Monday, June 30, 2008

Chicken Kabobs - Grilling for Summer

It's hot. It's time to crank the grill and leave the oven off. We look for meals where almost everything can be cooked on the grill. One of our favorites is chicken kabobs. You get your meat and veggies all in one. It takes a little prep, but you can make it the night before and let it marinate so the night you throw it on the grill, it's a quick dinner.

You can use any vegetables you like, but our favorites are onion, peppers, mushrooms, squash, and grape tomatoes. Cut everything in relatively the same size. Cut chicken breasts into one inch cubes.

Remember to soak your wooden skewers in water so they don't burn. Stack your skewers in any way you want, if someone doesn't like squash or loves tomatoes, you can make the skewers to match each person or you can do them all the same. I tend to be random when I'm making the skewers. I try to make sure I have all the colors on the skewers.

For the marinade, I usually use a zesty Italian dressing. I use full fat for the oil to keep the kabobs from sticking. You could use low fat but you would have to be sure to oil your grill grates. Sometimes I will use the a Greek style marinade (olive oil, oregano, lemon juice and garlic)

These are delicious. You'll have to take my word for how good they look when they come off of the grill. They looked and smelled so good, folks were diving in before I could get my camera out. Give them a try and see how quick they will fly off of your plate.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Cream Cheese Banana Muffins

Sometimes I'll buy bananas just to let them get soft and brown to make banana bread. If I haven't bought them specifically for banana bread but I have one or two get brown before I can use it, I'll put it in a freezer bag and pop it in the freezer. Then when I have four or five bananas in the bag, I'll make bread or muffins.

I found this recipe in Southern Living a couple of years ago and it's been my go to banana bread since then. The cream cheese keeps it moist and adds to the richness of the bread.

Cream Cheese Banana Nut Bread

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (1 1/4 pounds unpeeled bananas, about 4 medium)
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.

Combine flour and next 3 ingredients; gradually add to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until blended. Stir in bananas, pecans, and vanilla. Spoon batter into 2 greased and floured 8- x 4-inch loafpans.

Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and sides pull away from pan, shielding with aluminum foil last 15 minutes to prevent browning, if necessary. Cool bread in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans, and cool 30 minutes on wire racks before slicing.

Cream Cheese-Banana-Nut Muffins: To bake muffins, spoon batter evenly into 24 paper-lined muffin cups. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes. Remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks. Makes 24 muffins. Prep: 15 min., Bake: 25 min.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Chicken Fra Diavolo

We've eaten Fra Diavolo in restaurants, both chicken and seafood. We both really like it so I've been on the lookout for a good recipe we could try at home. "Fra Diavolo" means Brother Devil. This dish receives it's name due to the heavy use of red pepper flakes in a tomato sauce.

I was watching Food Network and saw Giada De Laurentiis make Shrimp Fra Diavolo with Lemon Spaghetti. I just knew this would be a dish I would have to make soon. I didn't have any shrimp on hand but since we've had this as a chicken dish in restaurants, this would be how I make my dish.

Chicken Fra Diavolo

1 pound large chicken breasts, cubed in 1 inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt, plus additional as needed
1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes (or more to taste!)
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 to 2 tablespoons
1 medium onion, sliced
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup dry white wine
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
3 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
3 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves

Toss the chicken in a medium bowl with 1 teaspoon of salt and red pepper flakes. Heat the 3 tablespoons oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and saute for about a minute, toss, and continue cooking until just cooked through, about 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a large plate; set aside. Add the onion to the same skillet, adding 1 to 2 teaspoons of olive oil to the pan, if necessary, and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juices, wine, garlic, and oregano. Simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the tomato mixture; toss to coat, and cook for about a minute so the flavors meld together. Stir in the parsley and basil. Season with more salt, to taste, and serve.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Gyros at home

Sure I don't have a spit at home to roast the formed pork, lamb and beef usually found in a gyro. Instead we used steak. It wasn't as traditional as a true gyro which I love in Greek restaurants but it was still very good. It is also a meal which can be prepared in less than 30 minutes minus the marinating time. Of course if you want it be more like a gyro found in a Greek diner, serve it with fried potatoes.

Steak (I used top round sirloin)
lemon juice
olive oil
salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients but the meat in a plastic storage bag. Add the steak and allow it to sit for 1-3 hours.

Grill steak as desired. Throw a couple of pitas on the grill at the end of cooking time.

Slice the meat thinly and serve on pita with cucumbers, onions, lettuce and tomatoes. And Tzatziki. Lots of Tzatziki. (yogurt, cucumbers, olive oil, garlic, and a bit of lemon juice)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Cherry Cobbler French Toast

Doesn't that sound delicious?

I can tell you, it was. We were in the grocery store and saw in the bakery section cherry cobbler bread and peach cobbler bread. We decided to try the cherry. It is very good on it's own but from the time it went into the cart at the store, I was thinking french toast.

Slice the bread thin because it's a quick bread and if it is thick, it won't cook up good without getting too dark on the outside.

For the custard:

2 eggs, beaten
2 cups of half and half
2 Tablespoons vanilla
1/4 cup brown sugar

Mix well together. Soak bread in custard mixture and fry in a pan with a little butter. Serve with bacon or sausage, real maple syrup, and powdered sugar.

If you can find this bread, give it a try and let me know how you like it.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Peanut Butter Jelly Time

Peanut Butter Jelly. Peanut Butter Jelly. Peanut Butter Jelly. Peanut Butter Jelly Time.

Now that you hate me for putting that earworm up there, I'll tell you this entry is really about Martha Stewart's Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars. See, now you can't hate me because they sound too good. Right?

They really are scrumptious. It takes the childhood favorites of PB&J and turns it into dessert. The bars are rich, so cut them small. And have a glass of milk handy.


Makes about 3 dozen.

* 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
* 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
* 1 1/2 cups sugar
* 2 large eggs
* 2 1/2 cups smooth peanut butter
* 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 1 1/2 cups strawberry jam, or other flavor
* 2/3 cup salted peanuts, roughly chopped


1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch pan with butter, and line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease the parchment, and coat inside of pan with flour; set aside. Place butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. On medium speed, add eggs and peanut butter; beat until combined, about 2 minutes.
2. Whisk together salt, baking powder, and flour. Add to bowl of mixer on low speed; combine. Add vanilla. Transfer two-thirds of mixture to prepared pan; spread evenly with offset spatula. Using offset spatula, spread jam on top of peanut-butter mixture. Dollop remaining third of peanut-butter mixture on top of jam. Sprinkle with peanuts.
3. Bake until golden, about 45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool; cut into about thirty-six 1 1/2-by-2-inch pieces.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Brussels Sprouts: another misunderstood vegetable

Brussels sprouts get a bad rap. I think it's because until Food Network came about people were throwing them in a pot of water and boiling them to death. Boiling too long makes them bitter. Now in the Food Network era, everyone is all about roasting vegetables. Brussels sprouts are perfect to add to the roasting pan.

Not only should you try roasting Brussels sprouts just because they're delicious, but they're also very good for you. They are high in potassium, vitamin C, vitamin A, folate and those phytosterols we are hearing so much about in helping to lower cholesterol.

If you've only ever had boiled Brussels sprouts, you owe it to yourself to give the roasted ones a try. They really are delicious. My husband used to say he hated them until he had them roasted. Now they're a favorite on our table.

Look for small brussels sprouts in with the fresh vegetables. If you can't find the fresh ones, you can thaw a bag of frozen ones and roast them. I've done both and get the same results.

Put Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet and lightly sprinkle on olive oil, kosher salt, and fresh ground black pepper. Roll them around to make sure they're all covered. Put in a hot oven, around 450. Roast them for 15-20 minutes depending on their size. Stir them about half way. The outer leaves will get browned. Eat them while they're hot.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Try Tri Tip: It's what's for dinner

I've heard about tri tip from all of my west coast friends. They all love it and tell me how great it is on the grill. I have looked for it all over. I finally found one the other day at the commissary. I grabbed it as soon as I saw it even though I had no idea what I was going to do with it when I got it home.

I talked to a couple of my friends and they all told me to grill it whole. I decided I'd give it a rub much like that we use on our briskets. I went a little less sweet and a bit heavier on the heat. I let it sit with the rub for about an hour at room temperature so the meat would grill more evenly, plus it gave it time for the rub melted into the meat. I put some hickory chips on the grill and oh man, I wish you could have been here to smell the smoke coming from the grill.

What goes better with steak than grilled mushrooms and onions? (yes more of those vidalias) Now I know why my west coast friends love the tri tip. I'll be keeping my eye out for another one.

Friday, June 6, 2008

How does your garden grow?

Mine is doing so well and growing bigger almost every day it seems. I'm so excited because it's the first garden we've had since we've been married. We have had a few tomato plants in buckets before, but not a real garden. When my husband asked what I wanted to plant, I told him Salsa! He looked at me crazy until I told him tomatoes, jalapeƱos, and peppers. We also added in grape tomatoes, yellow squash, eggplant, and cucumbers.

Look! Baby tomatoes! Hopefully we'll be picking those guys by July 4th.

Plus there are the herbs. I love cooking with fresh herbs.

Rosemary, Mint, and Basil in one pot, Cilantro in the other pot

Oregano and Thyme

I can not wait to have pictures of what my garden produces on through the summer. It's turned off hot here, so the garden should really take off now.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Poor misunderstood Okra

Okra is often thought of as a slimy mess. Most people will say they don't like okra because all they think of is the slime. I'm one of the few who like them slimy, but only if they're really small. I love them thrown into stews and gumbos. The "slime" factor helps to thicken gumbos, not to mention then you can eat the okra.

My favorite way to eat them is fried. Breaded and dropped in hot oil, they get crispy, golden brown and delicious. Not one bit of the slime factor around. Yum!

* 1/2 lb. of fresh okra
* 2 cups of dry corn bread mix
* 1 cup of buttermilk
* Vegetable oil for frying
* Large frying pan


Rinse and dry okra. Using a sharp knife and cutting board, slice the okra into 1/2 inch slices or discs, discarding the pointed tips and the stem ends.

Begin heating the oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Be sure to carefully monitor the oil during this process to ensure it doesn't get too hot.

Put the buttermilk and the corn bread mix into separate bowls. Coat the okra discs first in the corn bread mix, then dip them quickly into the buttermilk, then back into the corn bread mix again.

Carefully put the breaded okra into the hot oil and gently fry until the pieces are golden brown and crispy. Lightly salt the okra after removing it from the oil.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Red Snapper Veracruz

When I was searching for recipes for all our red snappers in the freezer, snapper Veracruz kept coming up. I wasn't sure about cooking fish with that sauce but it is such a classic I knew it had to be one of the things we tried. After checking out the Veracruz sauce recipe I knew we would like it because it so similar to a puttanesca sauce which we both love.

It was very good. It was served with jasmine rice and baby sugar snap peas.

The recipe I used came from Martha Stewart's website. Everyone knows I love Martha and want to be just like her.

Ok, maybe not just like her unless the rumors of her bitchiness are greatly exaggerated.

Red Snapper Veracruz Recipe

Serves 4 to 5

  • 1 three- to three-and-a-half-pound red snapper, scaled and cleaned
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Olive oil, for pan
  • Veracruz-Style Sauce
  • 2 to 3 dried bay leaves
  • 3 to 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 small white onion, thinly sliced

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse fish under cold running water, inside and out, being sure to remove all traces of gills and blood. Blot dry with paper towels, inside and out. Lightly season, inside and out, with salt and pepper.
  2. Lightly oil the bottom of a large roasting pan. Cover the bottom of the pan with half of the sauce. Place fish over sauce. Tuck bay leaves, thyme, and onion into the cavity of the fish. Pour remaining sauce over fish.
  3. Bake just until the flesh flakes when tested with the tip of a knife, 30 to 40 minutes. Use two large spatulas to transfer fish to a platter spooning sauce and cooking juices over it. Or remove fish from bone and serve on individual plates, with sauce spooned over it.

Veracruz Sauce

Makes 6 to 7 cups

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 10 garlic cloves, 6 left whole, 4 very finely chopped
  • 2 medium white onions, finely chopped
  • 8 to 10 large ripe tomatoes, (about 4 pounds), finely chopped, or two 28-ounce cans Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), coarsely chopped, with their juice
  • 24 pimento-stuffed green olives, sliced if large
  • 4 to 6 pickled jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded, and cut lengthwise into thin strips
  • 2 teaspoons small capers
  • 4 dried bay leaves
  • 1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried thyme
  • 4 sprigs fresh marjoram, or 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried marjoram
  • 4 sprigs fresh oregano, or 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried Mexican oregano
  • 2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground canela
  • 1 cup dry white wine

  1. In a medium stockpot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add whole garlic cloves, and cook, stirring, until golden on all sides. Remove garlic and discard. Add minced garlic and the onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly reduced, about 15 minutes.
  2. Add olives, chiles, capers, bay leaves, parsley, thyme, marjoram, oregano, salt, canela, and wine. Cook until the sauce has thickened to desired consistency, 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning. If using fresh whole herbs, remove and discard before serving.