winging it… again

The most highly anticipated day of any football lovers year is right around the corner. Frankly, I don’t like football. Nope, not at all. Sure I’ve been to Giants games. Sure I’ve drunk beer, eaten pretzels and cheered for big blue. Sure I’ve asked “Who’s winning?” on many a Sunday afternoon. But in all honesty, there’s nothing about the sport that appeals to me. However I realize I’m in the minority (particularly at this time of year) and so I make an effort to pretend to care.

I had planned on this years effort manifesting itself as some out of the box delicious Super Bowl Sunday treat. I would tell you a long-winded story about it, give you the recipe and close the book on yet another football season. But karma got in the way. You see last week I was busy bragging to anyone that would listen about how my entire family was sick but me. And how I fully attributed my reigning health to the super green smoothies I drink everyday. The universe is a funny thing. Don’t let it see you getting too full of yourself or before you know it… playing fields will be evened. (Did you catch that little hook back into football? I know, I’m good.) Anyway, the universe is now having a nice little chuckle at my expense because this week I’m living on Jakeman’s cough drops and sound like Harvey Fierstein. Yeah, karma really is a bitch. Instead of giving you something new and fabulous, I’m reposting last years Super Bowl entry along with my recipe for Grilled Asian Wings— and I’m going to make myself a cup of tea.

So until next season… May your teams be tough and your balls fully inflated!”

PREVIOUSLY POSTED ENTRY: It seems to me that Super Bowl Sunday has very little to actually do with football and a lot to do with Clydesdale commercials, half-time wardrobe malfunctions and trashy food you would never ordinarily consider eating. You know the kind I’m talking about— bowls of melted velveeta and salsa served with Fritos (hmm, who knew they still made Fritos?) piping hot pizza bites and mini hot dogs (I’m sure there’s not that much MSG in them, right?) and of course deep-fried wings with a side of bottled blue cheese dressing (limp celery stalks optional). But before you get the wrong impression here’s the thing… I happen to like wings. In fact there’s a coal-fired pizza joint nearby that makes the most delicious caramelized onion and rosemary wings that I like to order with a side salad. So you see it’s not the wing itself I take issue with, it’s the prepackaged, deep-fried, preservative laden aspect of your typical trashy wings I dislike. If I’m going to eat a wing I want some thought to have gone into it, some consideration for the flavors in combination with the cooking method. I want someone to have given that wing a little love long before it ever hits my plate.

While I don’t have a coal-fired pizza oven, I do have a gas grill and a Weber cookbook, which as it turns out is all I really need. A few pounds of wings, some Asian ingredients, a little grill time and voilà… Delicious without apology wings. I realize as I type this that the temperature outside is only 18°F, not exactly standing at the grill weather. I have but one thing to say about that—

Toughen up buttercup. This is football!

Grilled Asian Wings
These are delicious and far less guilt inducing than your typical wings.

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1 medium leek, halved and sliced thin
2 tsp. Thai red curry paste
1/2 cup tamari soy sauce
5 tbsp. dark brown sugar, packed
4 tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar
4 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
3 tbsp. fish sauce
3 tbsp. peeled, grated fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 lbs. chicken wings, tips removed

  1. Add all the ingredients (except the wings) to a medium bowl and stir to combine. Pour all the marinade except for 3 tablespoons into a large ziploc bag, place the wings in the bag and seal tightly. Turn the bag to insure all the wings are coated and allow to marinate for an hour.
  2. Prepare your grill by brushing the cooking grates clean and heating the grill to 350°F.
  3. Carefully oil the grates and grill the wings over medium heat, with the lid closed, until they are well browned and cooked through (turning them several times), 15 to 25 minutes.
  4. Transfer the cooked wings to the large bowl and drizzle with the reserved marinade. Serve warm and… Go team!.

*adapted from weber

spaghetti squash vs. carnivore casserole

I’m not typically one to make new year resolutions. Instead I like to use the dawning of the new year simply as a time of reflection. Recently I’ve been reading a considerable amount about the power of the plant. Articles talking about how tiny microgreens and blue-green algae are total nutritional powerhouses and the overall health benefits of a more plant-based diet. This got me to thinking and thinking got me to deciding that 2015 should be the Greco family’s “Year of the Vegetable”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not totally giving up meat. I still fully plan on curing and smoking another slab of bacon when the weather warms up and I’ll never say no to a pastrami sandwich from The Deli King of Clark, but I feel like we could all benefit from a little more of nature’s candy and a little less of nature’s inhabitants.

Since I’m already such a veggie lover this undertaking really shouldn’t be that great of a personal challenge, no the trick will be getting my family to switch to the green side. Of course knowing full well the reaction it would get, I didn’t discuss this plan with them. Instead I’ve decided to be stealth about it; add a few more veggies to soups here, some greens braised there, fresh fruit smoothies in the morning with a few carrots added in “just added for color” and lentils and beans more often for some good ‘ol fashioned non-meat protein. My plan was coming together nicely, I was subtly reducing their meat consumption while upping their vegetable intake and they were none-the-wiser. But then I got greedy. I few too close to the sun. I messed with the bull without expecting the horns. I was drunk with power and made a casserole of spaghetti squash, kale and smoked mozzarella… and I expected them to eat it. I was wrong.

My son ate most of his but not before declaring it “seriously not worth making again”, my daughter on the other hand couldn’t even muster than much of an endorsement. Instead she made a wild-eyed retching pantomime, waved her arms frantically and ultimately consumed about two forkfuls before flat out stating that she was DONE! I however thought it was delicious. Seriously… really, really good. And my husband agreed with me. (Of course I was angry with him at the time, so there’s a strong possibility he just may have been trying to get on my good side.) Anyway I honestly thought it was delicious and totally worth a repeat performance, but there’s a chance I may be alone on this one.

So the moral of this story is never be afraid to try something different and… You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make a carnivore love spaghetti squash casserole.

Baked Spaghetti Squash with Kale and Smoked Mozzarella
This was really delicious. Really.

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1 4 lb. spaghetti squash
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, diced fine
4 garlic cloves, minced
9 oz. frozen chopped kale, defrosted
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups spaghetti sauce (homemade or jarred)
16 oz. fresh smoked mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup fresh parmesan cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, remove all seeds and place on a rimmed baking sheet face down. Add some water to the bottom of the baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Keep the oven on.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the onions and minced garlic and saute for 4-5 minutes or until onions are translucent. Add the chopped kale, salt and pepper and continue cooking another 2-3 minutes, until kale is tender. Remove from heat.
  3. Once squash is cool enough to handle, use a fork to shred the squash into large bowl. In a medium bowl whisk the eggs. Add to the eggs the Greek yogurt and 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese. Add the egg mixture to the squash strands and stir to combine.
  4. Pour 1 cup spaghetti sauce into a large baking dish. Spoon some spaghetti squash mixture over the sauce and spread evenly. Then add a layer of sautéed kale and onions over the squash, then half of the shredded mozzarella cheese. Top with another layer of squash, then kale, another cup of spaghetti sauce, the remaining mozzarella and finally the last of the Parmesan cheese.
  5. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until bubbling and nicely browned on top.
  6. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.*

*I’ve found that the longer the spaghetti squash is allowed to sit and cool, the less watery it ends up.

the grateful guest

I love party planning; the recipe research, list making, ingredient shopping and tabletop setting. Sure it’s a lot of time, work and money but what can I say— I truly enjoy that meal savored, compliments accepted, pots n’ pans washed feeling of a dinner well done. But ya know what I like even more? Occasionally being the guest rather than the host. Yup you read right, sometimes I prefer to be responsible for nothing more than a hostess gift and a side, rather than the whole shebang. Seriously. Instead of missing out on conversations because I’m stuck in the kitchen, watching the clock like a hawk to ensure that everything comes out hot, washing and packing back away countless pots, pans, dishes, glasses, platters, bowls, napkins and tablecloths… I get to drink wine, nibble on appetizers, chit-chat and relax.

So you may be wondering, what do I bring when the opportunity to be a grateful guest should arise. Well I’ll tell you. I like to bring a bottle of wine, something I know the host will enjoy whether they decide to open it at the gathering or not, and a dish that requires minimal serving effort. There’s nothing worse than having someone show up at your house with a contribution, that in theory is intended to make the dinner easier on you, but in reality requires elaborate assembly and/or preparation. For me the answer is always something that can be made at home, transported easily and (ideally) served at room temperature. Something like a cheese platter, a salad of some sort, dessert (a total no brainer) or an array of crudités and dips.

People love dip, it’s an undeniable fact. Give them something to dunk, dip or slather and they’re happy as clams. And why not— its easy, unpretentious and personally… makes me think of childhood. As a product of the 70’s I have fond memories of old school Lipton Onion Soup Dip served alongside a big ol’ bag of greasy crinkle potato chips. Man, it really didn’t get much better. I would never consider going the Lipton route now but I’m fairly confident that if I did, it would get devoured in no time flat. (Because let’s be honest— corn syrup, hydrolyzed soy protein, caramel color, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, monosodium glutamate and yeast extract may be unhealthy, but they’re just as yummy as they were in 1978!)

When I bring a crudité platter I like serve it with a couple of homemade “healthy” dips. Hummus is always an option and sometimes guacamole, but when I want to switch things up a bit I make Rosemary White Bean Dip or a super simple Feta & Lemon Dip. They’re delicious, can easily be doubled and the leftovers makes great sandwich spreads. I haven’t discounted the idea of attempting to create a healthy/from scratch version of everyone’s beloved Lipton Onion Soup dip, so keep your eyes out for that sometime in the near future. However something tells me that no matter how tasty it turns out, it just won’t compare to my MSG tinted memories.

Rosemary White Bean Dip
The rosemary flavor is very subtle, so even if you’re not a huge fan don’t omit it.

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5 lg. garlic cloves, smashed
4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 fat sprig of fresh rosemary
3 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 can Great Northern Bean, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp. plain Greek yogurt
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
crudités, chips or crackers, for serving

  1. In a small skillet warm 2 tbsp. of oil until it shimmers. Add the smashed garlic and rosemary and sauté until the garlic is golden brown. Remove the rosemary spring and discard, add the garlic and oil to the bowl of a food processor.
  2. Add to the food processor the remaining oil, lemon juice, rinsed beans, yogurt, salt and pepper.
  3. Allow to process until the mixture is completely smooth. Transfer to a serving dish and allow to chill before serving.
  4. Serve with crudités, chips or crackers.

*adapted from serious eats

Feta + Lemon Dip
Seriously simple.

8 oz. block feta cheese
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, smashed
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
lemon zest, for garnish
drizzle of olive oil, for garnish
crudités, chips or crackers, for serving

  1. Break the feta into chunks and place in the bowl of a food processor along with the lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil. Process until smooth and fully combined.
  2. Spoon into a serving bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with a bit of fresh lemon zest.
  3. Serve with crudités, chips or crackers.

*adapted from sweet paul magazine

spicy beet greens with chickpeas

My children have been away with their grandparents for the better part of the past two weeks. The first week with one set, the second with the other. That’s right, we’ve been childless for nearly 14 days. Just typing that makes me feel slightly woozy. FOURTEEN DAYS KID-FREE. (I know, the gods are clearly smiling on me.) So what you may wonder have I been up to? Well… I’ve been putting in some serious hours at work. I’ve done a significant amount of chillin’ on the deck. I’ve read a book. We met friends for drinks. I went shopping without anyone asking me “Are we almost done? How many more things do we need to buy?” We went to the movies (an advance screening of The Hundred Foot Journey to be precise). We went out to dinner. I did not watch a single TV show that revolved around Bart, Marge, Maggie and Homer, a family of British pigs who love muddy puddles or that famous duo Elsa and Ana. I got a pedicure. We actually talked to each other (imagine!) and we made things for dinner that the kids would never want to eat; Garlicky pesto over linguine, salmon with a balsamic glaze, lamb burgers with tzatziki, giant bowls of steamed mussels and one night we went totally vegan— beet greens, chickpeas, Habanero chilies and tofu with coconut milk over brown rice. Yup, I’m not kidding.

I eat vegetables everyday. Not because I think I should or because they’re good for me. I eat them daily because I love them. My family doesn’t exactly share my passion for Mother Nature’s candy, but the kids will eat baby carrots and garden fresh cucumbers for a snack, they love mashed turnips and grilled asparagus and only grumble minimally when I make grilled squash or string beans. But they draw the line at greens. Sure they can handle collards with bacon, but an arugula salad or god forbid sautéed spinach or beet greens… totally out of the question. My husband, who can deal with nearly anything but cauliflower, has come to accept that life with me involves much more than meat and potatoes.

Anyway back to the vegan meal… I stopped at the store on my way home one night thinking I’d make a coconut milk and brown rice number with some of the leftover veggies I had at home; A few bunches of fresh beets with greens that needed to be eaten, some Habanero peppers leftover from the mussels night and cherry tomatoes from my garden. I already had brown rice and chickpeas in the pantry so all I needed was coconut milk and shrimp and we’d have dinner in a flash. The shrimp ended up being both expensive and pathetic looking, totally not worth buying. I needed an alternate plan. I still wanted to add a bit more protein to the meal, but it needed to be something that required minimal prep and cooked quickly. That something turned out to be tofu. I think of tofu is a rather innocuous ingredient. It really doesn’t lend much by way of its own flavor but it’s more of a sponge for the other flavors in the dish, and it’s high in protein. So I sliced and diced, sautéed and deglazed, simmered and served and guess what… It was delicious. And vegan. And while my dearest did comment that “It would be better with sausage.” he cleaned his plate nonetheless.

The kids will be back tomorrow and while I have thoroughly enjoyed their absence, I’m ready for them to come home. I know this will mean listening to their bickering, watching their dopey kid shows and answering 50 million times the question “How many more bites do I have to take?” But I’m ready for them to return all the same.

And if you ever remind me that I said that, I’ll completely deny it.

Spicy Beet Greens with Chickpeas and Tofu 

Deilsh and vegan. Who knew… 

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1 tbsp. coconut oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
a handful of cherry tomatoes, diced
3 Habanero peppers, seeded and julienned
3 tbsp. lemon juice
15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
greens from two bunches of beets, stemmed and julienned
14 oz. can coconut milk
2 tsp. salt, divided
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
brown rice, for serving
fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until it becomes translucent. Add the garlic, ginger, tomatoes, Habanero peppers and 1 tsp. of salt and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. Add the lemon juice to deglaze then pan then add the chickpeas and beets greens. Stir to coat well with the onion mixture and allow to cook until the greens have just begun to wilt.
  3. Add in the coconut milk, remaining teaspoon of salt and ground cinnamon. Bring the mixture to a simmer then turn down the heat to low and cook for 5-10 minutes or until the chickpeas just begin to soften.
  4. Serve over brown rice and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.

spring into chimichurri

After having endured a longest, coldest, harshest winter of memory, Spring couldn’t come soon enough for this girl. Cool mornings, warm afternoons, flowers blooming, birds chirping, the world seeming to suddenly come back to life as if overnight. Just the mention of Spring makes me feel relaxed; like the burden of boots, coats and scarves has been lifted. But wait, what’s that falling from the sky? Snow… in April… Are you kidding me!? And that sound, is that rain? And rain and rain and more rain. WTF Mother Nature— because we haven’t been through enough? Seriously girlfriend, you suck. But I digress…

Regardless of the type of Winter I’ve just lived through, Spring is always a welcome season in my book. It’s fresh, green and full of promise. It makes me want to be outside, to simply slow down and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature rediscovering the world. Spring always makes me think of herbs and herbs make me think of pesto. I love pesto. I love the fresh herbal taste, the pungent garlic and the salty cheese combination. I’ve been known to use it on everything I can think of and sometimes I even eat it right off the spoon. Yeah, I really love it. So it would only seem natural that Chimichurri (the Argentine answer to pesto) would be right up my alley.

I’m lucky to live close enough to Newark N.J. (that’s right, I said lucky enough) that we think nothing of taking a trip to the Ironbound section for dinner. The Ironbound is filled with amazing Portuguese, Brazilian, Spanish and Argentinian restaurants; each paying a subtle homage to its neighboring cuisine. Years spent frequenting this little world unto itself has taught me a lot about food; more specifically how simple can become extraordinary with a few little twists. The perfect example; steak on a stone. Steak brought to the table and quickly seared on a screaming hot stone or terra cotta tile, finished with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and served with some beautifully green and garlicky Chimichurri. It is the epitome of simple ingredients resulting in extraordinary flavor.

Since our last dinner in the Ironbound I’ve started making Chimichurri at home. It’s as easy to make as pesto, fills my salty/garlicky/spicy/herbal perfectly and has quickly become my condiment of choice for just about everything. No joke, everything.

Chimichurri
I am totally obsessed with this stuff. Drizzled on steak, tossed with potatoes, splashed on greens or even eaten right of the spoon. Hello deliciousness!

chimmichuri2

1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
6-8 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1/2 cup fresh oregano leaves
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3/4 cup good quality olive oil

  1. Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Allow to process until smooth.
  2. Transfer the Chimichurri to a serving dish and let stand for at least 1 hour before serving. (The Chimichurri can be made ahead and refrigerated overnight, but allow it to come to room temperature before serving.)

*adapted from food & wine

“cuban by association” roasted pork

Sunday is my favorite day of the week. It’s the day I usually get to sleep in, it’s a day that’s often commitment free, it’s a day to relax and do what we want at the pace we want to do it. I like to have a proper dinner on Sunday, nothing overly fancy just a little more involved than your ordinary weeknight meal; a little Death Row Chicken, some slow-cooked pulled turkey or as on a recent Sunday a bit of Cuban-Style Roasted Pork. Now before we go any further I feel the need to make a few things clear: I am not Cuban nor am I married to a Cuban (yes I have a girlfriend who is but I’m not sure that counts), I have never been to Cuba and I do not profess to understand all the intricacies of Cuban cuisine. However… I do happen to love this inspired by a million other cuisines style of food (traditional Cuban food takes a page from Spanish, French, African, Arabic, Chinese, and Portuguese cultures) and have eaten it enough to think that I can come up with my own riff on Cuban Roasted Pork. And so I did.

To begin with I made a “traditional” Cuban mojo; a mixture of oil, garlic, onion, oregano, orange and lime. I let the meat marinate in the mojo overnight and then roasted it in the oven like I would our Christmas Prime Rib (start off at a high temp. to sear the outside then reduce the heat and let it cook for a couple of hours). The results were amazing, seriously delicious. So good in fact that I would almost be willing to serve it to my girlfriends mother-in-law. Almost. But wait, the story doesn’t end there.

On the eve of every weekend I say I’m going plan dinners for the week and shop for everything I need ahead of time, and every weekend I don’t. So invariably the same thing always happens; we’re good to go till Wednesday then kaput… mayonnaise sandwiches. It was one of those nothin in the fridge but condiments and Sunday nights leftovers (which happened to be roasted Cuban pork) that actually inspired the most fantastic leftover dinner to date. I decided to break out the panini press and turn the leftover pork, a little Dijon mustard, Virginia ham, dill pickles and swiss cheese into delicious Cuban Sandwiches. Winner, winner… Cuban pork take two dinner. Delish!

Cuban-Style Roasted Pork
You can cut this recipe in half, but then you don’t have much for leftovers.

2 heads garlic, broken apart and skinned
1 large onion
1 1/2 cups orange juice
1/2 cup lime juice
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. dried oregano
2 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. black pepper
zest of 1 lime
zest of 1 orange
6 lbs. pork loin end roast, trimmed

  1. Place all of the marinade ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Allow to process until fairly smooth. Pour the marinade into a large resealable container, add the pork and allow to marinate (turning once or twice) for 12-18 hrs. Remove the meat from the refrigerator an hour before you want to put it in the oven.
  2. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Remove the roast from the marinade and place on a rack in a roasting pan. Add a little water to the bottom of the pan and roast for 30 minutes.
  3. Reduce the oven to 350°F and allow to cook until the internal temperature reaches 160°F, about 2 hrs.
  4. Remove the roast from the oven and allow to sit for 20 minutes before carving into thin slices.

Cuban-Style Roasted Pork Panini
This is one of my favorite leftover meals and it’s so simple it really doesn’t even warrant a recipe.

cuban sandwich2

leftover pork loin end roast, sliced thin and warmed
crusty bread (I used a loaf of ciabatta)
Dijon mustard
baby dill pickles, sliced thin
Virginia ham
provolone or swiss cheese

  1. Preheat your panini press. (You can do this in a pan like you would grilled cheese as well, but you’ll need to weigh down the sandwich while it cooks.) Slice the bread into individual portions and then in half.
  2. Coat one half with mustard then start layering: cheese, then a couple of slices of pickle, then a few pork slices, top that with a slice or two of ham and finish up with another slice of cheese. Top with the remaining half of bread, squish in the panini press until the cheese has melted and the crust is warm and crispy. Repeat with remaining sandwiches.

a winter’s night turkey burgers

Theres nothing like a classic all beef burger to make you feel indulged and satisfied. I’m not talking about some slapped together fast food number (blech, never!) but a nice juicy hand-formed burger cooked medium, with just the right meat to bun ratio and topped off with a delicious bit of cheese. And I love the way burgers taste when they’re cooked outside on the grill, it’s a flavor I’ve never been able to duplicate in my kitchen. (Grilled blue cheese burgers with caramelized onions and Dijon mustard happens to be one of my all time favorite indulgences!) All that being said, in our house good ‘ol classic grilled hamburgers are strictly warm weather fare. There’s no way I’m standing at the grill on a cold dark winter’s night just for a couple of burgers (not even blue cheese ones) and that goes double this Winter. Imagine if for some crazy reason I did decide to brave the cold darkness in an attempt to grill up a few burgers— I would still need to climb over and trudge through three feet of frozen snow just to get to the grill! Nope. Sorry. Not happening… However, since burgers are such a great hectic weeknight meal I realized I had to find a solution to my weather-bound limitations. I happen to love Salmon burgers and would happily eat them on a regular basis, but my family— not so much. I like veggie burgers as well but try as I may to get my recipe perfect, they always seem to wind up a big crumbly mess. And frankly, I’m not so sure my family would be knocked out by the “perfect” veggie burger either. They do however happen to be fans of turkey burgers, which is quite fortunate since I just happen to have a killer turkey burger recipe that actually works better in a skillet than on the grill.

Let me begin by saying that a turkey burger will never satisfy the way a beef burger does. I know this. I acknowledge this. I agree with this. But… What turkey may lack in decadence it totally makes up for in versatility. Ground turkey is a bit like tofu in that it really takes on whatever flavors you add to it beautifully. In fact ground turkey is my go-to protein for many of the dishes I make; Turkey Shepherds PieTurkey & Bean ChiliTurkey Meatloaf with Salsa and Old School Turkey Sloppy Joe’s just to name a few. So the idea of a souped-up turkey burger seemed like a no-brainer to me, particularly one that incorporated all the cool weather flavors I love most; Tart apple, aged cheddar cheese, fresh garlic and sage with just a hint of maple syrup. Sounds kinda crazy, right? It is, in the most wonderful and yummy of ways. And while it won’t ever replace the taste of a freshly grilled beef burger, it has quickly become a Greco family favorite.

Apple, Sage & Maple Turkey Burgers
These burgers totally taste like cool weather to me. A bit of tart apple, aged cheddar and fresh sage with a hint of maple syrup. Yup, frosty winter nights all the way…

replacement

2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. fresh sage leaves, minced (about 3 large leaves)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 tbsp. raw apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. real maple syrup
1/2 a medium green apple, finely grated
1 lb. ground turkey
4 brioche rolls
4 slices cheddar cheese, for garnish
sliced tomatoes and fresh spinach, for garnish
Maple-Dijon sauce (see recipe below)

  1. In a small bowl mash together the garlic, sage, salt and pepper to form a paste. Add the apple cider, maple syrup and grated apple and mix well.
  2. Knead the garlic mixture into the ground turkey and form into 4 patties (they will be very soft and kinda wet, not to worry). Allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to give the flavors a chance to meld.
  3. Heat a non-stick griddle or skillet over medium heat, lightly oil and add the burgers. Carefully transfer the burgers to the griddle and cook until firm, cooked through and lightly browned, about 6 minutes per side. Serve on rolls with cheddar cheese, a slice of tomato, fresh spinach leaves and a schemer of maple-dijon sauce.

Maple-Dijon Mayonnaise
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. real maple syrup

  1. While burgers are resting mix together the yogurt, mustard and maple syrup and chill until ready to use.

winging it

The most highly anticipated day of any football lovers year is right around the corner. Frankly, I don’t like football. However I realize I’m in the minority, particularly this year since the Super Bowl happens to be taking place about five miles from my house.

It seems to me that Super Bowl Sunday has very little to actually do with football and a lot to do with Clydesdale commercials, half-time wardrobe malfunctions and trashy food you would never ordinarily consider eating. You know the kind I’m talking about— bowls of melted velveeta and salsa served with Fritos (hmm, who knew they still made Fritos?) piping hot pizza bites and mini hot dogs (I’m sure there’s not that much MSG in them, right?) and of course deep-fried wings with a side of bottled blue cheese dressing (limp celery stalks optional). But before you get the wrong impression here’s the thing… I happen to like wings. In fact there’s a coal-fired pizza joint nearby that makes the most delicious caramelized onion and rosemary wings that I like to order with a side salad. So you see it’s not the wing itself I take issue with, it’s the prepackaged, deep-fried, preservative laden aspect of your typical trashy wings I dislike. If I’m going to eat a wing I want some thought to have gone into it, some consideration for the flavors in combination with the cooking method. I want someone to have given that wing a little love long before it ever hits my plate.

While I don’t have a coal-fired pizza oven, I do have a gas grill and a Weber cookbook, which as it turns out is all I really need. A few pounds of wings, some Asian ingredients, a little grill time and voilà… Delicious without apology wings. I realize as I type this that the temperature outside is only 18°F, not exactly standing at the grill weather. I have but one thing to say about that—

Toughen up buttercup. This is football!

Grilled Asian Wings
These are delicious and far less guilt inducing than your typical wings.

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1 medium leek, halved and sliced thin
2 tsp. Thai red curry paste
1/2 cup tamari soy sauce
5 tbsp. dark brown sugar, packed
4 tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar
4 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
3 tbsp. fish sauce
3 tbsp. peeled, grated fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 lbs. chicken wings, tips removed

  1. Add all the ingredients (except the wings) to a medium bowl and stir to combine. Pour all the marinade except for 3 tablespoons into a large ziploc bag, place the wings in the bag and seal tightly. Turn the bag to insure all the wings are coated and allow to marinate for an hour.
  2. Prepare your grill by brushing the cooking grates clean and heating the grill to 350°F.
  3. Carefully oil the grates and grill the wings over medium heat, with the lid closed, until they are well browned and cooked through (turning them several times), 15 to 25 minutes.
  4. Transfer the cooked wings to the large bowl and drizzle with the reserved marinade. Serve warm and… Go team!.

*adapted from weber

cucumber à la julia child

Around this time each summer two things happen in my garden. The squirrels destroy my corn stalks (evil no-good rodents) and my tomato and cucumber plants explode with fruit. An over abundance of tomatoes is never a problem, I use them in salsa and salads of all kinds and for my Sweet Summer Sauce, but cucumbers are a bit more tricky. I’ve attempted to make pickles, only to end up with a soggy vinegary mess. I’ve given some away, but believe it or not a lot of people don’t like cucumbers (I know, can you imagine?!?) and I’ve eaten them simply sliced and in salads, but there are only so many cucumber salads that even this girl can eat! So I set out on a mission to find another use for all these cukes.

My initial thought was that I could try to bake with them like you would grated zucchini, they really are almost the same vegetable after all. In fact I’m sure they would be the perfect zucchini substitute in these Pineapple-Zucchini Muffins and with back-to-school only a few weeks away I think that’s exactly what I’ll do (don’t tell my son). But muffins weren’t what I felt like making amidst this August heat, so I continued to wade through my cookbook cabinet in search of inspiration. And there it was, in the NY Times food section that I had saved from last August. August 15, 2012 had been Julia Child’s 100th birthday and the food world had celebrated it in great fashion. Julia Child— the cooking and culinary legend and inspiration to generations of home cooks. She was “absolutly fabulous”. And here I stood, just days away from Julia’s 101st birthday and in need of cucumber inspiration. “Hmm, what would Julia make?” I thought to myself. That’s when I heard a warbly voice say “Potages aux Concombres!” Okay I didn’t actually hear Julia’s voice from the great beyond, but I did discover an old recipe of hers for cold cucumber soup which sounded perfect but for one exception; to thicken the soup she had used farina— that’s where she lost me. I would rather use a thickener that would add flavor to the soup as well as substance (sorry Julia). A bit more research and I found a vichyssoise recipe that seemed to have some of the elements Julia’s recipe had been missing, namely potato and buttermilk. It was at that moment, in my little New Jersey kitchen that a Julia Child/Cooking Light cold cucumber and potato soup was born.

Bon appétit and happy birthday Julia!

Cold Cucumber & Potato Soup
This soup may not be for everyone, including my children and husband. But that doesn’t mean it’s not delicious and wouldn’t be the perfect first course on a hot summer day.

cucumber soup3

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 leek, halved and sliced thin
2 stalks celery, sliced thin
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 cup sweet onion, chopped
6 1/2 cups cucumber (about 4), peeled, seeded and chopped
3 cups baking potato, peeled and cubed (about 2)
3 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 cup light buttermilk
1/4 cup heavy cream (as an homage to Julia)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
snipped fresh chives, for garnish
Greek yogurt, for garnish

  1. In a large dutch oven over a medium-low flame heat the oil. Add the onion, leek, celery and garlic and cook 6-8 minutes or until onion is transparent, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add to the pot the chopped cucumber, potato, and broth; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until potato is very tender, stirring occasionally.
  3. Using an immersion blender (or food processor) blend the cucumber/potato mixture until it is perfectly smooth. Allow to cool on the stovetop for at least one hour.
  4. Once cool add the buttermilk, heavy cream, salt, and pepper and stir well. Cover and chill for several hours before serving. Garnish with snipped fresh chives and a dollop of Greek yogurt.

beet greens + augustus gloop

As much as I love beets and as often as I buy them, I’ve never done anything with the greens except add them to my backyard composter. I knew they could be eaten, I just never bothered to give them a try. All that changed last week. I bought two big beautiful bunches of purple beets and the greens were so vivid and so crisp that I just couldn’t bear to throw them away.

I eat a green salad nearly everyday; most often spinach, kale or arugula; so I figured why not beet greens. Why not indeed! It turns out that beet greens are the perfect vehicle for a simple chopped salad. They’re kinda bitter and a little tough, but if you lightly dress them and let them sit for a bit they become supple and delicious. “What,” you may be asking yourself, “would be the perfect dressing for this simple salad?” Well I’m glad you asked…I just happen to have the most amazingly delicious Spicy Peanut-Ginger Dressing recipe to share with you.

In my mind the combination of peanut, garlic, ginger and soy sauce (with a little chipotle kick thrown in for good measure) is the perfect blend of flavors. It’s the stuff my food dreams are made of and it’s really what makes this chopped beet green salad so good. As it turns out this dressing doesn’t just make the salad, it also makes the perfect sauce to drizzle on some cold soba noodles or a delicious dipping sauce for grilled shrimp. It’s a multi-purpose, delicious on everything, symphony of flavors that I could literally eat with a spoon. In fact if I could swim in a pool of this dressing (a la Augustus Gloop lapping up chocolate from the Wonka river) I think I would. It wouldn’t be pretty to witness, but man would it be delicious. So anyway, even if you’d never in your wildest dreams consider eating a beet green salad (although you really should), give this dressing a try— it totally rocks!

Chopped Beet Green Salad with Spicy Peanut-Ginger Dressing
This salad is delicious with any mix of sturdy greens, but it’s the dressing that really steals the show. Yum!

beet.green.salad

1 bunch of beet greens, washed
3 1/2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp. blue agave nectar
2 tbsp. water
1 1/2 tbsp. + 1 tsp. tamari soy sauce
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. chipotle chili powder
3 1/2 tbsp. all-natural peanut butter
2 cloves fresh garlic, grated
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

  1. Add all the dressing ingredients to the bowl of a food processor. Blend until smooth and all the ingredients are fully incorporated. Set aside.
  2. Wash and remove the stems from each beet leaf. Slice diagonally into thin strips and place in a bowl.
  3. Spoon a few spoonfuls of dressing over the julienned greens and toss. Add additional dressing until the greens are nicely covered but not soggy.
  4. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving (This will allow to greens to absorb some of the dressing and soften up a bit.)
  5. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and serve. Store remaining dressing in a glass jar in the fridge and drizzle with reckless abandon.

lovin’ the herb

I love to grow fresh herbs. I love the smell of fresh herbs. I love to cook with fresh herbs. There’s nothing that says summertime to me more than overflowing pots of lush herbs on my back steps; it makes me happy just to look at them. Sometimes I run my hand along the rosemary or sage stems just to let them give off their lovely aroma. And who doesn’t love the way fresh basil smells. I’ve been thinking I just may start rubbing the leaves behind my ears as my summer scent. Anyway with all these wonderful herbs around I try to use them at every opportunity and since the more you clip herbs the more abundant they become, it’s really a win-win situation.

Finding uses for fresh basil is really a no brainer— as soon as Jersey tomatoes start hitting the farmers market I make a simple caprese salad or a Sweet Summer Sauce with my homegrown cherry tomatoes. Abundant amounts of oregano go into my Smokey Baked Beans, I use fresh rosemary on roasted potatoes and to marinade pork, cilantro has a starring role in my Spicy Corn & Black Bean Salad and what would Herbed Drop Biscuits be without fresh thyme. However as tasty as these few dishes are, they don’t really put a significant dent in my herb supply. I’m always looking for new ways to work fresh herbs into my cooking and my latest creations are a brush on grill sauce for chicken and a creamy buttermilk salad dressing.

The grill sauce is a super simple way to give some fresh summery flavor to chicken or vegetables without much advance prep. Sure it makes a mess of the grill, but the you’ll enjoy dinner so much it will totally be worth a few extra minutes with the grill brush. And the salad dressing is something like a healthy hybrid of caesar and ranch, it turns nothing fancy greens into a salad worth serving guests.

Here’s wishing you a Summer filled with lovely sights, sounds and smells.

Buttermilk & Fresh Herb Salad Dressing
Say so long to that bottle of store bought dressing and hello to yum! I usually sprinkle a bit more shredded parmesan on top of the salad and sometimes a few slivered almonds.

herb salad5

2 tbsp. fresh basil
2 tbsp. fresh dill
2 tbsp. fresh parsley
1 tbsp. fresh tarragon
3 tbsp. sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp. lemon juice
4 tbsp. light mayo
3 tbsp. plain low-fat yogurt
2 tbsp. light sour cream
1 cup reduced fat buttermilk
2 tbsp. shredded parmesan cheese
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1/8 tsp. black pepper

  1. Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the herbs are finely minced and the ingredients are fully blended.
  2. Pour into a glass jar and chill overnight, allowing flavors to blend, before drizzling over salad greens and serving.

Grilled Chicken with Fresh Herb Sauce
You can brush this on the chicken or vegetables as you grill them. It will make a mess of the grill, but it’s totally worth it!

herb grilled chicken

6 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves
1 tbsp. fresh parsley leaves
1 tbsp. fresh rosemary
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp. honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 package of chicken, thighs or breasts

  1. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Allow to run until herbs are minced and a thick sauce has formed.
  2. Heat grill to medium-high. Brush the chicken with the sauce and begin to grill. Flip and continue to baste with the remaining sauce until chicken is completely cooked.
*adapted from serious eats

sanity saving stir fry

There are some nights when dinner at our house is a leisurely, dare I say enjoyable affair; everyone is in a good mood, eats their meal without complaint and is rewarded with something rich and decadent for dessert. But then there are nights when everything is rushed, everyone has something to complain about and dessert is nothing more than yesterday’s memory. Sometimes I can anticipate ahead of time that were heading for disasterville and cook accordingly. Breakfast for dinner always makes them smile, my turkey meatloaf never fails to get a thumbs up and believe it or not any meal featuring shrimp is a Greco family favorite. Shrimp sautéed with onions and garlic over spaghetti, shrimp and veggie shish kabobs or even super easy shrimp stir fry is always a winner.

I’m a big fan of stir fries. They’re a great way to clean out your vegetable drawer, throw together a quick dinner and keep clean-up limited to one pan, one cutting board and one bowl for each person. I like to make mine with shrimp not only because everyone will eat it, but also because it literally cooks in minutes. I throw in a big variety of vegetables (this way any “offending” vegetables can be picked out and there will still be plenty remaining) and serve it over some brown rice with a few sliced scallions, chili flakes and soy sauce on top. Voilà! Dinner is served, peace reigns and all is once again right with the world. Until tomorrow night anyway…

Shrimp Stir Fry
To really make this a quick weeknight dinner you can buy pre-cut veggies and use instant brown rice.

stir fry4A

1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/3 cup water
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup tamari soy sauce
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp. sugar

4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
5 cups mixed vegetables (broccoli florets, carrots, red peppers, etc.)
3 oz. snow peas
4 oz. sliced mushrooms
4 scallions, sliced thin
1 cup water chestnuts
2 tbsp. peanut oil
4 cups cooked brown rice, for serving
sliced scallions, for garnish
red chili flakes, for garnish
soy sauce, for garnish

  1. Place the cleaned shrimp in a small bowl. Mix together the water, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, cornstarch, and sugar. Pour mixture over the shrimp and let marinate for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes remove the shrimp and set aside, but reserve the marinade.
  2. Cut the vegetable into bite-sized pieces. Heat the peanut oil in a wok or a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, ginger and all the vegetables (except mushrooms and snow peas) and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the mushrooms and snow peas and cook another 2-3 minutes or until all the vegetables are nearly cooked through. Remove vegetables from pan and set aside.
  3. Add the marinade to the pan and heat until it begins to thicken. Add the shrimp and cook about 3-4 minutes or until shrimp are just pink. Stir in vegetables, coating evenly with the sauce, cover and let cook an additional 2-3 minutes until everything is heated through and the broccoli is crisp-tender. Serve over brown rice and garish with additional sliced scallions, chili flakes and soy sauce if you like.

*adapted from better homes and gardens