Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chicken Thighs and Olive-Fennel Salad with Grilled Lemon Slices

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A little over five weeks ago, I left the job I'd been at for nearly twelve years. I'm still with the same company but I've changed divisions and I now work full-time from home. I've gotta say there are pluses and minuses to working from home. I can work in my slippers. I can make my lunch fresh (and eat it on the deck if my schedule allows). But I am also always within a few feet of my office. I check email at 7 a.m., 7 p.m. and everything in between. But all in all, it suits me.

I do make sure I keep work in the office as much as possible so there is some line between work and play. And I no longer mind those evening calls because I still get to see my little one in between. I don't know who invented working from home, but I think it had to have been a working mom...

As for the job itself, I'm loving it. Some days I'm not sure my teammates are speaking English. I'm in a much more technical group now with people who have decades of expertise in IT. (My boss is a "Distinguished Technologist". Impressive: yes. A bit scary: yes.) They toss out acronyms faster than you can say boo (this morning I googled COBIT), but I'm learning... It's nice to be learning again...

One thing working from home allows me to do is throw meat into a marinade in the morning. (It's the little things that make me happy.) This simple, light recipe is quick, easy and tasty. (Don't be scared off by the fennel, the lemon juice mellows the licorice flavor...)
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Chicken Thighs and Olive-Fennel Salad with Grilled Lemon Slices
adapted from Weber's Time to Grill

Prep time: 20 minutes
Marinating time: 1 hour or more
Grilling time: 8 to 10 minutes

1 lemon, cut crosswise into ¼-inch slices
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Kosher salt

Salad
1 small fennel bulb
3/4 cup pitted green olives, cut in half
Zest of 1 lemon, in long, thin shreds
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
Extra-virgin olive oil
Ground black pepper

Chicken and marinade:
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, each about 4 ounces
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 cloves garlic minced
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium bowl combine the lemon slices with the sugar and 1 tablespoon salt. Mix well and let the slices marinate at room temperature for 1 hour or cover and refrigerate overnight.

Combine marinade ingredients in a large bag and add the chicken, tossing to coat. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat (350° to 450°F).

Cut off the thick stalks and the root end from the fennel bulb and discard them. Cut the bulb lengthwise into quarters and then cut away and remove the thick triangular-shaped core. Cut the fennel vertically into ?-inch slices. Put the fennel in a medium bowl and add the remaining salad ingredients, including 1 tablespoon oil and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Set aside.

Drain (don’t rinse) the lemon slices and brush them on both sides with oil.

Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the chicken thighs, smooth (skin) side down first, and the lemon slices over direct medium heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, until the meat is firm and the juices run clear and the lemon slices are nicely browned, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once or twice. Remove from the grill and let the chicken thighs rest for 3 to 5 minutes. Serve warm with the olive salad and lemon slices.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Slow and smoky barbecued brisket

The past week has been chock full of wildlife - and for once I don't mean my little monkey of a 21-month old. One morning last week, Jeff got her out of bed and brought he into the kitchen and immediately went running out the backdoor. A deer had made an appearance. She was pointing and saying "deer" in her cute little voice as daddy carried her across the grass in her jammies. The deer quickly took flight.

Then on Saturday, we took her to the zoo. There's a great zoo in suburban NJ called the Turtle Back Zoo. Perfect for a day-trip, we arrived at 10 a.m. and made our rounds in about 2 hours. She loves pointing at the animals, especially the horses and monkeys ("ah-ahs").

at-the-zoo

One would think that was enough for animal sightings, but on Monday night, we sat on the deck eating dinner and something caught my eye out by her slide. It was a raccoon that was about twice her size. Brave daddy quickly left the deck to scare it off.

And last but not least, this morning I looked out the window and saw a big, orange fox. Now, I don't live in a woodsy area. My neighborhood is pretty developed so wildlife is usually limited to squirrels, birds and such. So now I'm wondering what will show up next... a wolf? (I tried to snap a pic of the fox and went running barefoot across the grass, but it took off when it saw me coming. I'll be better prepared next time - I've got the zoom lens on my camera now)

Anyway, enough about wildlife in suburban NJ. I took advantage of the recent Jewish holiday to get a great deal on a beef brisket. I've never made brisket, but have long wanted to make barbecue (other then ribs). I turned to my old friend Laurent Tourondel for some guidance.

This could be served plated, but we decided to go with sandwiches. I topped them with homemade cole slaw and some aged cheddar from Oscar's Smokehouse... Delish!

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Barbecued Beef Brisket with BLT BBQ sauce
Adapted from The BLT Cookbook by Laurent Tourondel

Dry Rub:
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoons garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
3/4 teaspoons black pepper
3/4 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoons dry mustard
1/4 teaspoons ground cloves
3/4 teaspoons celery seed
3/4 teaspoons salt

2-1/2 pounds beef brisket, trimmed

3 Tbsp hickory chips for an indoor smoker (or use an outdoor smoker if you have one)
3 cups BLT Barbecue Sauce, (recipe follows)

To serve: Homemade cole slaw, buns and sharp cheddar cheese

Make the Dry Rub  
In a bowl, mix together all of the dry ingredients.  Place the meat in a roasting pan and rub on all sides with the mixture.  Cover and chill at least 4 hours.

Smoke the Brisket  
In the bottom of a stove-top smoker, arrange the hickory chips, mounding them slightly in the  center.  Place the pan and rack on top, and place brisket on top of the rack.  Cover tightly with the lid and place over low heat for 1 hour.  For an outdoor smoker, follow manufacturer’s directions.

Preheat the Oven to 325° F.

Roast the Brisket  
Place the brisket in a large roasting pan.  Pour the Barbecue Sauce on top of the meat.  Pour 1-1/2 cups of water into the pan around the meat.  Cover with aluminum foil, making a tent so that it does not touch the meat.   Cook for 4 hours, basting occasionally, until the brisket is tender when pierced with a fork at the thickest part.

BBQ SAUCE

Makes about 5-1/2 cups

15 garlic cloves, peeled (about 1 whole head)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt
3 cups ketchup
3 ribs celery, chopped
1-1/2 medium size sweet onions, such as Vidalia or Bermuda, chopped
1-1/2 cups water
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves


Preheat the Oven to 375°F.

Roast the Garlic 
In a small baking pan, toss the garlic cloves with the oil and a pinch of salt.   Roast for 30 minutes or until very soft and beginning to brown.

Cook the Sauce  
Combine all of the ingredients in a large heavy saucepan.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Cook the sauce, stirring it frequently to prevent it from scorching, for 45 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and the sauce looks dark and rich.

Blend the sauce  
Let cool slightly.  Pour the sauce into a blender or food processor.  Blend until completely smooth.  Taste for seasoning.

Sauce will keep for about a month in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Butternut squash risotto

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My mission to get my 21-month old eating new foods continues. (She's winning.) As a foodie, I refuse to give in, so I simply blame teething. She did just get her bottom canines and the top ones remain a work in progress, so meals have been a challenge of late. One dinner last week consisted of a piece of bread with butter (she calls it cheese - whatever works), a few peas and some peaches. Rice, pasta and cheese remain on the good list, but meat in all its forms is suddenly (and adamantly) on the no list. But I like a challenge.

I was planning our dinner for Saturday and I'd settled on veal chops for me and Jeff and a beet and goat cheese salad with candied walnuts and arugula. But I needed a starch. A nice butternut squash caught my eye and I decided to try to make butternut squash risotto. And maybe, just maybe, wee one would partake. I mean it's rice, it's orange, and I was going to add parmesan cheese.

I was further encouraged when she eyed it in the pan and yelled "cheeeeeese!". Excellent. My plan was working. I scooped a small amount into her princess dish and blew on it til it cooled. She was ready, spoon in hand as soon as I put it down. She took a scoop put it in her mouth and... spit it out. Then she picked up the cherished princess dish, held it out to me and said "No." Another battle lost.

Don't let her opinion sway you though. This risotto is silky smooth, a bit sweet and pairs nicely with a grilled steak or chop. I tend to get risotto fatigue and just make mushroom risotto, so I'm happy to have found another variety we like. And I'll get little one to try it again... I may have lost the battle but...

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Butternut squash risotto

2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch cubes
5 cups chicken stock
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 sprig thyme
small bunch of fresh sage leaves, chopped (about 10-15 leaves)
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, bring the squash and stock to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until squash is tender, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Using a hand blender, puree the mixture. Alternatively, transfer to a blender or food processor. Return to pan and keep warm over low heat.

In another saucepan, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook until tender. Don't let the onion brown. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add the rice and stir together, allowing the rice to cook for a minute. Add the wine and stir until the wine has been absorbed. Add the sage and thyme.

Begin adding the reserved squash/stock puree about one cup at a time. Allow most of the liquid to be absorbed before adding more. Continue adding liquid until rice is almost cooked through. It should be al dente. Stir in the cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Peruvian Beef Kabobs

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Spring came early in NJ. For two weeks solid, it was 75 degrees out. For me, the weather presented a test of discipline. See, I just started a new job that allows me to work full time from home. As I sat in my home office with the window open, warm breeze blowing in, it was a true test to stay put and focus on training and work. But I did it!

But that was then... this morning it was 35 degrees when I got up...

The Spring weather inspired me to try some new recipes for the grill. My husband got out the deck furniture early and we enjoyed several nights outside, with our little one happily gobbling her dinner while she looked for "tweet-tweets". These kabobs are easy and pretty inexpensive for a beef dinner, since you use a cut of London Broil. I used a piece of meat that was about 1 3/4 pounds and we got two full meals from it. I served it with potato salad and crusty bread the first night and roasted potatoes and grilled asparagus the second...

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Peruvian Beef Kabobs
adapted from Weber: Time to Grill

3 red bell peppers, 2 whole and 1 cut into 1 1/4-inch squares
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds top round london broil, cut into 1 1/4 inch chunks

Roast 2 of the red peppers. To do this, I put them on skewers and turn them over the flame of my gas stove. You could also use the broiler in your over or your grill. Once the skins are black all over, place them in a brown paper bag and roll down the top of the bag to allow the peppers to steam.

Once the peppers have cooled, peel off the black skin and remove the stems and seeds. Tear into pieces and put into the bowl of a food processor with the garlic, vinegar, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper. Process to a paste and then stream in the oil with the processor running.

Pour 1/2 the marinade over the meat and refrigerate for several hours. Reserve the rest of the marinade to use as a sauce.

Preheat grill to medium. Place beef and remaining red pepper on skewers, alternating the meat and peppers. Grill 6-8 minutes for medium rare, turning every couple of minutes.

Serve with reserved marinade.

Serves 4.

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