Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Goat Cheese and Olive-Caper-Pepper Relish

A couple Saturdays ago we were making scrambled eggs for breakfast, and while we weren’t looking, Levi grabbed the cumin from the spice rack, unscrewed the top, and sprinkled some into the eggs. It threw me off (though I was thankful he chose the cumin over the cinnamon). Dustin ran with it. He added some chopped kalamata olives, onions, peppers, and tomatoes and called it a Mediterranean scramble. Then he served it over toasted pita bread spread with goat cheese. Brilliant. Thanks, Levi, for unintentionally (or intentionally?) pointing us in the direction of an awesome breakfast.

Last summer we grilled portobello mushrooms and filled them with goat cheese, fresh tomatoes, and basil. We thought they would be pretty hard to beat. The weekend after the Mediterranean scramble incident, we filled the same umami-packed mushroom caps with goat cheese and a relish made from capers, olives, grilled red peppers, garlic, oregano, and olive oil. The flavors are reminiscent of a Muffaletta sandwich, but a vegetarian version; the portobellos, of course, standing in for the cold cuts. Lately I’ve been obsessed with the combination of capers and olives and how their brininess brightens up grilled meats, seafood, pasta dishes, and in this case, grilled mushrooms. Before grilling them, I added a few dashes of soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce, just to add a little depth of flavor.

While the weather is still nice, and the grill is accessible, try this meatless meal that boasts of bright flavors and easy preparation (make the relish ahead of time!) And make sure your spice lids are screwed on tight if you have a toddler accompanying you in the kitchen ūüėČ


Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Goat Cheese & Caper-Olive-Red Pepper Relish

(Inspired by Levi’s addition to our scrambled eggs, and the “Vegetarian Muffaletta Wraps” in the book The Fifth Taste – Cooking with Umami; Serves 3-4 – we had some extra filling after stuffing our 3 mushrooms)

3 large portobello mushrooms
Olive oil for brushing
Worcestershire sauce
Soy sauce
Salt & Pepper
1/2 a small red bell pepper
1/4 cup roughly chopped kalamata olives
1/4 cup roughly chopped Spanish olives with pimentos
1 1/2 tsp. minced capers
2 tsp. minced fresh parsley
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
2 TBS. extra virgin olive oil
4 oz. soft, fresh goat cheese, at room temperature

  • Prepare a charcoal grill for low-medium heat (by controlling the vents to allow the coats to die down).
  • Twist the stems off the portobello mushrooms and scrape the gills out using a butter knife or spoon, discarding stems and gills. Brush or drizzle the mushrooms on both sides with olive oil, a splash of soy sauce, and a splash of Worcestershire. Set aside.
  • Remove the seeds and ribs from the bell pepper half and brush or drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  • In a medium bowl, toss together the olives, capers, parsley, garlic, oregano, and olive oil to combine.
  • When the grill is ready, grill the red bell pepper until blistered and soft. Remove from grill, cool slightly and roughly chop. Add to olive-caper mixture.
  • Grill the portobello mushrooms gill-side down for 5-7 minutes and until nice grill marks form. Flip so they are cap-side down and continue to cook for several more minutes or until almost tender. Carefully spoon some goat cheese into each mushroom cap and spread¬† into a thin layer. Spoon the olive-caper-pepper relish on top of the goat cheese. Cover the grill and cook until the mushrooms are tender and the filling is warmed, about 2 minutes.

Pork Tenderloin with Spicy Apricot Glaze


My son is obsessed with the garage. It’s no surprise. His father and his grandfather (my dad) love it as well. It’s where they spend many a Saturday, working on projects of various sorts. The other evening as we were getting ready to start dinner, Levi made his usual “uh? uh?” sound while pointing emphatically towards the garage. There’s no ignoring that request. Once inside, we turned our backs for 20 seconds while we opened the garage door and got out the BBQ in anticipation of grilling some pork tenderloin, and he had climbed about 6 rungs of the extension ladder that’s propped up agained the wall. Parenting fail. When we got him safely on the ground,¬† he pointed to the BBQ and blew three times (the indication of it being hot). “You’re right,” I say, “It’s not hot yet, but it will be soon. We’re going to grill some pork tenderloin tonight! Are you hungry?” (Oh, and by the way, never do that again. You scared the sh!t out of me).


A jar of apricot jam in the pantry inspired this pork tenderloin, which came from El Salchichero, our community butcher. We decided to make a sweet and spicy glaze by combining the jam with some minced rocoto pepper from our backyard. These peppers are spicy – almost like a habanero – so we used them sparingly. Some fresh Meyer lemon juice added a little acidity to balance things out.


When the coals were hot and the tenderloin had been marinating in a little olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper, I asked Levi to get the¬† BBQ tongs and bring them to daddy. Not surprisingly, he knows where they’re located and is always eager to help if it means retrieving something from the garage. After grilling, we allowed the pork tenderloin to rest so that it would be nice and moist when we sliced into it. The glaze caramelized nicely on the outside and imparted a subtle sweet and spicy flavor. Not bad for a quick weeknight meal. Levi enjoyed it too. Climbing an extension ladder makes for a good appetite.


Pork Tenderloin with Spicy Apricot Glaze

1 pork tenderloin (about 1 lb.)
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
fresh rosemary, chopped
apricot jam (about 1/2 cup – I used 1/2 of a 9.5 oz. jar)
1/2 a hot chili pepper (such as a jalape√Īo, serrano, or rocoto), minced
fresh lemon juice (I used 1/2 of a fairly large Meyer lemon)

  • Place the tenderloin in a baking dish (or on a big plate) and drizzle a little olive oil over it. Season with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Using your hands, rub the oil and seasonings all over the tenderloin. Cover and refrigerate.
  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the apricot jam with the minced hot pepper, lemon juice, and some salt & pepper. Mix well. Taste and add more ingredients as necessary to balance the flavors. I ended up adding a little more lemon juice and more peppers after tasting.
  • Take the tenderloin out of the refrigerator as you prepare a charcoal grill. When coals are ready, brush the apricot glaze on the tenderloin so that it covers all surfaces. Place on the grill, cover, and cook for about 4 minutes. Brush more glaze on the top, flip the tenderloin, and glaze the other side as well. Cover and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Continue glazing and flipping every few minutes, until the inside of the tenderloin reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees and the outside is nicely caramelized. Transfer to a cutting board and allow to rest for several minutes. Slice and serve with your starch and vegetable of choice. We had couscous, grilled summer squash, and a salad.

Argentine Hot Dogs (with Chimichurri, Pickled Red Onions, Marinated Queso Fresco & Chorizo)


It’s nearing the end of summer, and you’ve probably had your share of hot dogs, but these Argentine dogs are as far from yellow mustard and ketchup as you can get.¬† Grilled all-beef hot dogs get an array of colorful and flavorful toppings: a verdant chimichurri with the addition of finely chopped sweet red and yellow peppers and grated carrot, sweet and tangy pickled red onions, queso fresco marinated in olive oil and yellow flecks of lemon zest, and spicy ground chorizo. Yes, chorizo on a hot dog. It’s a hot dog elevated to a new level.

I came across this recipe when I was reading the food section in our local newspaper. I made only a few changes. I thought these dogs deserved something better than your typical white hot dog bun, so we bought some soft steak rolls, cut them in half lengthwise and made a slit in each half, creating hot dog buns with some substance. I also went in a different direction with the pickled onions. The original recipe calls for pouring a simple syrup and grenadine over them, but since I didn’t have any grenadine and didn’t have a need for buying a whole bottle, I decided to just use my method for quick cucumber pickles (adding a little vinegar, agave nectar, and salt), but adding more agave nectar to make the onions sweeter, in order to counter-balance the acidity in the chimichurri. The chorizo adds the perfect amount of spice, and the marinated queso fresco adds a cooling, creamy counterpoint. See why this hot dog is in a different dimension?


Levi especially enjoyed these hot dogs. I wish we had taken a picture, but his plate contained a de-constructed version of an Argentine hot dog. The pieces of hot dog and queso fresco disappeared first, but he seemed to enjoy all the components of this meal!

The pickled onions and the marinated queso fresco are made the night before, and the chimichurri can be made the morning of, so everything comes together quickly at dinner time. All you have to do is cook the chorizo, grill the hot dogs, and assemble! Make these Argentine hot dogs while the grill is still out. Quick! Summer is fleeting.


Argentine Hot Dogs

(Slightly adapted from the San Jose Mercury News, original recipe by Carole Wendling; Serves 2)

For the Chimichurri:

1/2 a bunch of parsley, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 small lemon
1 TBS. red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. crushed garlic
1/4 cup finely diced red and yellow peppers
2 tablespoons grated carrot

For the Pickled Red Onions:

1/2 red onion, sliced
2 TBS. white wine vinegar (or champagne vinegar)
agave nectar to taste
Kosher salt to taste

For the Marinated Queso Fresco:

4 ounces queso fresco, crumbled
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed garlic
Zest from 1/2 lemon
Salt, pepper to taste

To Assemble:

2 grilled beef hot dogs
1 sweet or sour steak roll – cut in half lengthwise, with a slit cut into each half to form 2 hot dog “buns”
4 ounces ground chorizo, cooked


Wow – that’s a long list of ingredients, I know! But everything is so easy to make. Here we go …

  • To make the pickled onions, place the sliced onions in a bowl and add the vinegar. Add a good drizzle of agave nectar (or you can use honey or sugar) and season with a little salt. Stir to combine. Taste and add more sweetener if needed. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  • Combine the marinated queso fresco ingredients. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  • Make the chimichurri. Combine the first six ingredients in a food processor; pulse to pesto-like consistency. Season to taste with salt. Fold in peppers and carrot. Set aside. Can be made several hours ahead. Cover and chill. Take out of refrigerator 1 hour before serving.
  • Lightly toast the buns on the grill, grill the hot dogs, and top with cooked, crumbled chorizo, chimichurri, pickled red onions, and marinated queso fresco.

Goat Cheese, Tomato & Basil Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms


I failed to produce a grocery list before we entered the store last Sunday. Luckily, the order in which we strolled through the produce section determined the menu. It was hard to miss the pile of huge portobello mushrooms, dwarfing the other fungi varieties around them. We decided that their savory, rich umami flavor would make them a perfect alternative to meat on this particular evening and make them a good match for a charcoal grill. Now that we had our blank canvas to work with, we just needed to decide what to put inside their vast caps. The smell of fresh basil wafting from behind us got our attention and into the cart went a beautiful verdant bunch. Levi tried to grab it as it went in; the smell must have captivated his little senses as well. Next, my eyes were drawn to a stunning heirloom tomato, the colors of an orange and yellow sunset. Even though the classic combination of caprese was becoming our inspiration, we decided to deter a little and use a soft goat cheese called fromage blanc instead of fresh mozzarella.

Every bite of these stuffed charcoal-grilled portobello mushrooms was bright and summery, with that underlying rich portobello flavor. On the side I made a simple rice pilaf and a spinach salad with sliced white peaches.


Goat Cheese, Tomato & Basil Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

(Adapted from My Recipes)

2 portobello mushrooms
balsamic vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
1 large heirloom tomato
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 TBS. chopped fresh basil
1 tsp. chopped fresh oregano
your favorite soft goat cheese, such as fromage blanc
a couple handfuls of baby spinach leaves

  • Prepare a charcoal grill.
  • Using a spoon, scrape the brown gills out of the mushroom caps. Discard gills. Remove and discard stems. Place mushroom caps on a large plate and drizzle both sides with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
  • In a small bowl, toss the chopped tomato with the garlic, fresh basil & oregano, and a little splash each of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Season to taste with salt. Set aside.
  • Place mushroom caps, stem-side down on an oiled grill grate and grill for about 5 minutes on each side, or until soft.
  • Fill the caps with a few spoonfuls of goat cheese and spread so that it covers the bottom of the mushroom caps evenly. Lay a small handful of baby spinach leaves on top of the goat cheese, followed by a few spoonfuls of the tomato mixture. Cover and grill for 3 minutes more. Remove from grill and transfer to plates. Sprinkle with a little more chopped basil and serve.

Grilled Pita Bread


They’re chewy, they’re hot off the grill, and their pockets can be filled with everything from scrambled eggs to falafel. Pitas are a versatile staple to have around the house, and it felt very satisfying to make at home what we usually just grab at the store. The original recipe suggested placing a cast iron skillet on the grill over indirect heat and cooking the pitas that way, but we found that throwing them directly on the grill imparted a delicious flavor, left those appealing grill marks that lets everyone know that yes, you grilled your pitas, and allowed us to cook more at a time. We think it was the right decision (per advice from Bridge of The Way the Cookie Crumbles).

Grilled Pita Bread

(Slightly adapted from the June/July 2010 issue of Fine Cooking – Makes 10 pitas)

1 TBS. honey
2 tsp. active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour; more as needed
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 TBS. olive oil; more for the bowl and baking pans

  • In a small bowl, mix the honey with 1/2 cup lukewarm water and stir in the yeast. Let sit until the yeast has started foaming, 2-3 minutes.
  • Put both flours and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook (alternatively, you can use a hand-mixer that has a dough attachment – we don’t have a stand mixer and this worked fine). With the mixer running on low speed, mix in the olive oil until fully incorporated, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the yeast mixture and 1 cup lukewarm water and mix until fully incorporated, 2-3 minutes more. Raise the speed to medium and knead dough until it starts to come away from the sides of the bowl and forms a ball that is smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky, 4-5 minutes. If the dough seems too wet and sticky, add more flour 1 tsp. at a time.
  • Raise the speed to medium high and continue kneading for another 5 minutes.
  • Oil a medium bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl. Roll to coat the dough with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  • Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead two or three times to remove any air bubbles. Form into a log and divide it evenly into 10 pieces. Form each piece into a ball and then roll into disks about 1/4 inch thick and 6 inches in diameter. Lightly oil two rimmed baking sheets, and place the disks on the baking sheets. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until just doubled in thickness, 30 to 45 minutes.
  • Prepare a charcoal fire with indirect heat by placing the coals to one side of the grill. Place the pitas directly on the grill (over the “cool zone” – not directly over the coals) for 2-3 minutes. Flip and cook another 2-3 minutes until cooked through. Depending on the heat of your coals, the time may be shorter or longer. Enjoy while hot!


Looking for a new idea to use homemade pitas? This is what we came up with the evening we made ours. Instead of making use of their pockets, lay them flat, spread a thin layer of goat cheese (like a fromage blanc from Harley Farms), scatter a handful of caramelized onions, and season with salt and cracked black pepper. Place the pitas back on the grill (covered) for a few minutes to warm the cheese and onions, and then top with a handful of fresh, peppery arugula and finish with a drizzle of balsamic. You’ll love the flavor combination. I made a simple fruit salad to go alongside these “pita pizzas.” I tossed freshly cut watermelon, peaches, strawberries, and plums with fresh lime juice and chopped mint. It tasted like summer!

Grilled Butter Lettuce with Buttermilk-Chive Dressing


It’s easy to get into a salad rut, so I wanted to share a quick recipe that we discovered this past weekend. If you’re already grilling for dinner, why not throw the salad on too? Just halve a head of butter lettuce and grill cut-side down for a few minutes until it’s nicely charred and wilted, while the inner core retains that distinct butter lettuce crunch. Transfer to a serving plate and drizzle a creamy and tangy buttermilk-chive dressing over it. The dressing takes less than 5 minutes to whisk together, and paired with the grilled lettuce and its pleasing caramelized edges, you won’t know what’s hit you. Your ho hum dinner salad has been transformed! Enjoy & Happy 4th of July to all our readers!


Grilled Butter Lettuce with Buttermilk-Chive Dressing

(From the June/July 2010 issue of Fine Cooking)
Serves 8

1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup cr√®me fra√ģche*
2 Tbs. mayonnaise
2 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh chives
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt
Vegetable oil for the grill
4 large heads butter lettuce, halved lengthwise

* Try adding some leftover cr√®me fra√ģche and chopped chives to your scrambled eggs in the morning. Delicious.

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, cr√®me fra√ģche, mayonnaise, chives, and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt. (Can be made 1 day ahead, covered, and refrigerated).
  • Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct, medium-high heat.
  • Lightly season the halved heads of lettuce with 1/4 tsp. salt. Grill cut side down until wilted, lightly charred, and the cores are crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Transfer grilled lettuce to a serving platter (or individual plates) and drizzle with dressing (you won’t need all of it). Lightly season with salt and serve.

Southwestern Grilled Chicken Salad with Cherry Tomato-Black Bean-Corn Salsa


As I’m writing this it’s drizzling, and since we can’t play outside, Levi is entertaining himself with a drawer filled with various kid-friendly kitchen implements (the “decoy drawer,” as I call it, because it keeps him away from the dangerous stuff and buys me a few minutes here and there to write blog posts, fold laundry, or answer the phone). I swear that just yesterday we were enjoying the warmth of the early evening sun, grilling chicken in the backyard, and sipping icy pints of IPA. Levi was playing in his shark sprinkler — the perfect summer scene. How the weather changes on the central coast! And how we as mothers adapt as far as activities go for our kids.


Speaking of adaptation, meals take even more planning-ahead these days. Not only is Levi walking; he’s running and climbing — onto couches, chairs, boxes, whatever he can. You have no idea how many distractions I had to have in place in order to make this cherry tomato-black bean-corn salsa. It’s hard when every 20 seconds you have to look up from whatever you’re doing to make sure your son hasn’t scaled the bookshelf. But somehow I made it work and we ended up with this beautiful salad for dinner, which was perfect for a warm evening, but also sounds delicious now as I hear the pitter-patter of rain against the window.

The chicken is seasoned with a delicious spice mixture of chile powder, brown sugar, cumin, and coriander before being grilled to perfection. Then it’s sliced and set on top of crunchy romaine lettuce, along with a spoonful of the salsa, and sliced avocado, and dressed with¬† a slightly sweet/slightly tart lime-cilantro vinaigrette. My slight adaptation to this Fine Cooking recipe is that we decided to grill some corn on the cob and add the kernels to the salsa, which added a nice sweet flavor and seemed to fit in with the southwestern theme. We also used romaine instead of Bibb lettuce, omitted the pine nuts (because we didn’t have any) and substituted chicken thighs for the chicken breasts. Our changes are reflected below. We hope you enjoy this dinner salad this summer. Its bold flavors will not disappoint.


Southwestern Grilled Chicken Salad with Cherry Tomato-Black Bean-Corn Salsa

(Slightly adapted from the Aug/Sept 2010 issue of Fine Cooking)

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 TBS. chili powder
1 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
Kosher salt
1 large ear of corn, husked and lightly oiled
6 TBS. extra-virgin olive oil
2 TBS. +  2 tsp. fresh lime juice
1 TBS. + 2 tsp. chopped fresh cilantro, plus leaves for garnish
2 tsp. honey
Freshly ground black pepper
Tabasco (optional)
1/2 of a 14-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained (save other 1/2 for another use)
4 oz. small cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered or halved (about 3/4 cup)
1 small clove garlic, minced
1  head romaine lettuce, chopped
1 medium firm-ripe avocado

  • Prepare a medium-high gas or charcoal grill fire.
  • In a small bowl, combine the chili powder, brown sugar, coriander, cumin, and 3/4 tsp. salt. Rub the spice mixture over both sides of the chicken thighs (you’ll have some left over, but it’s a great spice blend for another use). Let chicken sit at room temp while the grill heats.
  • Grill the corn until tender and the kernels are charred in spots, about 6 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool. Grill the chicken thighs until done, about 6 minutes, flipping once. Let rest for 5-10 minutes.
  • Using a knife, carefully cut the kernels off the cob (this is easier when done in a large bowl so the kernels don’t go flying everywhere) and transfer to a small bowl.
  • In a small jar or other container with a tight-fitting lid, combine the olive oil, lime juice, 1 TBS. of the chopped cilantro, the honey, 1/2 tsp. salt, a few grinds of pepper, and a few shakes of Tabasco (if using). Shake well to combine.
  • To make the salsa, add the beans, tomatoes, garlic, remaining 2 tsp. cilantro, and a pinch of salt to the small bowl with the grilled corn kernels. Add 2 TBS. of the dressing and toss gently.
  • Put the lettuce in a bowl, season with a little salt, and toss with just enough of the dressing to lightly coat. (Reserve a little to drizzle on the chicken.) Arrange the lettuce on a platter or two dinner plates. Slice the chicken thighs. Pit and slice the avocado. Arrange the chicken slices, avocado, and salsa on the lettuce. Drizzle a little of the remaining dressing over the top. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Grilled Halloumi with Rosemary-Grape-Walnut Relish & Garlic Bread


Here we are in the heart of grilling season. There are a lot of enticing recipes out there – most of which revolve around meat – but I’m going to share something a little different, and if you’re a cheese-lover like me, you are sure to get excited about this one. It’s a cheese plate on the grill! A grilling cheese like halloumi or yanni can withstand the heat of the grill without melting. It softens nicely on the inside, and appealing golden grill marks form on its exterior. The creamy, slightly salty taste is a brilliant match for the sweet rosemary-grape-walnut relish and the the rustic, grilled garlic bread. The relish gets a delicious sweet, smoky flavor from cooking the bunch of grapes directly on the grill (I bet you’ve never grilled grapes before!) The garlic bread adds a nice savory counterpoint. Try this as an appetizer at your next BBQ, or as a dinner in itself (as we did) served with a salad dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette. Dining al fresco makes it taste even better.


Grilled Halloumi with Rosemary-Grape-Walnut Relish & Garlic Bread

(From the June/July 2011 issue of Fine Cooking)

1 medium red onion, cut into 3 to 4 thick slices
2 Tbs. plus 4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 oz. halloumi cheese, cut into 3/8-inch-thick slabs (we used Yanni, a Mediterranean grilling cheese)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 small loaf of ciabatta (about 8 oz.),cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup walnuts
1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
1 large bunch seedless black or red grapes (about 1-1/4 lb.)
2 to 3 tsp. balsamic vinegar

  • Prepare a charcoal or (high) gas grill.
  • Drizzle the onion slices with 2 tsp. of the oil and lightly season them with salt and pepper.
  • Pat the cheese dry and drizzle with 2 tsp. of the oil.
  • In a small bowl, mix the remaining 2 Tbs. of oil, the garlic, and a pinch each of salt and pepper; brush the mixture evenly over one side of the bread slices.
  • Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a small skillet over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until golden-brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Coarsely chop the walnuts while still hot and transfer them to a medium bowl. Mix in the rosemary.
  • Place the onion slices and the bunch of grapes on the grill. Cover and grill, turning once, until the grapes are bursting and the onions are grill marked, about 10 minutes. Transfer the grapes to the bowl with the walnuts, and the onions to a cutting board.
  • Use tongs to pull the grapes from their stems as well as crush them one by one before dropping them into the bowl with the walnuts & rosemary. Chop the grilled onions and add them to the bowl. Season to taste with the vinegar, salt, and pepper. Set relish aside.
  • Clean and oil the grill grate. Place the bread and cheese on the grate and grill uncovered, turning once, until there are nice grill marks on both sides, 4 to 5 minutes. Divide the bread, cheese, and relish among 4 plates (if enjoying as an appetizer) or 2 plates (as a main dish) and enjoy immediately. A lighter bodied red wine pairs wonderfully with this meal.

And yes, I’m aware of the sippy cup in the background of our pictures. “You know you’re food blogger-mom when …”

Tea-Smoked Duck


We all appreciate quick and easy weeknight meals, but there is something to be said for more complex recipes, when the steps can enjoyed over the course of a Saturday afternoon while sipping a beer. Two weekends ago was especially eventful and worthy of such a recipe; Levi took his first steps on my parents’ deck. His motivation? We’re pretty sure he was going straight for the barbecue. Who could blame him for choosing it as his first destination? We were tea-smoking a duck. Overnight it marinated in sherry, ginger and soy sauce, and then it cooked over indirect heat, while being infused with a flavorful smoke coming from a foil packet set over the coals. The loose leaf tea, jasmine rice, start anise, cinnamon, and orange zest inside the foil worked its magic, producing a duck with a beautifully dark crispy skin and tender meat with a pleasingly complex flavor. Sound good? Yeah, we thought so too.


We first learned about the method of tea-smoking from an issue of Fine Cooking last summer (here is a helpful video on their website). This method (which according to the magazine used to be a way to preserve food in ancient China) is also great for cooking chicken, shrimp, and salmon, or anything that you think could benefit from that delicious smokiness. We looked up several other recipes online, since Fine Cooking’s recipe called for a duck breast, rather than a whole duck. When we heard that our local meat shop El Salchichero was going to be selling whole ducks, we decided it was finally time to try it out.


Tea-Smoked Duck

(Adapted from Fine Cooking, this recipe, and this recipe)

For the Duck:

1 whole duck (ours was about 5 lbs)
1/4 cup sherry wine
2 TBS. soy sauce
1-2 TBS. honey
2 TBS. grated ginger
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

  • Rinse the duck, then pat dry. Place in a receptacle big enough to hold the duck. We used a large casserole dish with a glass lid.
  • Poke the duck all over with a fork.¬† This let’s the marinade in and also let’s the fat out while cooking.
  • Mix the sherry, soy sauce, honey, and ginger in a small bowl.
  • Salt and pepper the duck to your liking.
  • Pour the marinade on the duck and rub it around.
  • Marinate overnight, covered, in the refrigerator.

For the Tea-Smoking Packet:

2 TBS. star anise
2 TBS. sichuan peppercorns
1 cup aromatic rice
1 cup brown suger
Fresh orange peel from 1 orange (use a vegetable peeler and try to avoid the pith as much as possible)
1 cinnamon stick broken into smaller pieces (a hammer works well for this)
1 cup loose leaf tea (we used a combo of some Assam, a Japanese green, and another variety of black tea)

  • Place all the ingredients on a large piece of foil and fold into a little packet.¬† Poke some holes in the foil packet.

On the Grill:

  • Truss the duck tightly.
  • Prepare the coals for indirect heat and place a drip pan under where the duck will sit.¬† You want the temperature of the grill to be about 300 degrees (we couldn’t get it under 400, which worked, but the duck cooked a little faster than what is ideal).
  • Place the foil packet directly on the coals.¬† Place the duck on the grill.¬† Cover.¬† Resist the temptation to open the grill for at least the first 40-45 minutes.
  • Cook until the internal temp reaches 165-170 degrees.¬† Let rest, covered,¬† about 10 minutes.¬† Carve and enjoy!

Ultimate Sriracha Burger


If you go through the Rooster Sauce bottle as often as we do, then you probably know that they recently came out with a Sriracha Cookbook, and in it you will find a variety of recipes ranging from “Srirachili con carne” & bacon-Sriracha cornbread to peach-Sriracha sorbet. This stuff is versatile!¬† (Photo from Amazon.com)

They weren’t kidding about this Ultimate Sriracha Burger (don’t be turned off by the heart attack warning that prefaces the recipe in the book). This thing was intense. We planned a special “Sriracha dinner night” with our friends because this burger definitely warranted company! Let me break it down for you – a buttery broiche bun, grilled grass-fed beef patty seasoned with Sriracha and soy sauce, bacon, caramelized onions (caramelized in the bacon fat!! yum!), nutty swiss cheese, peppery arugula, tomato, and a (not so) secret (anymore) sauce of tangy blue cheese dressing mixed with Sriracha. Good luck getting your mouth around it, but when you do, the flavors come together brilliantly. The Sriracha really packs a punch, but not an overwhelming punch. The extra “secret sauce” just cries out for sweet potato fries to be dipped into it, which is just what we did!

I can’t believe the weather we had last weekend. Here we were in February, grilling burgers in the backyard on Superbowl Sunday, wearing shorts and flip flops, while so much of the country is blanketed in snow! It seems unfair, but we embraced it. Earlier in the day we picked up a growler of Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing Amber – a refreshing match for these zesty burgers.


Ultimate Sriracha Burger

(Adapted from The Sriracha Cookbook; Makes 4 burgers with extra “special sauce”)

1 1/2 lbs. ground grass-fed chuck
2 TBS. soy sauce
5 TBS. Sriracha, divided
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 slices thick cut bacon
1 large sweet onion
3/4 cup blue cheese dressing
4 brioche buns
4 thick slices Swiss cheese
1 tomato, sliced
several handfuls of arugula

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, soy sauce, 2 1/2 TBS. of the Sriracha, and the pepper. Be careful not to overmix. Form the mixture into 4 patties, and set aside, on a parchment-lined plate, covered, in the refrigerator.
  • Preheat a charcoal or gas grill to medium high heat.In a medium frying pan over medium-low heat, cook the bacon, turning as necessary. While the bacon is cooking, peel and quarter the onions. Cut each section into 1/4-inch slices. Once the bacon is cooked through and slightly crispy, remove the slices from the pan, cut each in half crosswise, and drain onto paper towels, reserving the remaining bacon fat in the pan. Cook the sliced onions in the bacon fat over medium-low heat until they caramelize, 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Grill the burgers, turning once, 4 to 41/2 minutes on each side or until a meat thermometer registers 130¬į¬†to 135¬įF for medium-rare.
  • While the burgers are cooking, combine the blue cheese dressing with the remaining 2 1/2 TBS. Sriracha in a small bowl.
  • Lightly toast the buns on the grill during the last minute of cooking time.
  • Assemble the ultimate burger! Spread the blue cheese mixture on both halves of each hamburger bun. Stack a burger patty, slice of swiss cheese, bacon, caramelized onions, slice of tomato, and a small handful of arugula between each hamburger bun. Devour (not saying it’s easy)!

Caramelized Chipotle Chicken


Happy New Year! Obviously my resolution was not to blog more frequently. In fact, I didn’t make any resolutions because I didn’t want to set myself up for disappointment. I just want to be a good mom this year and try to take one day at a time without worrying about the next one! It’s been harder lately to get stuff done around here. Levi’s not quite crawling yet, but he still manages to cruise around the room and get into things by sort of pivoting his body in various directions. He can also pull himself up onto the coffee table and couch, which means lots of bumps and bruises are in our near future. Despite these new challenges, we somehow managed to try a delicious new recipe last night! Thank goodness I have a husband who likes to cook!

Two of my favorite food bloggers, Elly of Elly Says Opa and Josie of Pink Parsley, made this recipe that originated in Gourmet, and both of their mouth watering pictures and descriptions pushed it to the top of our list of things to make! Plus, it’s been dipping into the 30s at night (I know that seems like nothing compared to those of you who are having crazy snow right now, but we’re self-proclaimed cold wimps from CA!), so we wanted something bold and spicy in flavor to warm us up!

Chipotle chiles in adobo are one of our favorite ingredients. Remember when we found them at an import food store in Japan and went chipotle crazy for a week, making things like Chipotle Tomato Rice, Spicy Tomato Soup, and Sizzling Hot Shrimp?¬† We loved the sweetness, smokiness, and tangy-ness of this dish; basically, we just pan-fried chicken breast halves, topped them with a chipotle barbecue sauce, and (per Elly’s advice) broiled them until nice and caramelized (rather than roasting). We served them with some steamed rice (made with chicken stock instead of water for more flavor; and I threw a tiny bit of chopped chipotles in there too, just for the heck of it), and a nice big salad.


Caramelized Chipotle Chicken

(Adapted from Gourmet)

3 TBS. olive oil, divided
4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. chopped chipotles in adobo
1/2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
a pinch of cumin*
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

* Not in original recipe, but we loved the flavor it added … a little earthiness to go with the cinnamon!

  • Heat 1 1/2 TBS. of the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until shimmery. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden. Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon. Reduce heat to medium and add the onions to the oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
  • Add garlic back to skillet, as well as remaining ingredients, except chicken. Simmer until thickened (for us, the sauce was already pretty thick after adding the ingredients. We only had to simmer for a few minutes to heat the sauce up and incorporate all the flavors!)
  • Season the chicken with a little salt & pepper. In another skillet, heat the remaining 1 1/2 TBS. oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the chicken and cook until golden on one side, about 7 minutes. Flip chicken, cover skillet, and continue cooking until chicken is cooked through.
  • Preheat the broiler. Transfer cooked chicken from skillet to a baking pan. Spoon the chipotle sauce over the chicken. Place under the broiler until nice and caramelized, about 5 minutes (watching carefully, so as not to burn it!) Transfer to plates and enjoy!

Grilled Cornmeal Crust Pizza with eggplant, summer squash, goat cheese, prosciutto, and caramelized onions

I can’t believe it’s October already. There’s finally a little chill in the air, and for the first time in ages I heard “chance of showers” on the weather.¬† Yay! It’s funny to think that at this time last year, I was 2 months pregnant and had a strong aversion to pizza and anything that involved cooked vegetables.

Anyway, so last Saturday was really lame. It might have had something to do with my trip to the dentist earlier that day, where I learned of some impending fillings that I must deal with in the near future¬† :(.¬† Then I was feeling down about being in a dinner rut, and being a poor meal planner.¬† Fast-forward to Sunday — a much better day.¬† It started with a productive morning at the climbing gym with my mom, and then out of the blue a wonderful dinner idea dawned on me while I was sipping my Black IPA from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing.

New Leaf Community Market sells these delicious cornmeal pizza crusts in packs of two. Aha! Two blank canvases on which to create the pizza of our dreams! We combined some grilled end-of-summer eggplant and summer squash with sliced fresh tomatoes, caramelized onions, goat cheese, prosciutto, fresh oregano, and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Aha! A simple dinner. Worthy of company even! Some good friends of ours were in town, so we invited them over, made a quick salad, threw the pizzas on the grill to warm and crisp up the crust, opened a bottle of organic red wine (thanks, guys!) and enjoyed our masterpiece. I was happy to end the weekend on a joyful note.

  • Caramelize the onions. Peel 1 small onion, cut it in half, then place cut side down and slice lengthwise. Coat the bottom of a wide saut√© pan with olive oil and a little butter. Heat over medium high until oil is shimmering, then add your onions. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until the onions turn dark brown, but don’t burn. Turn the heat down if it looks like they’re going to burn. 1 onion took about 20-30 minutes to caramelize. When they look pretty much done, add a small splash of balsamic vinegar to bring out the taste of the onions and sprinkle them with a little kosher salt. Delicious.¬† Transfer to an air tight container and store in the fridge until pizza time.
  • Chop some prosciutto into little bits and fry in a little olive oil until lightly browned. Transfer to a small bowl. This can be done ahead of time as well.
  • Preheat a charcoal grill.
  • Slice the eggplant and summer squash and drizzle with olive oil. Grill until done and nice grill marks form. The squash takes a little longer than the eggplant. Set aside.
  • Make the pizza! Start with laying some thinly sliced fresh tomato on the crust, followed by the grilled eggplant and squash slices, some caramelized onions, prosciutto, goat cheese, fresh chopped oregano, and a sprinkling of Parmesan Reggiano. Place pizzas on the grill and cook until the crust is golden, about 12 minutes. Remove from grill, slice, and enjoy.

and of course, an updated picture of Levi, still in his PJs on a Sunday morning.

Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall “Steak & Potatoes”


Levi turned 5 months today. He recently rolled over for the first time and surprised the crap out of himself (not literally).¬† In all the excitement of watching my little boy go from newborn to smiley guy, I feel like summer never happened. Now it’s September and I can hardly believe it.¬† It’s hard to completely let go of summer when you feel like it never happened, but also when there are still beautiful tomatoes and summer squash at the farmer’s market and in the CSA box. I don’t care what the calendar says. But looking at all the fall issues of food magazines got me craving sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and other fall produce. I decide to create an “in between seasons” dinner — steaks, tomatoes, and zucchini on the grill, and a sweet potato side-dish in the oven.

Fine Cooking helped inspire me.  In their Cooking by the Calendar article, they featured a late-summer meal that involved a quick grilled steak, brushed with a mixture of mustard, brown sugar, salt & pepper. We used that marinade on a new york steak. Then Dustin found some beautiful heirloom tomatoes that we halved and grilled for just a few minutes, giving them a delicious smoky flavor, while preserving their tomato essence. The summer squash was locally grown and a nice companion for the tomatoes. The sweet potatoes taste like my favorite ravioli dish, without the ravioli. Roasted sweet potato cubes are tossed with brown butter & sage. This might be my new fall side dish! The entire meal was flavorful, colorful, and bridged the gap between summer and fall. Now I think I can bid farewell until next year.

Steak with Quick-Grilled Heirloom Tomatoes & Summer Squash

1 new york steak (about 1 lb for 2 people)
1 TBS. extra virgin olive oil + more for drizzling over the veggies
1 TBS. Dijon mustard
1 TBS. brown sugar
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 heirloom tomatoes, halved
1 summer squash, halved

  • Prepare a medium-high heat charcoal grill. In a small bowl, combine 1 TBS. of the oil, the mustard, brown sugar, and some salt & pepper. Brush all over the steak and set aside.
  • Drizzle and rub the cut tomatoes and squash with olive oil, and season with salt & pepper.
  • Grill the steak, flipping once, until medium rare (until the steak reaches 130 to 135 degrees). Transfer to a plate, cover with foil, and let rest.
  • Grill the¬† squash and the tomatoes, cut side-down for a few minutes, until some nice grill marks form. Take the tomatoes off the grill, and cook the squash just a few minutes longer.
  • Slice the steak against the grain and serve next to the tomatoes and squash, and these delicious roasted sweet potatoes with brown butter and sage.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Brown Butter & Sage

(Adapted from the Oct./Nov. issue of Fine Cooking)

2 sweet potatoes
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
fresh sage
butter (about 2 TBS)
splash of orange juice

  • Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into bite-sized cubes. Toss with olive oil and salt. Roast in a 400 degree oven until tender.
  • Meanwhile, cook chopped fresh sage and a pinch of salt in melted butter until butter browns.
  • Add a splash of orange juice (or a squeeze of lemon, if you have one) and toss with the potatoes.

BBQ Turkey Meatballs


When Whole Foods came to Santa Cruz, we protested and threw a fit, in fear that our locally owned grocery stores (two in the vicinity of Whole Foods) would be overshadowed by “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store.”¬† That’s just the normal reaction around here when a chain store comes to town. I (unfortunately) remember as a young child seeing topless protesters in front of the Gap downtown (lovely), and when Border’s moved in, some angry mob decided it was a good idea to throw acid on the windows. Come on, people. I love Santa Cruz because you really have to look hard to find a chain store, and I love to support the local places when given a choice.¬† But when it comes down to it, of all the chains to come to that building, Whole Foods is better than a Walmart, right? And I don’t think it was worth all the fuss.

I still consider myself a devout shopper at Shopper’s Corner, New Leaf, and Staff of Life, but once in a while, I stop into Whole Foods, and I don’t let myself feel guilty about it. When Levi was brand new, and cooking was not on our radar, we went there once to check out the prepared food section. It was quite impressive. One of the items we picked (among the overwhelming number of choices, from grilled salmon with peach salsa, to fried chicken) was BBQ Turkey Meatballs. I remember them fondly because I was so hungry when we bought them and they were exactly what I wanted them to be — flavorful, juicy meatballs covered in a sweet & tangy BBQ sauce. I thought our version was pretty darn close.


BBQ Turkey Meatballs

1 lb. ground turkey
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
(I made my own by throwing the 2 heels of my sliced sourdough loaf into the food processor)
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. salt
2 TBS. of your favorite BBQ sauce (we love Stubb’s) + more for simmering
olive oil

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the first 7 ingredients. Mix together with your hands until everything is incorporated. Form into six 2-inch balls, return to the bowl, cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to start dinner.
  • Drizzle some olive oil into a large skillet, just enough to coat the bottom, and turn heat to medium. When hot, add the meatballs. Let cook for a minute, then use tongs to (carefully) rotate the meatballs until they’re nicely browned all over. This will take about 10-12 minutes. Turn off the heat for a few minutes to let the pan cool down before adding the sauce.
  • Pour some BBQ sauce into the skillet and use the tongs to coat the meatballs in the sauce. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 15 minutes, or until meatballs are cooked through, uncovering once or twice to spoon some sauce over the meatballs.
  • Serve with rice pilaf and roasted broccoli (or your favorite, seasonal vegetable).

[1st post-baby dinner!] Grilled Red Trout Fillets, Artichokes, and Salad with Grilled Lime Slices


Hello oishiifood followers.¬† This is a guest post by Dustin.¬† As you all know, Brianna does most of the writing for this wonderful collection of recipes we’ve come up with/tried.¬† I’m usually the “behind the scenes” guy doing my part in the kitchen and behind the camera.¬† So it’s a treat for me to share this recipe with all of you!


We made this dinner while my dad was up visiting his new grandson.¬† It was actually the first dinner we made since bringing Levi home so I wanted to do something easy but also extremely delicious! My dad and I left Brianna home with Levi and went to our local market (Shopper’s Corner).¬† I saw these beautiful red trout fillets and asked the butcher for two pounds (there were only 3 of us but I figured my dad and I can pack down the food).¬† When we got it home and I unwrapped it.¬† I couldn’t believe how much two pounds of fish really is!¬† Needless to say, I have a habit of getting way too much protein when left to my own devices and two pounds was about a half-pound too much for the three of us.¬† We also got some organic artichokes, zucchini, and a spring salad mix.¬† Now that I had all this fish, I had to figure out what to do with it.¬† I knew I wanted to grill the artichokes and the zucchini so I figured why not grill the trout too!

*One thing to note about my cooking style is that it’s very organic and not very precise.¬† I just kinda go with it.¬† So you’ll have to forgive the imprecise measurements and trust your instincts if you try this recipe!

Trout

1/2 pound of red trout fillets per person
a few cloves of garlic, minced
a good dose of olive oil
a healthy pour of paprika
salt and pepper
juice of one medium meyer lemon (ours was home grown!)
zest of 1/2 of one meyer lemon
long metal spatula

  • Set the trout out on a baking sheet.¬† Allow to come to room temp.
  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine all the other ingredients.¬† It should have a nice syrup like texture.¬† If it’s too watery throw in some more paprika and olive oil!
  • Once the marinade is ready, get down and dirty with those trout fillets.¬† Rub that stuff on there like there’s no tomorrow.¬† Each piece should be coated evenly.¬† Allow to sit (on the counter or in the fridge) for at least 15 minutes.¬† The lemon juice may turn the top of the fillets a grayish color, don’t worry, that’s perfectly normal.
  • Once the grill is heated up and ready to go, throw on the fillets.¬† Cover the BBQ and let those guys cook for a little while (depending on thickness around 4-7 minutes).¬† Here comes the tricky part, flipping the fillets.¬† Time to get out (or go buy) a long metal spatula.¬† Trout isn’t the heartiest fish, in fact it’s pretty delicate.¬† The flipping part of this is kinda like punching through a board (you know like karate kid), once you commit you have to go all the way.¬† Cook on this side for another 2-4 minutes.
  • That’s it!¬† You should now have some incredibly scrumptious fish ready to serve.

Artichokes

This is the first time that I actually cooked my own artichokes believe it or not.  I mostly just made it up  as I went after reading conflicting things online about the best way to grill them.  It worked out pretty dang nicely if I may say so.

at least 1/2 an artichoke per person
1 small lime or lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper

  • Get a large pot, fill it with water, and get it boiling.
  • Meanwhile, cut off the top 1/2″ – 1″ of the artichokes depending on size.¬† Two things to note here: 1) Use the sharpest knife you have, these things are tough!¬† 2) You should see a tiny bit of purple in the center of the now cut off top, though different varieties may look slightly different).
  • Use that lime or lemon and juice up the “injured” leaves.¬† Place the artichokes in a large bowl of cool water, squeeze the rest of the lemon or lime juice in there, and let them sit for about 10 minutes or so.
  • After their soaking time is up, hold them upside down in the cool water bath and plunge each one up and down in the water while rotating from side-to-side for a bit (it’s gets out all kinds of dirt and bugs and stuff) and then toss them in to the boiling water.
  • Cook for about 15 minutes or until the base of the large leaves feel somewhat tender and the whole thing is noticeably more flexible.
  • Allow to cool.¬† Then cut in half on the vertical axis (through the stem, top to bottom).
  • With a spoon, scoop out all that hairy looking stuff.¬† Don’t go too deep into the base though, that’s the “heart” and it’s delicious!¬† Get rid of the smallest rows of leaves as well, the ones with really spiky feeling tips that come out with virtually no resistance.¬† Put the artichokes on a platter and drizzle with a little olive oil, add some salt and pepper, and they’re ready to grill!
  • Grill “open” side down for about 5-7 minutes or until you see some nice grill marks and they just look so mouth watering you can’t bear to leave them on the grill a moment longer.
  • Serve with mayonnaise for dipping.

Salad with Grilled Lime Slices

Lettuce of your choices (we used a spring mix, red leaf would be great too) for however many people
Greek style yogurt
juice from 1 medium lime
Agave nectar
1 medium lime thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper
salt and pepper

  • Grill the lime slices until they start to caramelize a bit and you see some nice grill marks.*
  • For the dressing, combine a good dollop or two of the yogurt, the lime juice, a healthy drizzle of agave nectar, and salt and pepper in a bowl.
  • Toss the lettuce, sliced bell pepper and the dressing in a large salad bowl.¬† Dish.¬† Then throw a couple of the lime slices on there to make it look pretty (and taste amazing too)!

*the grilled lime slices are equally good with the trout fillets!

Yakitori


We miss our “yakitori man.” There was a supermarket right across the street from our apartment in Japan, and every Friday a man would set up a little red cart right out front. Starting at about 10 am, we’d start to smell that sweet sauce brushed over skewered chicken (and other meats) cooking over an open flame, and it became the official smell of Fridays in Japan. Especially in the winter (because the warmth of the grill felt good in the 20 degree air), we would walk across the street to get yakitori for dinner. We were the only foreigners in our neighborhood, so I wonder if he thought it was slightly odd that these Americans stood in his line on Fridays and butchered the ordering of his tasty, skewered treats.

In Japanese, the counting system is far from consistent. Depending on the shape of the item (flat, round, stick-like) or the state of its being (animal, human, large electrical appliance) there is a different way to count. Of course the first time we tried to order 8 yakitori skewers, we used the wrong word for 8, and he kindly corrected us. That’s how we learned the correct way to order 8 stick-like objects.

The chicken itself was never the best quality. In fact, most of the pieces were more fat than meat. But the sauce that the yakitori man brushed on those skewers as they were cooking was so addicting, that somehow we tolderated the fatty chicken and ate it anyway. To enjoy yakitori at home, we recommend using boneless skinless thigh meat, like we did last night. Serve the skewers over steamed white rice and some cucumber salad (marinate sliced cucumbers in rice vinegar, sliced chiles, and salt and sugar to taste), because something pickled cuts through the richness of the sauce and the slight amount of fat on the chicken.

Yakitori

(serves 3-4)

1 1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
1-2 TBS. brown sugar
5 green onions (thick green onions work best)
6-8 bamboo skewers

  • Combine equal parts soy sauce and mirin (we used about 1/4 cup each), and the brown sugar in a large baking dish that’s long enough for the skewers to fit into.¬† Taste and add more brown sugar if you like a sweeter sauce. Add the chicken pieces and toss well to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or overnight.
  • Meanwhile, soak bamboo skewers in water.
  • Slice the thick part of the green onions into 1-inch long pieces, reserving the thinner green part for another use. Set aside. Prepare your grill (use charcoal for best taste!)
  • Assemble the yakitori. Take the chicken pieces out of the marinade and put on the skewers, along with the green onion pieces. Grill for 5-6 minutes on each side, or until chicken is browned and cooked through.
  • Serve with steamed rice, cucumber salad, and miso soup.

Grilled Lamb Gyros with Tzatziki & Summer Chickpea Salad


We’ve been thinking about gyros ever since we went to a Greek Food Festival with our friends last month. I think my favorite part of a gyro is the tzatziki. The cucumber, lemon and yogurt make for a refreshing sauce that goes perfectly with grilled meat, tomatoes and onions. Last night we made our own version of a gyro by wrapping pita bread around grilled lamb that was marinated in olive oil, herbs, and garlic, some homemade tzatziki, and a summery salad of chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, red onion, feta cheese and herbs that I found in one of my favorite Jamie Oliver cookbooks. Some grilled summer squash rounded out what we deemed the perfect summer BBQ meal.

Last night was a wonderful night to eat outside. Not only are we approaching the longest day of the year so it stays light long enough to finish both dinner and dessert (and a bottle of wine or two), but it’s been staying warm until the sun goes down. Also, we planted a little vegetable garden today and wanted to be near it! Some sugar snap peas will soon be growing up bamboo sticks. Grow, peas, grow!


We also planted two varieties of tomatoes (Early Girl and another that I’ll have to get back to you on, but it’s an heirloom variety), an artichoke, a zucchini, and basil! Look how cute this little sugar snap pea plant is! I haven’t gotten around to photographing the other plants yet, sorry!


Unrelated to vegetables, the hydrangeas are gorgeous right now! Don’t they make you want to be outside? My cats love to jump around and try to catch the bees that hover over their flowers. Sometimes they do little back-flips in the process and it’s very entertaining to watch. Cats really do always land on their feet! Ok, now let’s get to some recipes …


Summer Chickpea Salad
(Slightly adapted from Jamie Oliver)


1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 clove of garlic, minced

2 fresh red chilies, de-seeded and sliced

2 handfuls of yellow pear tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes), halved

2 limes

extra virgin olive oil

salt & freshly ground black pepper

cumin
chili flakes

1 14 oz. jar of chickpeas, drained

a handful of fresh mint, chopped

a handful of fresh basil, finely ripped

7 oz. feta cheese

  • In a bowl, combine the sliced onion, garlic, chilies, and tomatoes. Dress with the juice of 1 1/2 limes and about 3 times as much olive oil. Season to taste with salt, pepper, cumin, and chili flakes (or whatever combination of spices you desire).
  • Heat the chickpeas in a pan. Add 90% of them to the bowl. Mush up the remaining 10% and add these to the bowl as well (Jamie says they give a nice, creamy consistency. They sure did).
  • Allow salad to marinate for a little while and serve at room temperature. Just before serving, add the fresh mint & basil. Taste one more time and adjust the seasoning. You can also add the juice from the remaining lime half if you think it needs it. Crumble the feta cheese over the salad and gently mix. Serves 4.

Tzatziki


1 english cucumber
1 cup yogurt

2 garlic cloves, minced
juice from 1/2 a lemon
1/4 of a small red onion, minced (optional – we had some leftover from the salad)
a handful of fresh oregano, chopped

salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Grate the cucumber onto a kitchen towel or heavy duty paper towel. Pick up the towel and squeeze the excess moisture out of the cucumber. Do this several times until no more water is coming out of the towel.
  • In a small bowl, combine the grated cucumber, yogurt, lemon juice, red onion, minced garlic, oregano, and salt & pepper. Mix well. Cover and let chill in the refrigerator for a little while so the flavors can mingle. Taste again before serving and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Grilled Boneless Leg of Lamb Gyros
(We explained to our butcher that we wanted to grill lamb to slice to make gyros. He was very helpful and offered to sell us the boneless legs that they usually use to make the marinated lamb cubes. The moral of the story is – don’t be afraid to ask your butcher if you don’t know exactly what kind of cut of meat to get! They are there to help you out!)


2 lbs boneless leg of lamb
paprika
cumin

salt & freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
several cloves of garlic, minced
fresh rosemary, chopped
fresh oregano, chopped
about 1 TBS red wine vinegar

  • Make a dry rub out of enough paprika, cumin, salt and pepper to cover every surface of your lamb. Place in a baking dish or pie pan.
  • In a small bowl, combine enough oil, minced garlic, chopped herbs, and vinegar to create a pesto-like consistency. Rub this mixture all over the lamb. Allow to marinate for at least an hour. Two is even better. Prepare a charcoal grill (we used mesquite charcoal for a delicious, smoky taste). Let lamb come to room temp before grilling.
  • Remove the lamb from the marinade and place on the grill. Cook, turning occasionally until the meat reaches an internal temperature of about 145 degrees for medium-rare. Let rest 10-12 minutes before thinly slicing.
  • Assemble the gyros by heating up some whole wheat (and/or regular) pitas on the grill. Top with a few slices of lamb, a spoonful of chickpea salad, and some tzatziki. Alternatively, you can enjoy “de-constructed gyros” by placing all these components on your plate and enjoying in whatever order/combination you like!

Spice-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Ancho Chile-Mustard Sauce


We took pork tenderloin to a whole new level last night. I had confessed over dinner with our friends that I often get bored with pork tenderloin. Well, when I took the first bite of the meal that we had made together, I took it back. Wow. The pork was tender, moist, and spicy! The sauce provided another layer of spiciness, this one more subtle, and balanced by the sweetness of maple syrup. We owe the complexity of flavor to the fact that we had at least 4 different kinds of chiles in our kitchen doing various things – being ground into powder, being steeped in hot water, and being pureed into a paste. The smell lingered in the house for awhile, and if we closed our eyes it was like we were standing in the middle of a spice market. As we always say as we’re sitting down to dinner, “Go team!” We’re thankful to have friends who enjoy cooking together and savoring the results! Speaking of savoring, the Primitivo that we opened went wonderfully with the earthy spiciness of the various chiles.

Spice-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Ancho Chile-Mustard Sauce
(Adapted from The Cookbook Critic. Original recipe from The Food Network)
Serves 4

For the Spice Rub:

3 TBS. olive oil
1 TBS. achiote paste
3 TBS. chile de arbol powder (we used whole dried chile de arbol and pulsed them in a food processor)
2 TBS. chile powder (whatever is in your spice rack)
salt & pepper

For the Ancho Chile-Mustard Sauce:

4 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup water
6 black peppercorns
zest of 1 lime
2 tsp. puréed canned chipotle in adobo
4 TBS. ancho chile purée (*see below for instructions)
1 TBS. dijon mustard
2 TBS. plain yogurt
juice of 1 lime

For the Tenderloin:

2 pork tenderloins, about 12 oz. each

  • Prepare a charcoal or gas grill. Make the Spice Rub: Put the olive oil into a small bowl. Add the achiote paste and mix together. Add the remaining rub ingredients and stir together. Set aside.
  • Combine the chicken stock, maple syrup, water, peppercorns and lime zest with the chipotle and ancho pur√©es in a medium saucepan over high heat and reduce to a sauce-like consistency, about 15 to 20 minutes. Whisk in mustard and yogurt and cook for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir in the lime juice. Set aside.

  • While sauce is reducing, rub with tenderloins with the olive oil-spice rub mixture.

  • Grill until the tenderloins reach 155 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from grill and let rest for 10 minutes.
  • Slice tenderloins and spoon the ancho chile-mustard over the top.

*Ancho Chile Puree:

Soak a 3-oz. package of dried chiles in hot water to cover for about 1 hour. Drain, then pull the stem ends off and discard. The seeds can be discarded or blended with the chiles, depending on how spicy you want the purée to be. Blend the chiles in a food processor until smooth, adding a small amount of their soaking water if necessary (no more than 1/4 cup). This makes plenty of chile purée (more than what is needed for the recipe) You can freeze the leftovers for up to 3 months.


What did we eat with our spicy pork tenderloin? I was getting to that! We made a salad of baby tatsoi, strawberries, pasilla peppers, and red onion with a cilantro-lime vinaigrette. It was inspired by a salad that our friend enjoyed at Red Restaurant & Bar in downtown Santa Cruz. We made two major changes, however: 1) the store was out of poblano peppers so we had to use pasilla peppers and 2) we forgot to grill the pasilla peppers. Oh well. The salad was still refreshing and summery! We’ll be trying it again soon the *real* way!


For dessert we had strawberry shortcake, using my Quick Yogurt Biscuits as the base (I added 2 TBS. of sugar to the recipe this time). They were a great canvas for sliced strawberries and freshly whipped cream!

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce


We’ve been having unusually warm weather for January! Last Sunday we pretended it was summer (although it wasn’t that hard to pretend when it was 70 degrees at 5:00 in the evening), fired up the BBQ, and invited some good friends over for appetizers. They brought rounds of polenta (both regular, and sun-dried tomato) topped with saut√©ed collard greens (fresh from their CSA box), bacon, shrimp and a dollop of roasted red pepper & artichoke tapenade. We loved the combination of flavors and textures – the saltiness of the bacon complimented the sweet polenta, the bitter greens, and the briny shrimp.The tail was even taken off the shrimp making it easy to eat. Well done!


Our contribution was chicken satay with peanut sauce, one of the first things that we ever made together when we started cooking in college. Strips of chicken are marinated in coconut milk, curry power, fish sauce, and cilantro, weaved onto wooden skewers and then cooked over a charcoal grill. Paired with a slightly crunchy and spicy peanut sauce, you will definitely want to serve these at your next party, no matter what temperature it is outside!

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce
(adapted and reworded from William Sonoma Asian)
Serves 4 as an appetizer

1 1/2 lb (750 g) boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 1/2 cups coconut milk, divided
4 TBS fish sauce, divided
5 TBS. brown sugar, divided
2 TBS. chopped fresh cilantro, plus 1 TBS. chopped stems
1 TBS. hot curry powder
1 shallot
2 garlic cloves
1 TBS. peeled and chopped ginger
1 TBS. peeled and chopped lemongrass
1 fresh hot red chile, seeded and chopped
1 TBS. canola oil
1 TBS. fresh lime juice
1 cup unsalted peanuts, toasted and minced
12-15 bamboo skewers

  • Start soaking the bamboo skewers in a pan of water.
  • Prepare your charcoal (or gas) grill.
  • Cut the chicken thighs into strips, about 3 or 4 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide.
  • In a large bowl, combine 1/2 a cup of the coconut milk, 2 TBS of the fish sauce, 3 TBS. of the brown sugar, the curry powder, and the cilantro. Add the chicken strips and toss to coat. Let marinade in the refrigerator while you prepare the peanut sauce.
  • In a food processor, throw in the shallot, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chile, and cilantro stems. Process until combined, then add 1-2 TBS. water until it reaches the consistency of a paste.
  • Heat the 1 TBS. of oil in a saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the shallot-garlic mixture. Saut√© until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  • Stir in the remaining 1 cup coconut milk, 2 TBS. fish sauce, 2 TBS. brown sugar, the lime juice, and peanuts. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, about 7 minutes. Taste and add more sugar, fish sauce, or lime juice if you desire.
  • Drain the skewers. Working with one skewer at a time, take a strip of chicken out of the marinade, shaking off excess. Weave the chicken strip onto the skewer (if chicken strips are short, weave 2 or 3 onto 1 skewer).
  • Place the skewers on the hot grill, away from the direct flame. Cover the grill and cook chicken until opaque, about 5-6 minutes.
  • Transfer the skewers to a platter and serve with peanut sauce on the side.

Barbequed Trout with Herbs & Potatoes


When I was a little girl, I refused to eat seafood. It’s really unfortunate because I must have missed out on a lot of delicious experiences. For example, in Felton, a small town outside of Santa Cruz, there is a restaurant called The Trout Farm Inn where you can C.Y.O.T. (catch your own trout) in the pond before the chef prepares it for you. All those years my family enjoyed the taste of the freshly caught fish, while I enjoyed chicken or something that was “safe” to me at the time. Well, tonight I realized what I’d been missing. My Mom prepared (and Dad grilled) the simplest and most delicious trout — seasoned with olive oil, salt, pepper, mint, garlic chives (also known as Chinese chives), and garlic chive-blossoms. Along with saut√©ed potatoes from our local farmer, a green salad with radishes and a vinaigrette, and a dry chardonnay, this meal was a gorgeous one.

Place the butterflied trout skin-side down and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, chopped mint, chopped garlic chives, and garlic chive blossoms. If you’re my Dad, gently use your finger to make one of the trout’s mouths say something vulgar.


Heat your grill. Medium heat is best so the fish is cooked through without burning the skin. Place the fish skin-side down on the grill and close the lid. Cook for about 10 minutes.


Serve with locally grown potatoes saut√©ed in a skillet with olive oil until they’re brown and crispy in spots.