The Perfect Summer BBQ Side Dish: Grilled Potatoes with Herb Vinaigrette

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Love everything about this side dish.

So everyone makes the summer potato salad. Usually it's grandma's recipe. Usually it's drowned in mayo, maybe has some crunchy celery and onions in it, etc. Love me some good potato salad to, don't get me wrong. But I get sick of the same damn thing. This recipe makes the humble potato take center stage for any bbq by first grilling the potatoes, and then drizzling them in a super fresh and savory herb vinaigrette. Omg, it's to die for. And feels a little "lighter" than its mayo-driven cousin.

I use Yukon Gold Potatoes because they are inherently buttery and keep their texture; russets I find are too floury and will break on the grill very easily. Potatoes are washed (not even peeled!), sliced thin, then boiled until just under fork-tender. Then brushed with some olive oil and finished on the grill so they can absorb that amazing smoky charcoal flavor. While still hot, they're drizzled with a vinaigrette of fresh oregano, thyme, and rosemary with garlic and lemon juice for an unexpected punch of flavor. These go with any grilled meat or fish and can be served hot off the grill or even cold.

Forget the multi-step potato salad recipe and try this instead. You'll love. We served them this past weekend with a grilled t-bone steak for the classic "meat n potatoes" dish. Pure delicious heaven. Enjoy!

Grilled Potatoes with Herb Vinaigrette
1 lb large yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed clean
kosher salt
about 1/3 cup olive oil

For the vinaigrette:
2 Tbsp fresh oregano
2 Tbsp fresh rosemary
2 Tbsp fresh thyme
4-6 cloves of garlic (to taste)
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Take the potatoes and slice them into 1/4" thick rounds. Place in a large pot and cover with cold water. Add about 2 tablespoons of kosher salt (eyeball it) and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes until just under fork tender. Meaning, you insert a fork or tip of a knife and it come out of the potato with just the slightest resistance. Careful not to over-cook the potatoes, because then they won't grill well. Total boil time will be around 8-10 minutes.

While the potatoes boil, make the vinaigrette. Combine the fresh herbs, garlic, some salt and pepper to taste, and the lemon juice in a food processor and pulse to chop up the garlic and herbs. With the processor on, slowly add the oil through the feed tube (the hole at the top) and mix until well combined and a vinaigrette is formed. Taste and adjust with more salt and pepper if needed. Set aside.

Once the potatoes are ready, carefully remove them with a slotted spoon from the water. If you poured them out into a colander they will break in pieces, so it's best to take them out a few at a time with the slotted spoon instead. Lay out on a baking sheet then brush both sides of the potatoes with the olive oil.

Preheat grill to high. Carefully place the potatoes on the grill and cook until char-marks are achieved on one side, about 2-3 minutes. Flip and repeat with other side. Remove the grilled potatoes and immediately drizzle with the vinaigrette while still warm. The warmth of the potatoes will help soak up that vinaigrette as opposed to dressing them when they are cold. Serve hot, at room temperature, or even cold. Can be done a few hours in advance if needed and rewarmed covered in an oven-proof dish in a 300 degree oven.

Grilled Kielbasa with O'Brien Potatoes, Romanian Style

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I must apologize of the quality of the picture.....honestly, I was hungry and took a shot and ran inside to eat. So it's a tad out of focus.

But this blog is more about recipes than pictures anyway, so let's begin!

This is a Throw Back meal that takes me instantly back to childhood. Growing up in the heat wave laden summers of Southern California, my mother would often resort to dinners involving simple preparations like sliced tomatoes with feta cheese and homemade french fries, grilled kabobs with rice and hummus, or this dish. Delicious and flavorful kielbasa sausage is grilled and sits alongside O'Brien style potatoes -- soft Russet potatoes peeled and boiled until tender, then sauteed with onions and peppers and seasoned simply with salt and pepper. My dad's spin on the traditional? Ketchup. Yes, I said ketchup. A squirt of the red stuff at the end adds sweetness and amazing flavor that compliments the onions and peppers, and the sausage.

I personally love this combo as is, but you can make this dish with whatever sausage you like. My brother for example loves substituting with his favorite andouille sausage. But for authenticity and taste, I prefer the kielbasa. And I add some red pepper flakes for heat, but that's up to you.

And it's perfect for a hot summer night. Grill the kielbasas outside and the potatoes come together in 20 minutes or less. Don't forget the pickles!

Grilled Kielbasa with O'Brien Potatoes, Romanian Style
1 link kielbasa sausage
4 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes (about 1/2" x 1/2" if you can)
1 large white onion, peeled and sliced
1 large bell pepper (green or red), cored and sliced
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
about 2-3 Tbsp ketchup (or to taste)
1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
2 Tbsp vegetable or olive oil

Remove the sausage from the packaging. You'll notice it's shaped in an oval-type shape. Slice it into 4 large chunks, then using a sharp knife, score the sausage. This means cutting into the sausage about every inch or so, but don't slice all the way through it. This will help the sausage cook properly on the grill and not burst. Set aside and preheat your grill to medium-high. Grill the sausage until done on all side, rotating frequently so as not to burn. Kielbasa tends to char and burn easily so keep an eye on it! Total cook time will be around 5-8 minutes.

Take the potatoes and place them in a pot. Cover with cold water and add about 2 tablespoons of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-high, and cook until just fork tender, about 10 minutes. The cooking time will depend on how small or large you cut your potatoes, so go by the fork or knife test rather than time: insert a fork or tip of knife into the potato; if it comes out easily w/ little resistance it's ready. Drain the potatoes very well and set aside.

While the potatoes boil, heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the onions and peppers and season with a little salt and pepper to taste. Cook on medium heat until softened but not caramelized. Add the drained potatoes to the onions and peppers, taste, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Add a little more oil if needed and toss the potatoes to combine. Fry for about 3 minutes, careful not to break up the tender potatoes. Turn off the heat. Add the red pepper flakes if using, and ketchup and mix until combined and the ketchup coats the vegetables. Serve with the kielbasa and some pickles.

Kitchen Basics: The Perfect Buffalo Wings and The Wing Manifesto

Monday, July 25, 2011

One of the truly most beautiful things in life is a perfect buffalo wing. I've had enough to know what makes them bad, and fortunately enough to know what makes them good. They are one of those perfect foods -- comforting, exciting, yet simple and straight forward in flavor and fulfillment. Yet despite the ease in preparation, they are easy to fuck up. And I've tasted some pretty fucked up buffalo wings.

In my not-so humble opinion, there needs to be a distinction made between Buffalo Wings and other, still delicious and amazing wings. I've done great terriyaki wings, bbq wings, even naked wings. But they are not buffalo wings and should not be called such. Buffalo wings should be:

1) crispy on the outside with moist, tender meat on the inside that pulls away easily from the bone;

2) simply seasoned and moderately to very spicy by way of the buffalo sauce;

3) and finally, the sauce itself should be bright red, thick enough to hold a glace over the wings, and made from ONLY hot sauce and butter.

I will not bend on the above.


Some common pitfalls I've seen with wings and how to fix them are thus addressed in my Wing Manifesto:

"These are too soft."  Buffalo wings should always be crispy. Never, ever soggy. Ever. If they are soggy they are false and an impostor of the true buffalo wing and should be hanged for its crimes. The soggy factor is a result of one of two things: either the wings have not been fried at all or improperly fried with wrong oil and wrong temperature. A buffalo wing must be fried. Never baked. I don't give a shit how many calories you're trying to save; it ain't gonna do you no good unless your goal is to make the wings taste so badly that you won't eat any and therefor save in calories. The buffalo wings must always be fried in vegetable or peanut oil, on a higher temperature, until golden brown and then tossed immediately in the sauce while still hot so the wing can absorb the sauce and it will stick better overall on the wing. Simply frying the wings properly will improve your wings by 90%.

"These have a peculiar seasoning to them." Indeed. I've had some wings that make me go "hmmm?" but in like the worst way possible. Bizarre flavorings, odd seasonings using various spices are beyond unnecessary with buffalo wings. Or any wings for that matter. The beauty in the wing lies in the sauce -- there you should go nuts with spices and such -- but leave the damn wing alone! At most you should season the wings with salt and pepper, and for added heat some cayenne pepper. That. Is. It. When you start fucking around with garlic salt this, paprika that, you alter the frying process too much and get a globby wing. Very unappetizing. Stick to good ol' fashioned kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper for the perfect wing. If you season and fry the wings properly, you'll be satisfied eating them just as is, aka "naked."

"These wings don't even taste hot!"  Ok, this apparently is a matter of personal opinion and regional differences. I distinctly remember on our cross-country move having dinner at a restaurant in Ohio and ordering the "spicy" wings. The waitress asked us if we were sure we wanted them because they were really spice and we said of course.

They were the mildest fucking wings I'd ever had.

In terms of the heat, that will depend on your hot sauce. My personal favorite hot sauce to use is Frank's Red Hot. I think it has a perfectly balanced heat-acid ratio, good body to it, and mixes beautifully with the butter. You can use your favorite hot sauce. If I want to bump up the heat, I'll season the wings with cayenne pepper along with salt and and black pepper and it does the trick just great.

"This sauce tastes funny." Ok, buffalo sauce should have two things and two things only: melted butter and hot sauce. That is it! No added spices or flavorings or (gasp!) cornstarch. Just literally melted butter whisked with hot sauce. Get a good hot sauce and you're fine.

Now that you know the mistakes and how to fix them, here's the recipe for my perfect buffalo wings! Try them with my best bleu cheese dressing for dipping and some celery sticks for an authentic meal.

Perfect Buffalo Wings
2 lbs chicken wings (drummets and wings separated)*, at room temperature
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
vegetable or peanut oil for frying
1 stick unsalted butter
about 1/4 cup hot sauce: recommend Frank's Red Hot

Season the chicken with salt and pepper (and cayenne if using) all over. Set aside.

Add enough oil to generously coat the bottom of your pan or skillet. I like using a heavy cast iron skillet for best results. You want a good inch of oil for optimal results. The oil needs to be hot but not smoking. Carefully add the chicken wings into the oil using tongs and fry on all sides until a nice, golden brown is achieved all over. Total cooking time will be around 10 minutes for the wings. Fry in batches (again, about 10 min per batch!).

While the wings fry, quickly melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Once completely melted (and not browned), take off the heat and whisk in the hot sauce. You want the consistency to be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and not so thick that it runs right off. Add more hot sauce as needed until you get the right consistency (amount will depend on what sauce you use).

When the chicken is done, remove from oil and immediately transfer to a large bowl. Top with the sauce and toss the chicken to coat it in the sauce all over. Serve hot.

*You will find chicken wings one of two ways now: attached or detached. Meaning, the whole wing is left intact as if on a chicken roast or the wing split in two (with the wing tip discarded). Many butchers now sell the wings already split. Go for that if you can find it. If not, using a sharp butcher's knife will cut those babies in half for you just fine at home.

Lemon-Herb Chicken Kabobs with White Rice

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Being pregnant has all but taken out me cooking elaborate dinners. I'm too nauseous and too friggin tired, so I've had to rely on quick and healthy meals as of late (and admittedly, the take out). Last night made a super quick, healthy, and delicious chicken kabob dish with white rice. You can use any veggies you have on hand -- I had zucchini and red onion -- and chicken breast cut into larger cubes. The marinade is used for chicken and veggie, so it's literally a Throw It All In The Bowl type of preparation, which I love. Feeling frisky? Add some toasted pine nuts to the rice.

Lemon-Herb Chicken Kabobs
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into larger cubes (about 1 1/2")
1 small red onion, cut into chunks
1 zucchini, ends trimmed and cut into 1" chunks
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 cups cooked white basmati rice

Special equipment: wooden or metal skewers

Place the chicken, onion, and zucchini in a medium sized bowl. In another small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic, thyme, and oregano until well combined. Pour this marinade over the chicken and vegetables and toss to coat evenly. Cover and let stand at least 1 hour, preferably 2-4, in the fridge.

About 1/2 hour before you're ready to grill, take the marinated chicken and veggies out of the fridge and let come to room temperature. Gently skewer the chicken and veggies, alternating, on the skewers. Set aside.

Preheat your grill to medium-high. Grill the kabobs on all sides, rotating occasionally for about 10 minutes or until fully cooked through and nice char marks are achieved. Serve the kabobs atop the rice and some freshly sliced tomatoes if desired.

*To make the basmati rice, cook according to package directions. If you need help a general rule is 1 3/4 cups water to 1 cup of raw rice. I like adding a pinch of kosher salt to the water as it comes to a boil, then I add the rice in once the water's boiling along with a little drizzle of olive oil (will prevent the rice from sticking and give good flavor). Reduce heat, cover with lid, and cook about 15-20 min or until rice is tender. If you like, you can add toasted pine nuts to the cooked rice and toss to combine.

Breakfast Made Easy: Cinnamon Bread French Toast with Fresh Berries

Monday, July 11, 2011

This seriously cannot get any easier...

French Toast is a breakfast food that is even easier to make than pancakes in my opinion, and presents just beautifully. It must be the powdered sugar. Has to be. Anyways, most french toast recipes I've seen use harder-to-find breads like challah or complicated batters infused with 60 spices and various other ingredients. I say stupid. Cinnamon swirl bread is something I think is pretty easy to find. I used a loaf recently to whip up the best french toast ever! And the batter was simply egg, cream, salt, sugar, and some orange zest because the bread itself was already flavored. Easy. Add fresh berries for a perfect breakfast!

Cinnamon Bread French Toast with Fresh Berries
1 loaf cinnamon swirl bread (store-bought or homemade)
8 eggs
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
about 1 Tbsp fresh orange zest
nonstick spray or butter for griddle or pan
assorted fresh berries
powdered sugar for garnish

Slice the bread into 1" thick slices. Set aside.

Whisk together the eggs, cream, salt, sugar, and orange zest in a bowl then pour into a large baking dish (a lasagna dish works great). Place the bread slices inside the batter and coat evenly on both sides, turning occasionally, about 10 minutes. You want the bread to soak up that egg mixture.

Preheat a griddle (or pan) to 375 degrees. Spray (or butter) with nonstick spray and grill the slices, about 3-4 minutes per side or until a nice golden crust is achieved on both sides. Dust with powdered sugar, garnish with berries, and serve with your favorite maple syrup!

Make Ahead Tip:
French toast is a great breakfast item to entertain with too. You can make as much as you need a head of time, then keep the toasts warm in a 300 degree oven (covered) for up to 30 minutes. Garnish with sugar and berries just before serving.

Chicken Caesar Chopped Salad

Friday, July 8, 2011

I'm a huge fan of chopped salads. These are salads where all the ingredients are cut roughly the same size, making it a very easy salad to eat. Usually it involves many ingredients, going for different colors and textures which makes the salad very fun to eat too. The other night I felt like the garlicky goodness of Caesar salad, but wanted the fun ease of a chopped salad. That's how this super easy and simple salad was created. Made even faster by using some leftover grilled chicken from the night before, it's a great way to use up leftovers! If you're up to it, add a chopped boiled egg too. Enjoy!

Chicken Caesar Chopped Salad
4 cups romaine lettuce, chopped bite-sized
2 grilled chicken breasts, chopped
1/2 cup red onion, chopped small
4 roma tomatoes, chopped small
1 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
1 cup homemade croutons (recipe folows)
1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
1 heaping Tbsp Dijon mustard
juice of 1 lemon
4 cloves garlic, minced
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp finely grated parmesan cheese + more for sprinkling on salad

Combine the romaine, chicken, onion, tomatoes, and basil in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the olive oil, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, some salt and pepper to taste, and the tablespoon of parmesan cheese. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well to combine. Add the croutons and a good handful of more cheese on top and serve.

Homemade Croutons
1/2 loaf day-old bread like chiabatta, french, italian bread
1/4-1/2 cup olive oil (depends on how much the bread soaks up or not)
kosher salt

Cut the bread into cubes. Do whatever size you like -- from small 1/2" cubes to larger 1" cubes. Place in a bowl and add the olive oil and a sprinkle of salt (not too much). Toss to coat the bread well. Add mroe oil if needed to coat the bread (it will depend on how porous the bread is and how much it soaks up initially or not).

Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the bread and pan roast until golden brown on all sides. Conversely, you can spread the bread on a baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and use in salads, soups, or snacks! Holds up to a week in an air-tight container.

Baked Chicken & Bow-Tie Pasta

I like to file these kinds of recipes under What The Fuck Am I Going To Make For Dinner?! In other words, those days where you forgot to defrost this, are too lazy to drive to the market for that, and otherwise need to pull a meal for the fam out of your ass.

To help me along on these days, which being pregnant now are increasing exponentially with my waistline, I've stocked my pantry and fridge with Miracle Workers, aka ingredients that can transform otherwise shitty dishes into something that actually looks like you planned it on purpose. These include (but are not limited to) capers, sun-dried tomatoes in oil (always in oil!), parmesan cheese, shredded cheese (mozzarella, and a combo of cheddar and jack), marinara sauce and/or canned san marzano tomatoes, frozen or jarred artichoke hearts, broths in boxes, cornbread mix, and a variety of dried spices. And wine. Always wine.

For this dish, I had one lonely chicken breast that needed to go enough for 4 people. Some bow-tie pasta (I always have various pastas too), and some tomatoes. Voila! Baked chicken and pasta is born. This is an incredibly easy dish, literally came together in minutes, and was surprisingly tasty. Dried thyme added nice earthy flavor that brightened the tomatoes. I used a combination of chopped fresh tomatoes here and some leftover jarred marinara, but you can use just marinara or a can of san marzanos if you wish too. Just add cheese and the kids love it! Some steamed veggies on the side make a pretty healthy and complete meal.

The chicken was nice and moist, the tomatoes were sweet and delicious, the marinara created a nice texture for the whole dish and I probably was most impressed with how far the thyme went. Often when doing Italian food we think "basil, basil, basil" and ignore other herbs that go just as well, sometimes as in this case, even better. The thyme added such a wonderful earthiness to the entire dish that really made it in my opinion. Simple, comforting, extremely tasty and best of all, a super easy dinner that everyone loved. Dinner is served and I didn't have to order out again!

Baked Chicken & Bow-Tie Pasta
1 large chicken breast, cut into small cubes
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 white onion, chopped small
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large fresh tomato, chopped
1/2 cup jarred tomato sauce or marinara sauce
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 cups cooked bow-tie pasta
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese + 1/2 cup for topping
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan and add the chicken. Cook about 3 minutes per side, then add the onions in with the chicken. Cook another 5 minutes or so. Add the garlic, tomato, sauce, and thyme and mix to combine. Give a taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Add the cooked pasta directly into the chicken sauce and mix to combine. Turn off heat. Transfer to a baking dish (a casserole dish works nicely) and mix in the cup of mozzarella cheese. Top with the parmesan cheese and some more shredded mozzarella.

Bake in oven about 30 minutes or until golden brown on top. Serve hot with steamed vegetables!