over the top.  

Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until the mac and cheese is bubbly and the zucchini is tender and cooked through.  Serve.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Okra-Cornmeal Cakes with Whipped Goat Cheese

Okra Cornmeal Cakes with Whipped Goat Cheese and Black Eyed Pea Salad

I'm not always the best at "going with the flow, " and I don't particularly consider myself to be easy going.  I like order.  I like plans.  And I like to know what's coming and what to expect.  I only like surprises if I didn't know the surprise was coming (as in, don't tell me "I have a surprise for you!"  and then make me wait!). Oh, right.  I'm also impatient.

Thus, cooking on the fly is not really my thing.  Sure, I make up and develop my own recipes, but it's always with a plan in place already, or at the very least, a general idea of what I'm going for.  Never do I start cooking dinner without having at least a vague idea of what I want to end up eating.

Okra Cornmeal Cakes with Whipped Goat Cheese and Black Eyed Pea Salad 

 But maybe I should.  Because that's what I did when I created this dinner.  I picked up a bounty of beautiful produce that morning at the farmer's market, with no real intention or plan for any of it.  I knew I wanted to make a veggie-heavy dinner that night, but that's all the direction I had.  So I started by cooking my black eyed peas and chopping some veggies.  I thought about making some sort of bean burger with the black eyed peas, a southern vegetable risotto, a hash topped with a runny egg, or a simple veggie-heavy salad.  But then I struck gold when I recalled these okra-cormeal pancakes I've had saved for ages.  And I thought they'd go well with my black eyed pea salad.  I was done!  Or so I thought… I'd picked up a wheel of the most amazing aged goat cheese that morning at the market, and I decided to incorporate that as well.

I ended up creating a napoleon of sorts… or rather, stacks of deliciousness if you don't want to use fancy terminology.  Buttery, crisp okra cornmeal pancakes, topped with whipped goat cheese and black eyed pea salad… repeat layers.  Absolutely incredible, and for sure one of the highlights of my summer cooking.   This dinner totally hit the spot, and we were exclaiming and "mmm-ing" with every bite.  My picky toddlers even ate the pancakes, okra and all!

So lesson learned:  sometimes it's nice to loosen the reigns a bit, and just cook through improv. And while I'm at it, maybe I should apply that same advice to my life.  It can't hurt, right?!

Okra Cornmeal Cakes with Whipped Goat Cheese and Black Eyed Pea Salad 

Okra-Cornmeal Cakes with Whipped Goat Cheese
cakes adapted from Basic to Brilliant, Y'all; Whipped Goat Cheese from Smitten Kitchen

  • 2 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 Tbs melted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups water, plus more if needed
  • 8 oz okra, stems trimmed, sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • 1 jalapeño, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • canola oil, for frying
  • 3 Tbs heavy cream
  • 4 oz goat cheese, softened
  • black eyed pea salad
Line a baking sheet with paper towels or a lint-free kitchen towel, and set aside.  

Prepare the batter by whisking together the cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.  Combine the egg, butter, and water in a large liquid measuring cup.  Pour into the dry ingredients and whisk until just incorporated.  Add the okra, jalapeño, and garlic, and stir to combine, using a wooden spoon (The batter is thick, but not dry.  Add water if needed, a few tablespoons at a time).

Heat half of the oil over medium heat in a 12-inch skillet, preferably cast iron.  Scoop 1/4 cup of batter into the skillet, and use the back of a spoon or the measuring cup to press the batter into an even layer.  Repeat with more batter to make as many pancakes as you can fit into a single layer without crowding (likely 3-4 per batch).  Cook until the bottoms of the cake are brown and bubbles begin to form on the tops, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Use a spatula to turn the cakes, and cook on the second side, an additional 2 to 3 minutes.  Transfer to the lined baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and repeat with the remaining batter and oil.  

Meanwhile, use an electric mixer to whip the heavy cream until peaks form.  Add the goat cheese and beat until the cheese is light and fluffy.

To assemble, spread about a tablespoon of the whipped goat cheese on an okra cake, and top that with a spoonful of the black eyed pea salad.  Repeat with another okra cake, more goat cheese, and finally a healthy spoonful of salad.  Serve.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Summer Tomato and Black Eyed Pea Salad

Summer Tomato and Black Eyed Pea Salad 

I'd like to introduce you to one of my favorite dishes of all time.  This salad is pretty much on repeat for me all summer long.  Fresh black eyed peas are one of my favorite summer treats, and they really shine in this salad.  The creamy peas, fresh tomatoes, sweet corn, and tangy vinaigrette all come together in perfect summer vegetable harmony.  I make a big batch of it to go with dinner one night, then eat it in various ways throughout the week - as is, over greens for lunch, over chicken or fish, rolled up into a wrap with turkey and cheese, and my personal favorite, as a salsa with tortilla chips for a snack.  Most recently I used this salad in an absolutely killer dish, and I'll be sharing the details of that later this week!

This salad is not only versatile, but the flavor combinations are endless as well.   As written here, it is very simply and neutrally seasoned, but I sometimes like to use lime juice, cilantro, and add some jalapeños to the mix as well.  I've also been known to mix in a little crumbled bacon.  A huge variety of veggies work well here too -- green beans, okra, shredded zucchini, bell peppers… really anything you find at the farmer's market this time of year will work beautifully.  What grows together, goes together!

Summer Tomato and Black Eyed Pea Salad
barely adapted from Bon Appétit,Y'all, by Virginia Willis

  • 3 ears of corn, shucked
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen black eyed peas (or lady peas, or any other field pea)
  • 2 large tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 sweet onion, preferably Vidalia, finely diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup basil, chopped
  • 3 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the corn and cook until tender, 2 to 3 minutes.  Use tongs to remove from the pot, and drain them on a paper towel-lined plate.

Return the water to a boil and add the black eyed peas.  Simmer until they are tender but not mushy, 15 to 20 minutes (cooking time will depend on their freshness, so start checking by tasting around 12 to 15 minutes).

Meanwhile, use a sharp knife to cut the corn kernels off the cob.  Place them in a large bowl, and add the tomatoes, onion, celery, garlic, and basil.  

Once the peas are cooked, drain them in a colander and rinse well with cold water.  Drain them very well, shaking to remove as much water as possible, then add them to the bowl with the other vegetables as well.

To make the dressing, whisk together the oil, mustard, and sugar in a small bowl.  Whisking constantly, slowly stream in the oil.  Season with salt and pepper.

Gently stir the dressing into the salad, taste, and season with additional salt and pepper as needed. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Grilled Shrimp and Summer Vegetable Panzanella

Grilled Shrimp and Summer Veggie Panzanella 

This summer has brought about a new family tradition.  On Friday evenings, we meet a few other neighborhood families at the pool, grill our dinner, and engage in general merriment with the kids.  It's something that I very much look forward to all week long.  Because I am who I am, I spend most of the week thinking about what we'll grill and eat, what cocktail I'll mix up, and what we'll eat for dessert.  Sometimes we go simple - burgers or hotdogs, chips, and watermelon.  Sometimes we go REALLY simple and order pizza.  And sometimes I get inspired and end up creating one of my favorite dinners of the summer.

Obviously I'm talking about this salad.  I planned to use my favorite recipe for grilled shrimp, and serve it alongside a simplified zucchini and corn salad, along with some grilled garlic bread.  In a moment of inspiration, I turned it into a grilled shrimp and bread salad.  I was so excited and enamored with the final dish that I made it again a few days later.

This was not only a big hit with Joey and me, but it was a huge hit with the kids as well .  They were especially obsessed with the grilled shrimp and bread, and couldn't get enough.

I have revamped and remixed my chopped summer veggie salad in several ways, spanning numerous cuisines and seasons, but this may be my favorite yet.  When I've made this, I just keep it to the veggies, shrimp, and bread, and leave out the grilled romaine.  I certainly think it would be a great addition though!  If you're looking for a side for this salad, I'd recommend that you keep it simple - a plate of sliced tomato with salt and pepper is perfection here!

Here's to summer grilling and dinner at the pool!


Grilled Shrimp and Summer Veggie Panzanella

Herb-Grilled Shrimp
adapted from Ina Garten
  • 1 1/2 lbs large shrimp, peeled and deveined, but tails left on
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, minced
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh black pepper
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 lemon, juiced
Combine all the ingredients and toss to coat the shrimp.  Allow to marinate at room temperature for 1 hour, or in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
Summer Vegetable and Grilled Bread Salad
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for dressing
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • zest of half a lemon
  • 2 ears corn, husk and silks removed
  • 3 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick planks
  • 6-8 slices baguette or other crusty bread (I used a roasted garlic loaf and it was really really good!)
  • 2 Tbs chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 2 oz)
Prepare the grill to cook at medium-high heat.  Allow to preheat at least 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the oil, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes.

Brush the zucchini, bread slices, and corn with the oil mixture. Reserve the remaining oil mixture to use for the dressing.

Clean the cooking grate, then place the zucchini, corn, and bread slices on the grill.  

For the corn, grill, turning every 2 to 3 minutes, until the kernels are lightly charred all over, about 10 minutes total.

For the zucchini, grill it until it is well-browned and tender (but not mushy), about 4 to 5 minutes per side.

For the bread, grill it 1 to 2 minutes per side, or until it is lightly charred.

Meanwhile, prepare the dressing.  Add enough oil to the remaining oil-garlic-pepper mixture to reach a volume of 1/4 cup, then whisk in the lemon juice.  Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.

Prepare grill. 

 Thread the shrimp on skewers.

Grill the shrimp for about 2 minutes, then flip skewers and grill until cooked through, an additional 1-2 minutes.  Remove from the grill and cover lightly with foil as you prepare the rest of the salad.

Once everything is off the grill, begin building the salad.    Cut the kernels off the corn and add them to a large bowl.  Cut the zucchini crosswise into 1/2 inch-thick slices, and add those as well.  Slice or tear the bread into bite-sized pieces.  Crumble the feta into the bowl, and top with the chopped basil.  Drizzle the dressing over the top, then toss well to combine.  

Divide among plates, then lightly sprinkle each serving with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Top each serving with several shrimp, and serve.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Grilled BLT Tostadas

Grilled BLT Tostadas

My favorite summer meal is a simple one:  a BLT sandwich, watermelon, and chips.  Because I love the BLT combo so much, I like to try out different variations and vehicles for the B, the L, and the T.  Thus, when a mexican-inspired BLT was brought to my attention, I'm pretty sure I gasped aloud and headed straight into my kitchen to whip it up.

This ingenious dish comes from none other than the Mexican food genius himself, Rick Bayless.  So it comes as no surprise that it is absolutely amazing and out of this world good.  These are also super quick and easy, which is another requirement for an ideal summer meal.  


Corn tortillas are brushed with bacon fat (yes!), then quickly grilled to crisp them up.  You slather them with an avocado-lime cream sauce, then top with tomatoes, crumbled bacon, and cilantro.  Finish with a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of fresh lime juice, and you have Mexican BLT perfection.  I served these with grilled Mexican street corn, watermelon slices, and of course watermelon margaritas.  No Mexican summer meal is complete without those!  This was one of my favorite dinners of the summer, and one I'll for sure be making many times before fall!

The avocado cream sauce makes more than you'll likely need, but you can store it for a few nights in the refrigerator (just know it may discolor a bit).  The leftovers are great for making… more BLT tostadas, proper BLTs, or just using as a dip for veggies or tortilla chips.


Grilled BLT Tostadas
adapted from More Mexican Everyday, by Rick Bayless
serves 4 to 6
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 1 cup Mexican crema* 
  • juice of 1/2 lime, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
  • 1/2 an avocado, roughly chopped
  • salt
  • 6-8 slices thick-cut bacon, cut cross-wise into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 lb heirloom tomatoes
Prepare the grill to medium-high heat.

Meanwhile, lay the tortillas in a single layer and let them dry for about 30 minutes.  This will help them crisp up on the grill, rather than fall apart.

As the tortillas dry, combine the cream, lime juice, jalapeño, cilantro, avocado, and 1/4 tsp salt in a food processor or blender.  Puree until the mixture is smooth and creamy.  Taste and adjust the lime juice and salt to your preference.  Scrape the cream sauce into a bowl, cover, and set aside.

Cook the bacon in a large skillet, stirring often, until it is crispy and browned.  Use a slotted spoon to remove it from the skillet and drain on a paper towel-lined plate.  Pour the fat into a small heatproof bowl and set aside.

Core the tomatoes.  Choose one tomato (probably the largest) to slice, and slice into 1/2-inch slices.  Seed and chop the rest of the tomatoes.  

Brush the tortillas on both sides with the reserved bacon fat.  Transfer them to the grill and cook, turning and rotating every 30 seconds or so, until the tortillas are golden brown and crisp.  This will probably take 5 to 10 minutes.  

Remove the tortillas to a serving platter, and spread each one with  avocado sauce.  Top with the sliced tomato, and sprinkle with bacon, cilantro, and diced tomatoes.  Lightly sprinkle each tostada with salt, and a squeeze of lime juice.  Serve immediately.

*a half-and-half mixture of sour cream and mayonnaise can also be used here, but try and find crema if you can!  My local Kroger and Publix both carry it, for what that's worth!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Porch Swing

The Porch Swing

I'm feeling a little rusty as I sit down to write this post.  Two posts on June, two in May… things have been quiet around here.  This summer has been quite busy, and I just needed to step away and focus on my family and other obligations for a bit.  But what better way to make my triumphant return than with a festive drink?

I never thought I'd see the day when my beloved margaritas were replaced as my go-to summer cocktail of choice.  But here we are!  I've made this drink countless times over the past month or so, with no signs of stopping.  It's so low-maintenance and easy too -- no prep work, just pour, mix, drink!


I realize the name "The Porch Swing" gives no insight into the drink, so here's what we've got:  gin, Pimm's No. 1 (which is a liqueur), lemonade, a splash of sprite, and cucumber garnishes.  It is super light and refreshing, and is actually somewhat reminiscent of sweet tea -- which is definitely a win in my book!  While the combination might seem a little strange, it totally works.  After seeing me make these for a few weeks, Joey got curious and asked me to mix one up for him too -- and he totally loved it!  That's huge for him because he doesn't like gin or cucumbers.  I usually make them one at a time, but I'm also including the measurements for a pitcher as well, which makes them party-ready!

If you're looking for a fun cocktail to serve at a cookout for the Fourth, then this one would be great.  And on a related note, I'll be back later this week with some festive menu ideas for the holiday as well.

Cheers to Monday!


The Porch Swing
barely adapted from Mix Shake Stir

makes one drink
  • 1 1/2 oz gin
  • 1 1/2 oz Pimm's No. 1
  • 4 oz lemonade
  • ice
  • 3 slices cucumber, cut into half-moons
  • splash of sprite, 7-Up, or ginger ale
  • fresh mint, for garnish
In a tall glass, combine the gin, Pimm's, and lemonade.  Stir well, then fill the glass with ice.  Add the cucumbers, top with a splash of soda, stir, and enjoy!

makes enough for 8 drinks:
  • 1 1/2 cups gin
  • 1 1/2 cups Pimm's No. 1
  • 4 cups lemonade
  • 1/2 cucumber, sliced and cut into half-moons
  • ice
  • sprite, 7-Up, or ginger ale
In a large pitcher, combine the gin, Pimm's, lemonade, and cucumber.  Mix to combine, then chill until ready to serve.  To serve, fill glasses with ice, fill most of the way with the drink, and top off each drink with a splash of soda.