Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tropical Rice

Perfect Pairing:  Tomorrow People – Ziggy Marley (click to listen)

I have a slight obsession with all things tropical in nature.  When I was 10 or 11 years old my mom and dad brought me a cassette tape from the Bahamas with some local music.  I was hooked, really hooked.   I wore that poor tape out.  I saw the Caribbean blue waters for the first time in person when I was in jr. high and the obsession just multiplied.  I dream about tropical vacations all the time, listen to reggae music more than is normal, and love to make tropical food to remind me of island life.
This Tropical Rice is full of beachy flavors and is the perfect accompaniment to fish or chicken.  I use brown rice and light coconut milk to keep it healthy.
The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is the song Tomorrow People by Ziggy Marley.  Ziggy Marley is the son of the great Bob Marley and you can definitely tell when you listen to him.  His voice is eerily similar to his legendary father.  This song evokes sandy beaches, hot sunshine, fruity drinks and azure waters.  Ahhh…

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Skillet Potatoes

Perfect Pairing:  Whatever you have left in the refrigerator/pantry

The other night I bought groceries to make dinner for my boyfriend but once I got home I just didn’t have it in me to make what was on the menu.  It was going to have to wait until another night.  When I shop for groceries I am usually buying for a specific purpose or recipe so I don’t end up having much of substance just hanging around my place.  I say this, but yet my pantry and refrigerator always seems full of something, but it usually does not equal a meal.  Odd.  The goal on this particular night was to make a decent dinner with what I had on hand.  It came out pretty well.  We dined on grilled cheese with caramelized onions, apple butter and turkey and skillet potatoes.
I remember my mom making skillet potatoes often when I was growing up.  They are so yummy and versatile.  The potatoes are the base and you can add any seasonings or veggies you have on hand.  I am not providing an exact recipe, because I don’t have one.  It is really more of an idea or method. 
This time I used baby potatoes, poked them with a fork and started them in the microwave for a couple of minutes to speed up the process.  Once they had started to soften I cut them in thick slices.  I sautéed a few chopped shallots and garlic in olive oil.  I added the sliced potatoes and asparagus.  I cooked everything until the potatoes were browned and crispy and the asparagus was cooked but still a little crunchy.  I seasoned the pan with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and garlic salt.  Right before we ate I grated romano cheese on top.
The Perfect Pairing for skillet potatoes is basically whatever you have left hanging out in the refrigerator or pantry.  You can substitute baking potatoes for baby potatoes, onions for shallots, green beans or broccoli for asparagus, add a can of drained ro-tel tomatoes, top with any cheese you have on hand.  Throw in some fresh herbs like rosemary, chives, thyme or basil.  You can’t screw them up!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Chicken Chili

Perfect Pairing:  Immersion Blender

I think everyone has their own version of chili.  I love my parent’s chili recipe.  It is really traditional but it is true comfort food.  My dad has tried to sneak in venison many times but my mom and I can always tell as soon as we walk in the door.  It goes something like this…..
Mom stirs the pot of chili and says, “Jerry…. You used venison!” 
Dad says, “Now, Linda, you don’t know that!  You have not even tried it!”
Mom says, “You can’t fool me honey.”
He really can’t fool us but he still tries.  He has also used elk meat in the past and we definitely prefer that over venison.  My brother makes a mean chili and always tops it with shredded cheddar and Chili Cheese Fritos.  It is crazy good.  Next time you make chili, throw in some Fritos. 
My version of chili is a chicken chili and contains no tomatoes.  I think this is often called white chicken chili.  It is a light soup but full of yummy spices.  When I make it I usually double the chili powder and red pepper flakes, but I like it spicy.  I like to serve this chicken chili with cornbread.  I will be posting a tasty jalapeno basil cornbread recipe soon.
The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is an immersion blender.  I like my chili thick rather than brothy.  Not sure brothy is a word but I am going with it.  Usually when you thicken soup you use cream which is not a healthy choice.  This is a calorie free alternative!  Once the soup is done I whir it up for just a few seconds.  I don’t use this appliance very often but I would not be without it.  Mine is a cheap version from Bed Bath and Beyond but it does the trick.  Get whirring.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Chicken Yakitori

Perfect Pairing:  Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc
When I was planning on making the Asian inspired brussel sprout salad I wanted to find a protein that would go well with it,  preferably something that would go on the grill since the weather was still so beautiful.  I ran across a recipe for Chicken Yakitori on Café Sucré Farine.  Admittedly, I had no idea what this was but it sure looked good!  According to google dictionary, chicken yakitori is defined as grilled chicken kebabs: a dish of Japanese origin consisting of small pieces of grilled chicken that are basted on skewers with a sauce of soy, stock, sugar, and mirin.
My version of Chicken Yakitori is grilled skewers of chicken and green onion pieces basted in a teriyaki-like sauce.  It is easy to make and really tasty and light.  The original recipe calls for mirin which is a sweetened Japanese wine, similar to sake.  I had no luck finding this at the store and truthfully did not feel like spending $15 on traditional sake, so I just used some white wine I had leftover in the fridge.  I am sure it had little to nothing in common with sake, but it worked famously.  The skewers were savory with a slightly sweet undertone. 
The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.  Lately I have been favoring red wine but I still love a cold, crisp white wine on occasion.  This sauvignon blanc is fantastic.  I have a LOT to learn about wine and tend to pretty much like everything.  I have no idea how to speak eloquently of wine.  I would love to be able to accurately decipher the berry notes and oaky undertones, but let’s face it… if I say that, I am totally guessing.  I will say that I can always pick out the lovely grapefruit flavor in this wine.  This sauvignon blanc is reasonably priced, I have seen it sold for $12-$17, and it is widely available.  Buy it, sip it, love it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Crunchy Stuffed French Toast

Perfect Pairing:  Double-sided grill pan

I love making a special breakfast on the weekends.  It is a pleasant departure from my Monday-Friday oatmeal at work routine.  This Crunchy Stuffed French Toast looks really fancy but is a cinch to make and is fairly healthy!
Years ago I travelled with my mom to a business event in Washington DC.  We stayed at a Marriott and I remember feeling very grown up having breakfast with her in the hotel restaurant.  We both had the crunchy French toast and it was scrumptious.  I am pretty sure we had it every day we were there.   I have seen it on Marriott’s menus through the years and always think of that trip with my mom where we first had the crunchy goodness.  This recipe was inspired by that trip, but I updated it to be “stuffed” with light cream cheese and preserves.  Using whole wheat toast, bran flakes and egg whites keep it light.  The cream cheese and preserves add lots of flavor, you almost don’t need syrup!
The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is a dual-sided grill pan.  The dual-sided part is that one side is the standard grill pan with ridges and the other is flat like a griddle.   Mine is cast iron and lies over the burners.  I am inclined to grill meat on my regular grill outside, but the griddle side of the pan is great for pancakes, French toast and grilled cheese if you are making multiple sandwiches.  Of course, this recipe can be made in a skillet if you don’t have a grill pan, you may just need to do a couple batches.  I hope you enjoy this tasty breakfast!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Homemade Barbeque Sauce

Perfect Pairing: Empty ketchup bottles

I am a little spoiled when it comes to a couple food items.  Growing up my mom always made homemade applesauce and homemade barbeque sauce, and the store-bought equivalents just do not compare!  My mom’s BBQ sauce is the perfect mixture of spicy, sweet and tang.  It is a great sauce for grilled chicken, pork or even as a dip for grilled cheese.  I have also used it on pizza crust instead of pizza sauce.  Top the pizza with shredded pork or chicken, green onions and cheddar cheese.  Tasty stuff.  We usually double the recipe since it takes no added effort and it keeps well in the refrigerator.

The Perfect Pairing for this sauce is the ketchup bottle you just emptied to make the sauce.  You don’t even have to rinse it out, just use a funnel and add your special sauce right into the bottle.  It is the perfect container for homemade sauce!  You can see we added a nice fancy label to eliminate any confusion when reaching into the fridge.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Asian Inspired Brussel Sprout Salad

Perfect Pairing:  Outdoor burner

Don’t run away!  I realize brussel sprouts are not the most popular food item with a lot of people.  I was one of those people.  I am not a picky eater but I was not inclined to buy or order anything with brussel sprouts.  To me, they are like mini cabbages, and cooked cabbage was on my short list of foods I avoided.  My brother, who is an amazing cook, made brussel sprouts at Christmas that were really tasty.  He combined them with bacon and cheese, so why wouldn’t they be good?  I guess you could say that dish opened the sprout door for me.
Recently I went to dinner at Sunda with my good friend, Mary.  Sunda is a very hip, very loud, Asian inspired restaurant.  We mainly dined on sushi but asked the waitress if there was anything else on the menu that we needed to try.  She said her favorite thing was a brussel sprout salad.  She promised that we would not be disappointed, so we went for it.  We were both shocked at how delicious it was.  It was a combination of finely shredded brussel sprouts, napa cabbage and carrots tossed in a Nuoc Chom dressing.  It was topped with fried shallots and roasted shrimp.  Needless to say there were no leftovers and I had determined that I wanted to try to replicate it.  Considering I had never even purchased brussel sprouts before that was saying something.
I can’t say that my version of the salad is exactly like what we had at Sunda, but it was close!  My version is pretty light, aside from the fried shallots.  I think Sunda probably hid something fattening in their salad to make it extra delicious.  That is usually the case at restaurants.
I had to do a little research on the fried shallots.  To be honest, I had never deep fried anything.  I would like to say that is because I like to eat healthy food, and that is mainly true, but I just can’t stand the thought of having my house smell like fried food.  I live in a small one bedroom condo, so I have to think about these things.  Alas, the fried shallots really made the salad special so I was determined to have them on my version.
The Perfect Pairing for this salad is an outdoor burner to fry the shallots.  Problem solved!  I was able to fry them up without the unfortunate aromatic side effects.  I recently bought a new grill at Home Depot and one of the selling points was the side burner.  I was not sure why I needed that… but I needed it.  The grill was only $199!  Sold!  Until I found out the delivery fee of the unassembled grill was practically 30% of the total cost.  What is a girl to do?  Well, she sweet talks her boyfriend into dragging the assembled grill a half mile from the store on a busy Chicago street.  See below for proof.  You might ask why I am holding bolt cutters.  My old grill came with the condo and was locked up with a chain.  The previous owners had long forgotten the padlock code so I had to cut it off.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sweet and Salty Munch

Perfect Pairing: Games and gatherings
chex mix-1
This Sweet and Salty Munch has evolved from a recipe my mom received from a friend two decades ago.  It is the perfect combination of salty, sweet, savory and crunchy.  It makes a huge batch, travels easily and is a crowd favorite.  You can adapt it to include a variety of ingredients.

The basic idea is to combine about 30 to 40 cups of dry ingredients from the cereal and snack aisles.  We like a combination of Wheat Chex, pretzels, Fritos, dry roasted peanuts, almonds, Honey Nut Cheerios, Honey Nut Chex, and popcorn.  The key is to use the honey nut versions of Cheerios and Chex.  That was not part of the original recipe but the sweetness is a great combination with the salty items.  We have also learned that self-popped popcorn does not hold up well, you want to use the pre-popped variety.  It is in a bag in the chip aisle.
It is a simple process to make the munch.  You combine all the dry ingredients into two roasting pans.  You can use the cheap foil pans from the grocery store if you don’t have an official roasting pan.  Combine the melted butter and seasonings and divide evenly over the pans.  The recipe calls for salt but we found that you do not need to add any salt if using pretzels, they make it salty enough.  Then you just bake it in a low oven, stir it a couple of times and you are all done!
The Perfect Pairings for this recipe are games and gatherings.  My family is a big game-playing group.  We love card games, some of us more than others.  I think our number one favorite game is Catch Phrase, the electronic version.  This game is the best because everyone can relax on the couch, there are no extra pieces and we ALWAYS laugh…. A lot.  We usually play guys against girls which results in a lot of trash talk.  We bring it on vacation since it does not take up much space.  Word of advice if you do this, remove the batteries.  The beeping can cause some awkward questions at airport security.
I think this recipe would be a hit at your next gathering.  I would love to hear how you make it your own!
chex mix with game-1

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Black Truffle Paté

Perfect Pairing:  Scrambled egg whites

“We don't care to eat toadstools that think they are truffles.”
Mark Twain (1835-1910)

"The most learned men have been questioned as to the nature of this tuber, and after two thousand years of argument and discussion their answer is the same as it was on the first day: we do not know. The truffles themselves have been interrogated, and have answered simply: eat us and praise the Lord."
Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870)

When asked by a social-climbing Paris hostess how he liked his truffles, Curnonsky replied,
"In great quantity, madame. In great quantity."
Curnonsky (Maurice Edmond Sailland)
French writer (1872-1956)
 Ask any gourmand what they think of truffles and they will probably get a far-away, dreamy look in their eyes.  As you have probably heard, they are pricey…. really, really pricey.   They can be around $1000 a pound.  I don’t know about you but this is slightly out of my price range, or rather, out of my price universe.  Do not fret, you can enjoy the lovely taste of truffles and I am not talking about a drizzle of truffle oil. 
Truffles are found by dogs or pigs that are specially trained to sniff them out.  I get a kick out of this.  I picture a very pretentious dog named Fifi out in the forests of Italy searching for these treasures.   Fifi probably looks down her  valuable nose at the sad little poodles without this high calling in life. 
The taste of truffles is not for everyone.  People seem to either absolutely love the flavor or they just do not care for it at all.  They are really earthy and pungent, unlike anything else.  For those of you that do enjoy the flavor, but have not made your first million dollars, you would probably enjoy black truffle paté.   I was first introduced to black truffle paté last year.   It was one of those…. “Whoa… what IS this wonderful stuff?” kind of experiences.  I can’t even tell you what percentage of it is actually truffles, it is probably a pretty small amount, but it still has lots of flavor.  While this product is not available at all grocery stores it can be found at specialty food shops or Whole Foods.  It still seems pricey at $18.99 a bottle, but just a little goes a long way.
The Perfect Pairing for black truffle paté is scrambled egg whites.   It is a great combo because the egg whites are subtle enough that you mainly enjoy the flavor of the truffles.  I scramble the egg whites with just a little bit of salt and pepper, that’s it.   Another great combination is to top crostini or the parmesan thyme crackers I posted here with a little crème fraiche and a tiny dollop of paté.  Fifi, the truffle hunting dog, would be proud.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Breakfast Muffin Melts

Perfect Pairing:  Cholula Hot Sauce

This is a fantastic breakfast recipe that can be adapted for crowd or just a few people.  I made these over the Labor Day weekend and they were a huge hit.  The ingredients are so simple but the final product is quite tasty.  I originally got this recipe off of the amazing Pioneer Woman site and adapted it to lighten it up a bit.  I removed the yolk from half of the hard-boiled eggs and used less bacon and light mayonnaise.  We served these up alongside a fresh fruit platter.  I planned for two melts per person (or one whole English muffin per person).   You can make the mixture ahead of time and just top the muffins when you are ready to pop them in the oven.  
The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is Cholula Hot Sauce.  I LOVE this stuff and use it on everything.  Well…. Maybe not everything, but on a lot of stuff.  Hot sauce lovers seem to fall into two categories.  They seem to either be a fan of Cholula or Tabasco.  I like Tabasco but I think it has more of a vinegar taste and Cholula is not overly spicy but has lots of good flavor.  Try it on these muffin melts and you will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Blueberry Crisp

Perfect Pairing: Vanilla ice cream

This is officially my new favorite dessert…. to eat and make!   There is nothing exceedingly fancy or sophisticated about this blueberry crisp but it is so tasty and very easy to make.  I adapted a recipe that was recently featured in Cooking Light magazine.  I added some lemon zest to the berries, removed the walnuts, decreased the salt, increased the cinnamon and doubled the amount of oatmeal.  All of these changes are noted below.
The blueberries are tossed with corn starch, vanilla, brown sugar and lemon zest.  They are topped with a combination of flour, cornmeal (adds a nice crunch), brown sugar, cinnamon, butter and oatmeal.  The oatmeal portion is combined in a food processor which makes it a piece of cake, er crisp, to put together but it chops up the oatmeal more than I would like.  I like to sprinkle some whole old fashioned oats on top right before it goes in the oven so you still see the oats.
The Perfect Pairing for this crisp is nothing original but it is a necessity.  This blueberry crisp is best served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.  Enough said.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Scottish Oatcakes

Perfect Pairing:  Pastry blender/cutter

I recently had dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago, Hot Chocolate.  The chef, Mindy Segal, is known for her desserts.  No surprise at a restaurant named Hot Chocolate.  They do have great desserts but they also have a great selection of savory items.  We ordered the cheese plate and while it was good there was one thing that stood out to me…. the crackers that came with it.  The restaurant bakes their own bread and crackers and you can tell.  The waitress said the crackers were called oatcakes.  They were outstanding and I decided that I wanted to know how to make them.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cheese Plate

Perfect Pairing: Cheese Slate

Anytime I am lucky enough to enjoy a cheese plate or cheese flight I find great pleasure in figuring out the best combination of cheese, cracker, bread and topping.  It needs to be the perfect pairing (look at that, no wonder I started a blog of the same name) of crispy and creamy, salty and sweet. 
My favorite first course when I throw a dinner party is a cheese plate.  It requires minimal work to put together, it looks fancy and it is kind of an interactive experience for the guest.  There are a lot of great sites out there that give some amazing tips on how to create the perfect cheese plate, so I am not going to go into great detail here. 

I like to have 3 to 5 cheeses, about 3 oz. per person.  I typically like a combination of goat cheese, blue cheese, soft cheese like brie or camembert, and a salty, hard cheese like an aged manchego or romano.  For toppings I like store-bought fig preserves, caramelized onions or store-bought fruit mostarda.  Fresh fruit on the side like apples, pears, grapes and berries are all tasty accompaniments.  When I serve a cheese plate I like to serve it with a combination of homemade crackers and simple store-bought crackers.  I will be posting the cracker recipes on the blog soon.

The Perfect Pair for a cheese plate is a cheese slate, like those available at Crate and Barrel.  The cheese looks great on the black slate and it is easily accessible for guests.  A great feature of the slate is that you can write on it in chalk to let the guests know details of the cheese.
food smDSC02492

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Grandma Rosie’s Ice Cream Dessert

Perfect Pairing:  Chocolate sauce

This dessert is great to make in advance and keep in your freezer until you are ready to serve it.  The only problem with that is you have to find space for a 9x13 dish in your freezer.  That can be a challenge for some people.  Not me, I never have that problem (insert sarcasm).  I definitely did not inherit that problem from my mother.  Thanks mom.

My grandma, Rosie, has been making this dessert for at least 25 years.  It obviously had a different name at one time but no one remembers what that was.  We just call it the Grandma Rosie’s Ice Cream Dessert and everyone knows what you mean.   It is a combination of a sweet and crunchy top and bottom with vanilla ice cream in the middle.  The crunchy part is made right in the 9x13 and cooked in a low oven until golden brown.  After the mixture has cooled half is removed and set aside to be used on top.  The trick is in the ice cream.  You have to buy the old school ice cream that comes in a box.  You unfold the box around the ice cream, cut it into 1 inch pieces and layer over the crunchy mixture.  We always use light ice cream.

The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is chocolate sauce.  The dessert is great on its own but it is so much better with a drizzle of chocolate sauce.  Go figure.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Parmesan Basil Orzo

Perfect Pairing:  Summer Tomato Sauce and Grilled Fish

I am always looking for new side dish recipes.  This one is great because it is easy to throw together and only uses a few ingredients but it is still full of flavor.  I like to boil the orzo in chicken broth because I think it adds some depth of flavor.
The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is to serve it alongside the Summer Tomato Sauce that was featured a few days ago and some lightly grilled fish.  This time I used tilapia, seasoned it with salt and pepper and threw it on the grill.  It does not take very long to cook so watch it closely.  I have also used halibut which is incredibly tasty but also incredibly pricey compared to tilapia.  If I could catch halibut in the Chicago River, I would learn to fish.  I love that stuff.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tomato Pie

Perfect Pairing:  Pressed pie crust

How can it be September 6th?  Where did the summer go?  I had a lot of summer activities I still wanted to accomplish.  It is so funny how everyone’s attitudes switch after Labor Day.  Even the weather automatically has a crisp feel to it and I swear I saw the leaves change just a little bit overnight.  The clothes are warmer and everyone is in the mood to watch football, even if they don’t usually care about football.
This tomato pie is great recipe for the transition between seasons.  It has the summer flavors of tomatoes and basil but also feels like autumn comfort food.  I have made this recipe twice and both times it got rave reviews.  It is a savory pie filled with tomato, basil, onions and cheese.  I originally made it as an appetizer but decided it would be great for a breakfast or brunch item.   It is even better the day after you make it.  This recipe is really versatile and can be adapted to use what you have on hand.  You can substitute caramelized onions for the raw red onions and use any kind of cheese that you like.  I have used a combination of mozzarella and cheddar and gruyere and cheddar.  I like the look of using two different colors of cheese.
The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is actually a recipe for a pie crust.  I am sure you could use a store-bought crust, but why would you do that when you can make one so easily and inexpensively?  Plus, it tastes so much better than the store-bought version.  My mom and I use this recipe all the time for any kind of pie and it always comes out perfectly.  You do it all in the pie plate so there is no rolling pin or mess involved!  Here is how it happens.
Measure your flour, sugar and salt into a pie plate and mix with a fork.

Make an emulsion of vegetable oil and milk in a separate dish using a fork or whisk to combine.

Pour the liquid over the dry ingredients and stir it up with the fork until there are no dry areas.

Press out the crust to even thickness around the plate and crimp the edges.
Pre-bake or use raw.   You will love this recipe for pie crust!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Summer Tomato Sauce

I love summer.  I love the weather, the produce, the sounds, the events, the entire attitude of summer.  Living in Chicago means you take full advantage of those few precious months.  That is why there are always multiple street fests going on every weekend. 
This recipe just tastes like summer to me.  It is so simple to make but full of flavors like sweet tomatoes, fresh basil and roasted garlic.  It is the perfect topping for grilled fish or chicken or even on some crusty bread.  Anything you want!  Which leads me into my Perfect Pairing…..

The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is the song, Anything You Want by Jason Mraz.  If this sauce tastes like summer, this song sounds like summer.  I have been a Jason Mraz fan for a long time.  He is so talented and his music is always fun.  He is a great performer so I try to go to his concerts whenever he is in town.  The last concert was out of this world.  He performed at Northerly Island on a gorgeous night in August.  Northerly Island is an awesome venue in Chicago with great views of the skyline.  The picture below is from that concert.  How gorgeous??

If you know me, you know I am a huge reggae fan.  It makes perfect sense since I grew up on a farm in the Midwest, right?   Anyway, at the concert Jason (we’re on a first name basis) sang this song.  At the time I had never heard it and was immediately obsessed since it had that reggae feel.  I looked it up as soon as I got home but it was nowhere to be found!!   Apparently it was unreleased.  It was my good fortune that he made a live album from that concert I attended and now I can listen to it whenever I want.  You might also like his version of Lionel Richie’s,  All Night Long that is on the same album.  Lots of fun.
I’m telling you, make the sauce, throw it on top of anything you want, listen to the song and you will feel the warm breezes of summer!  They sure are fleeting.

Summer Tomato Sauce
·         2 Tb. Olive oil
·         4 to 6 garlic cloves, smashed
·         2 pints of grape tomatoes, halved
·         Salt and pepper to taste
·         Fresh basil, torn
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the smashed garlic cloves and cook in the oil until soft and lightly browned.  Add the sliced tomatoes and cook over medium-low heat until the tomatoes have broken down and reached a sauce consistency.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Remove from heat and stir in the fresh basil.  Serve over grilled fish, chicken or crostini.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Spicy Tomato and Avocado Shrimp Dip

Perfect Pairing: Organized grocery list

I think the original concept for this dip came from a Super Bowl party my mom attended years ago.  I have adapted it through many trials and it is always a hit.  It seems like a big bowl of dip, but there are usually no leftovers. 
I have to admit that the measurements are more of a suggestion than an exact science.  I don’t measure anything; I just toss in what looks good.  It requires multiple tastings throughout the process to adjust the seasonings…. A tough job, but someone needs to do it!   I like the Cajun Chef Hot Sauce but I am sure any Cajun flavored hot sauce would be fine.  The blackening spice can usually be found near the fish counter.  While you are there pick up some pre-cooked shrimp or buy it frozen.  This is one dish that does not really benefit from peeling, deveining (yuck) and cooking your own shrimp.  Serve it up with some salty tortilla chips!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tomato Salad with Crunchy Crushed Croutons

Perfect Pairing: Plastic containers in various sizestomato salad

What says summer picnic more than tomatoes and basil?  This salad recipe will be the final post on recipes from my Ravinia picnic.  I found this recipe on the great Smitten Kitchen blog and adapted it just a bit.  It is a combination of tomatoes, garlicky croutons, fresh basil and tart vinegar.  Yummy. 

The salad is really simple but makes the most of good ingredients.  A new Mariano’s grocery store just opened up by me and I might be a little obsessed.  They have a great produce and bread section which I took full advantage of for this recipe.  I used multi-colored grape tomatoes which added a lot of fun color.  For the bread I used an Irish onion potato loaf and threw the leftover bread in the freezer.

I am pretty sure this Perfect Pairing of plastic containers is not going to knock your socks off because we probably all have that cabinet full of unruly containers with missing lids.  What makes them the Perfect Pairing for this recipe is because I brought this salad to a picnic and the containers kept everything in its place and it was fresh and crunchy for the meal.  I packed up my picnic about 10 hours before we were going to eat so I wanted to keep the dressing off of the tomatoes and croutons and also not have it leak on the rest of the picnic items.  I put the sliced tomatoes in a medium sized container and the dressing in a small, ½ cup sized container and nestled that in with the tomatoes.  If a little dressing leaked out, no big deal, at least it was not all over everything else.  I put the croutons in a flat plastic container and tossed that in with the dry goods in the picnic basket.  I kept the basil leaves whole in a plastic bag and tore them up right before we ate to keep them from browning.  At the picnic I shook up the dressing, tossed it over the tomatoes and topped the whole thing with the crunchy croutons and torn basil.  An al fresco prep station!
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