I have been an artist and designer all my life incorporating graphic design for websites, gardens, publications, fabrics, interior design and cooking. I am now retired from my professional job, but still create artistic visions in all forms on a daily basis.
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If you want earthy, sweet green beans with moist interiors and just the right amount of browning, this roasted bean recipe from Cook’s Country does the trick. Because they are often dry and leathery; start by covering the roasting beans which are mixed with oil, salt, pepper, and sugar and let them gently steam for 10 minutes.
The sugar promotes browning when the foil is removed to let the beans blister in the oven’s high heat. To add a lively bite to the flavorful beans, toss them with a lemon vinaigrette and top them with salty, sharp Pecorino and crunchy pine nuts.
1 ½ oz. Pecorino Romano cheese, shredded (1/2 cup)
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 475 degrees.
Combine green beans, 1 1/2 tablespoons oil, sugar, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in bowl. Evenly distribute green beans on rimmed baking sheet.
Cover sheet tightly with aluminum foil and roast for 10 minutes. Remove foil and continue to roast until green beans are spotty brown, about 10 minutes longer, stirring halfway through roasting.
Meanwhile, combine garlic, lemon zest, and remaining 1/4 cup oil in medium bowl and microwave until bubbling, about 1 minute; let mixture steep for 1 minute. Whisk lemon juice, mustard, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper into garlic mixture.
Transfer green beans to bowl with dressing, add basil, and toss to combine. Transfer to serving platter and sprinkle with Pecorino and pine nuts. Serve.
These crispy zucchini fritters make a wonderful starter or side dish, and they’re a delicious way to use up summer zucchini, because Lord knows, you or your neighbors are likely swamped with it. Of course there is always the local farm market or grocery store…
The word fritter usually conjures up something heavy and deep-fried, but these zucchini fritters are as light as can be. Serve them as a light vegetarian meal or mezze (small plate) with tzatziki and a Greek salad, or as a side dish to any Mediterranean-style fish, chicken or lamb dish.
To eliminate all of the excess moisture in zucchini, shred on a box shredder, salt it and let it drain in a fine mesh strainer for 10 minutes. Finally you want to wrap it tightly in a clean towel and squeeze out any lingering moisture. Do not let the zucchini sit on its own for too long after it’s been squeezed dry or it will turn brown.
Bind the dried zucchini with eggs and a little flour which allows its delicate flavor to shine. In ATK’s The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook where we found this recipe, and the one I followed, it did not mention baking powder as an ingredient. However, online it shows adding 1/2 teaspoon, which makes sense so I listed it below.
Oh, and do yourself a favor and buy a good block of feta cheese, not the pre-crumbled varieties. Odyssey and Mt Vikos are two great brands that contain no preservatives, additives, or calcium chloride and are Non-GMO. Traditional feta is made authentically by small family dairies in central Greece using fresh milk from sheep and goats.
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (or cornstarch)
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more if necessary
Lemon wedges, for serving
Shred the zucchini on the large holes of a box grater or in a food processor fitted with the shredding disk. Transfer the zucchini to a fine mesh strainer and set over a bowl. Toss the zucchini with the salt and let it sit for 10 minutes.
Put zucchini in a clean dish towel and fold and wring out real well with (you may need to repeat with another towel), then set aside.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Mix in the dried zucchini, scallions, dill, feta, garlic and black pepper. Sprinkle the flour (or corn starch) and baking powder over mixture and stir until uniformly incorporated.
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Drop 2-tablespoon sized portions into the pan, then use the back of a spoon to gently press the batter into 2-inch-wide fritters. Pan-fry until golden brown on both sides, 2-3 minutes per side. Repeat as needed.
Transfer the fritters to a paper towel-lined plate. Add a bit more oil to the pan if necessary, then repeat with the remaining batter. Serve warm or room temperature with lemon wedges.
Who doesn’t love a fabulous grilled rib-eye? These spice-rubbed steaks get a nice kick from a poblano pepper. Poblanos vary a lot in spiciness, so taste yours before you add it to the pan and hold back a bit if it’s too hot. If you want more heat, add a minced jalapeño along with the poblano.
With company for dinner, we needed four steaks and just happened to have two boneless, and two bone-in which were thinner than the boneless cuts, so the cooking times varied slightly for each thickness. Choose your weapon, but try to keep all rib-eyes a minimum of 1-inch thick. And yes, we did double the corn ragoût also.
Twenty-four hours before dinner prep, we dry-brined the steaks with the spice rub, placed them on a rack in a rimmed baking sheet, and left them uncovered overnight in the refrigerator. A hour before grilling, let them sit a room temperature.
For a timer-saver on dinner night, make the corn ragoût the day prior, up to the point of reducing the cream. Once it is cooled, store the corn mixture in the fridge until ready to use, microwave until hot, then stir in the chopped sun-dried tomatoes and lime juice.
NOTE: If you don’t have a grill you can also pan-sear these steaks: Before making the corn ragoût, heat the 2 tsp. of oil in a 10-inch cast-iron or heavy-duty skillet over high heat until very hot. Add the steaks, reduce the heat to medium high, and cook until they are well browned and done to your liking, about 3 min. per side for medium rare. Transfer to a plate and cover loosely to keep warm while you make the ragoût in the same pan. You could also use New York strip or skirt steaks, though cooking time will vary.
Chili-Rubbed Rib-Eye Steak with Corn & Green Chile Ragoût
In a small bowl, mix the chili powder, coriander, and salt. Rub the mixture on the steaks.
Place steaks on a rack in a rimmed baking sheet, and refrigerate uncovered overnight for up to 24 hours.
Remove steaks from refrigerator one hour before placing on a hot grill.
Heat a gas grill to medium high or prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire. Drizzle the steaks with oil and grill, turning once, until medium rare, 3 to 4 minutes per side (perhaps longer depending on thickness of steaks). Transfer to a plate and cover loosely to keep warm.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the chile, season with salt and pepper, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until softened and starting to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the corn and continue to cook until it’s slightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes more. Add the cream and boil until it has reduced and the mixture is thick, 1 to 2 minutes. (This step can be done a day ahead. After cooled, cover and refrigerate, rewarming in microwave when ready for the next step.)
Remove from the heat, stir in the sun-dried tomato, lime juice, and the accumulated juices from the steak. Taste and add more salt and black pepper, if you like. Serve the rib-eyes whole or slice them and arrange on plates. Serve immediately, with the corn ragoût on top or alongside.
Lamb and Veggie Kebabs with an adventurous marinade consisting of onions, garlic, and trio of warm spices give the skewers a bold Middle Eastern flavor that is bound to grab your attention.
When marinating lamb, no need to be shy with flavors that will compliment its rich and assertive flavor. But it is equally important to use a marinade that will also help tenderize the meat while imparting character. This is especially true if you are using lamb shoulder or boneless leg of lamb as opposed to lamb loin fillet, which is more tender.
To make the marinade, combine onion, garlic, spices, fresh parsley, olive oil and lemon juice and zest in a food processor. Blitz until everything is well-incorporated and you have a thick onion mixture.
Because the veggies and meat require varying cooking times, I divide them into 3 categories—and 3 ziploc bags. First the meat cubes, then the tomatoes and mushroom caps, and finally the red onion and bell pepper pieces which take the longest to cook. Refrigerate all three bags for up to 2 hours. As the grill heats, thread metal skewers with the bag contents.
We served our skewers over a bed of tri-colored couscous, but if your counting carbs, gluten-free, or following a keto-friendly diet, you may want to skip it. Add lemon wedges for serving.
recipe title=”Mediterranean Lamb and Veggie Skewers” servings=”4-6″ time=”40 min + marinating time” difficulty=”easy”]
2 lbs. boneless leg of lamb
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 lb. cherry (cocktail) tomatoes
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed
1 yellow, 1 orange bell pepper, cut into 8 chucks each
1 red onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges, root intact
Lemon wedges, for serving
For the Marinade
2 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
10 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cardamom
1 cup packed fresh parsley leaves
2⁄3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Cut the lamb into 1 to 1 ½ -inch cubes or pieces and put them in a large ziploc. Season with kosher salt and black pepper.
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade, combine the onion, garlic, spices, parsley, olive oil and lemon juice and zest. Cover and run the processor until everything is finely chopped (you should end up with a thick onion marinade).
Divide the mixture into three equal portions and pour the first over the lamb and mix well to make sure all the lamb is well coated with the marinade. Repeat with the other two bags of veggies.
Cover and refrigerate all 3 bags for up to 2 hours. (If you do not have time, leave the kebabs to marinate at room temperature for about 30 minutes).
Brush the grates of a gas grill (or an indoor griddle) with oil and heat.
Shake excess marinade off and thread the lamb pieces on some long metal skewers, allowing a little room between pieces. (Flat metal skewers are best, but wooden skewers soaked in water will also work).
Repeat with the tomatoes and mushroom caps, and then the bell pepper and onion pieces.
Assemble the bell pepper/onion skewers on the hot grill first. After 10 minutes, add the tomato skewers. Turn all skewers every few minutes as they begin to char.
After five minutes more, add the lamb kebabs. Grill over high heat, turning each kabob one-quarter turn every couple minutes, until the meat is browned all over, anywhere from 5 to 7 minutes, depending on how well you like your lamb cooked (5 minutes on our grill produced medium-rare kebabs).
Remove all skewers at the same time. Slide all contents onto a large platter and pass around to each dinner guest. Plate with couscous, if using, and lemon wedges.
Another one-pan wonder, and who doesn’t like that for ease of clean-up and prep? It works as well for company as it does for a weeknight dinner. According to ATK’s “Complete Mediterranean Cookbook”, cooking the tenderloins until buttery-smooth is key, and roasting them atop a bed of vegetables buffers the heat to ensure juicy meat all the way through, which is rubbed with herbes de Provence, salt, and pepper.
The Mediterranean seasoning inspired the selection of vegetables: sweet, delicately flavored fennel, earthy artichoke hearts (frozen, to keep things easy), and briny olives (which I doubled the quantity). After softening the fennel in the microwave, it was tossed with the other vegetables and olive oil, and the mixture was spread into the roasting pan (or rimmed baking sheet), placing the tenderloins on top.
The vegetables are nearly cooked when the pork is done, so remove the meat to a moated cutting board and tent with foil. To the cooked veggies, add in juicy halved cherry tomatoes and lemon zest, and let them finish in the oven. After 10 minutes, the fennel should be tender, the tomatoes softened and releasing their juices.
NOTE: If using frozen artichoke hearts, be sure to thoroughly thaw and pat them dry; otherwise their moisture will inhibit the browning of the roasted vegetables.
Spice-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Fennel, Tomatoes, Artichokes, and Olives
2 large fennel bulbs, stalks discarded, bulbs halved, cored, and cut into ½-inch-thick strips
12 oz. frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and patted dry
½ cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
18 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved
1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest
2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Pat pork dry with paper towels and season with herbes de Provence, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
Combine fennel and 2 tablespoons water in bowl, cover, and microwave until softened, about 5 minutes; drain well. Toss drained fennel, artichokes, olives, and oil together in bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Spread vegetables into 16 by 12-inch roasting pan and lay pork on top, tucking under the thin part of the tail. Roast until pork registers 140 to 145 degrees, 25 to 30 minutes, turning tenderloins over halfway through roasting.
Remove pan from oven. Transfer pork to cutting board, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, stir cherry tomatoes and lemon zest into vegetables and continue to roast until fennel is tender and tomatoes have softened, about 10 minutes.
Remove pan from oven. Stir parsley into roasted vegetables. Slice pork into ½-inch-thick slices, and arrange vegetables and sliced pork on a platter, pouring any accumulated meat juices back over the plated pork and vegetables.
When your dining partner exclaims at least a half dozen times during the course of the meal “This is sooo good, I want to drink the sauce from my plate.” Not surprisingly, after every morsel of food was eaten, that’s exactly what he did. (After leftovers the next day, he did the same thing!) It’s no wonder because in this simple skillet dinner, seared bone-in chicken breasts are roasted on top of a bed of sunny Mediterranean vegetables and topped with a pan sauce that marry the ingredients into a unified delight.
Part of the charm happens before cooking, when the veggies are tossed with herbes de Provence—an aromatic seasoning blend that typically includes rosemary, thyme, savory, marjoram and oregano, and sometimes other spices and herbs such as fennel, sage, lavender and tarragon. Our concoction is listed below, but you can also simplify it, or buy it if you don’t have a lot of the ingredients.
Herbaceous dry white vermouth is an ideal deglazing liquid for the browned bits left in the pan after searing the chicken. It is critical in elevating the dish and adds subtle but unmistakable herbal notes to the final meal. Dry white wine would work in a pinch, but the results won’t be quite the same.
Instead of one bell pepper, we used 4 or 5 small ones in varying colors because that’s what we had on hand. Plus, it lends more pops of color in the overall veggie scheme. Our Le Creuset “Baby Blue” enameled cast-iron braising pot was the perfect vehicle in which to cook the meal.
NOTE: Don’t use oversized chicken breasts; 12-ounce pieces work best. Larger ones require longer cooking, which will result in overdone vegetables. However, if unable to find 12 oz. chicken breasts, and have to use larger (16 oz.), compensate by frying skin-side-down for a full 8 minutes, and then fry an additional 5 minutes skin-side-up before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. When you remove the skillet from the oven, don’t forget that the handle will be hot.
Pan-Roasted Chicken and Summer Vegetables with Herbes de Provence
1 medium red onion, halved and sliced about ¼ inch thick
1 yellow, orange or red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise ¼ inch thick
¼ cup drained capers, plus 1 Tbsp. caper brine
½ cup dry vermouth
1 cup lightly packed fresh basil, torn
Heat the oven to 475℉ with a rack in the middle position. Season the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, stir together 2 tablespoons of oil, the herbes de Provence, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Add the garlic, onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, zucchini and capers, then toss to combine; set aside.
In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil until shimmering. Add the chicken skin down and cook without disturbing until golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the chicken skin up to a large plate.
Pour off and discard all but 1 tablespoon fat from the skillet. Add the vermouth, bring to a boil over medium-high and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until reduced to about 2 tablespoons, 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the vegetables and cook, stirring, until just warmed through, about 1 minute, then distribute in an even layer. Nestle the chicken skin up in the vegetables and add any accumulated juices. Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook until the thickest part of the breast reaches about 160°F, 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven (the handle will be hot). Transfer the chicken skin up to a serving platter. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables the platter, arranging them around the chicken.
Set the skillet over high, bring the liquid to a simmer and cook, stirring, until slightly thickened and reduced, 1 to 2 minutes. Off heat, stir in the caper brine, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce around the chicken and over the vegetables. Sprinkle with basil.
Herbes de Provence
Ground spices and dried herbs last about a year if kept away from heat and light.
4 Tbsp. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. dried sage
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 Tbsp. dried marjoram
1 Tbsp. dried rosemary
1 Tbsp. dried lavender flowers
2 tsp. dried tarragon
2 tsp. fennel seeds, toasted
Mix all ingredients in a large mortar and finely crush with a pestle.
Store unused mixture in an airtight container away from heat and light.
As corn season ends, we ramp our efforts to utilize those tasty kernels in as many ways as possible. Chowder is a fabulous fallback especially as the summer temps start to wane and crisp, cool nights creep in. This riff from Fine Cooking incorporates a poblano chili, with ours yielding a full cup, once chopped down.
When it comes to the broth, we used homemade chicken stock, which adds oodles of flavor by itself. If you don’t have any homemade on hand, jarred Better Than Bouillon is a decent brand for either chicken or vegetable broth.
While you could make this spicy take on corn chowder with frozen corn, it’s best with fresh. And since we prefer a kick, I added a healthy pinch of cayenne along with a generous squeeze of fresh lemon at the end.
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 poblano, seeded and coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 medium carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
1 medium rib celery, thinly sliced (about 1/3 cup)
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 cups lower-salt vegetable or chicken broth
1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 medium red potato (about 8 oz.), cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 3 cobs)
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Cayenne, to taste
Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven or similar pot over medium heat. Add the onion, poblano, carrot, celery, coriander, cumin, thyme, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 6 minutes.
Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables, and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds.
Stir in the tomato paste, and then add the broth and milk. Add the potatoes and corn, and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cover, reduce to a low simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potato is tender, about 15 minutes.
Using a potato masher, slightly mash the vegetables in the pot to thicken the chowder to your desired consistency.
Add the lemon juice, and season to taste with cayenne, salt, and pepper.
Considering that both chicken Parmesan and meatballs with marinara are popular choices, why commit yourself to just one? Here, Cook’s Country captures the best flavors of both dishes while minimizing the effort—and with fabulous results I must report. The Hubs is already planning to remake them for an upcoming retreat.
Starting with the meatballs, they use a flavorful mixture of Parmesan cheese, dried oregano, garlic powder, salt, and pepper to perk up the flavor of mild ground chicken. When shaping the meatballs, it’s a good practice to keep a small bowl of water nearby to dunk your fingertips in, it helps keep the mixture from sticking to your hands.
In place of a panade (a seasoned mix of starch and liquid), crushed Ritz Crackers (we used the garlic butter variety) and an egg are stirred into the ground chicken. This paste adds enough structure to skip the browning step (which helps meatballs hold together) and still have meatballs that hold their shape and remain tender.
The sauce is kept simple with seasoned crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce with a generous amount of fresh garlic, dried oregano, and pepper flakes. After a brief simmer, pour the sauce over the meatballs and top it with a crown of mozzarella (for its gooey meltability) prior to baking. When the saucy meatballs finally emerged from the oven, a sprinkle of savory Parmesan cheese, crunchy panko, and fragrant basil impart that familiar chicken Parmesan vibe.
You can make this dish ahead up to the point of topping with the shredded mozzarella. Cover and refrigerate until ready to bake. Bring to room temperature as you preheat the oven, then continue with the remaining directions. Remember, the dish will need to rest for 15 minutes before you add the panko/parm topping.
As there was already crushed crackers and panko topping involved, I opted to serve the meatballs simply with a side of fresh green beans and a tossed salad. But if you’re not concerned with carbs, or want to stretch the meal, you can add cooked pasta and some crusty bread to help sop up all of the wonderful sauce.
8 oz. whole-milk block mozzarella cheese, shredded (2 cups)
1 cup panko bread crumbs
¼ cup torn fresh basil
Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add sliced garlic and cook until lightly browned, about 1 minute.
Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, ¼ teaspoon oregano, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper flakes. Bring to simmer; reduce heat to medium-low; and cook until slightly thickened, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Place crackers in large zipper-lock bag, seal bag, and crush fine with rolling pin (you should have about 1 cup crumbs).
Combine crumbs, 2 cups Parmesan, egg, garlic powder, pepper, remaining 2 teaspoons oregano, and 1 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Add chicken and mix with your hands until thoroughly combined.
Divide mixture into 20 portions (about ¼ cup each). Using your hands, roll each portion into ball, and transfer to 13 by 9-inch baking dish.
Pour sauce over meatballs, then sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake until meatballs register at least 160 degrees and mozzarella is melted and beginning to brown, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine panko, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in bowl. Microwave until panko is light golden brown, 1 to 3 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds.
Sprinkle meatballs with panko mixture, remaining ½ cup Parmesan, and basil. Serve.
A bit of a twist, this classic potato salad adaptation from Good Housekeeping utilizes lots of fresh, tender herbs, and is a little more sophisticated looking than the typical bowl of potato salad.
The spuds are kept whole, but smashed with the bottom of a cup after cooking them in water. Then they get mixed with the mayonnaise mixture, spread onto a platter and capped with scallions, parsley and dill. While it may look like an overload of toppings, remember there aren’t any actually mixed into the potatoes (although I did reduce the amount of parsley down to about 2/3 cup).
Served at room temperature, it made a wonderful side to grilled bratwurst sausages and caramelized onions. Go ahead and cook the baby reds in the morning or the day before, and save yourself some time at dinner.
Place potatoes in a medium pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, add 1/2 tablespoon salt, reduce heat and simmer until just tender, 12 to 15 minutes.
Drain and run under cold water for 30 seconds. Drain well and pat dry.
On cutting board, gently flatten each potato with bottom of cup.
While potatoes cook, in a small bowl whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, horseradish, mustard, lemon juice and 1⁄2 teaspoon each salt and pepper until smooth.
In a large bowl, gently toss potatoes with the dressing. On serving platter, arrange potatoes in single layer, drizzle with any remaining dressing and sprinkle with herbs and scallions. Add more salt and pepper, if desired.
With tomatoes at the height of their season, this fabulous salad hits all the right notes. No cooking, easy to prep, and tasty as all get out—providing you use great tomatoes. All we needed was one because the heirloom that we picked up at the local farmer’s market weighed in at a whopping 1 1⁄2 pounds and was bright red all the way through!
According to the Milk Street article where this recipe came from, pipirrana is a summery, tomato-centric salad from Andalusia in southern Spain. Consider it gazpacho in chopped-salad form. Their version of pipirran con atún, includes tuna, and hard-cooked eggs, making the dish hearty enough to be a satisfying main course. The vegetables are left in largish chunks instead of a fine dice, as is common. The onion is thinly sliced and steeped in sherry vinegar for a few minutes to tame its bite.
One thing you want to stay away from here is canned tuna packed in water. The flavor of tuna in olive oil is richer and its texture more velvety. And by all means, when you drain the tuna, do it over a bowl and use it when making the vinaigrette, adding olive oil as needed to make up the difference. Don’t know why most recipes fail to mention this step.
We drained the pickled onions directly over the bowl holding the tuna olive oil. This is used to make the vinaigrette that dresses the salad. We were blown over by how good this simple salad was—made even better with a chilled glass of crisp Spanish white wine.
1½ lbs. ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 English cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded and cut into ½-inch chunks
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
3 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
1 medium green or red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
¼ cup drained capers
2 5-oz. cans olive oil–packed tuna, drained and flaked into small pieces (don’t discard the olive oil from the tuna can, save it to make the vinaigrette)
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and quartered
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
In a large bowl, toss together the tomatoes, cucumber and ½ teaspoon salt. In a medium bowl, stir together the onion, vinegar and ¼ teaspoon salt. Let both stand for about 10 minutes.
Place a large strainer over the bowl containing the oil from the canned tuna. Pour the onion slices and their juices into the strainer, pressing down to remove most of the vinegar. Add the drained onions to the tomato-cucumber mixture.
Add the bell pepper, capers and tuna to the vegetables, lightly stir.
To the vinegar oil mixture, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley. Pour the dressing over the salad and gently toss. Transfer to a serving dish and top with the egg wedges.
For an easy, but impressive weeknight dinner, turn a simple roast chicken into a fabulous poultry dinner by rubbing it with za’atar. Using olive oil to form a paste, spread za’atar and salt underneath the chicken skin and let it rest in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours, which has the same effect as brining a chicken.
To cook it, use the Italian technique of cooking under a brick (or a pot in this case). Once the skin is crisp, brush on additional za’atar and olive oil paste. Then finishing the chicken breast side up in a hot oven turns the paste into a crisp crust. While the chicken cooks, create a zesty vinaigrette that brightens up the finished dish.
But exactly what is za’atar? It is so multifaceted and dynamic due to a blend of many different flavors, textures, and fragrances. Even though it varies greatly (specific recipes can be closely-guarded secrets), za’atar is generally a combination of dried oregano, thyme, and/or marjoram (woodsy and floral), with sumac (tangy and acidic) and toasted sesame seeds (nutty and rich).
If za’atar is not available at the grocery/specialty store, make it at home, like us (see below). Play around with different quantities of crushed dried oregano, dried thyme, and dried marjoram, and add sumac, toasted sesame seeds, and, if you want, salt.
One of our paired side dishes was locally grown organic tomatoes, spread with fresh pesto, topped with slices of mozzarella, and drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette.
TIP: We keep a jar of preserved lemons in our auxiliary refrigerator at most times. If you don’t have or can’t find preserved lemons, you can microwave four 2-inch strips lemon zest, minced, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, ½ teaspoon water, ¼ teaspoon sugar, and ¼ teaspoon salt at 50 percent power until the liquid evaporates, about 1½ minutes, stirring and mashing the lemon with the back of a spoon every 30 seconds.
Because our chicken weighed over 5 pounds—25% bigger than called for—I used more za’atar mix and doubled the preserved lemon vinaigrette. It also took a bit longer to come to temp, but not much because we used a convection roast setting. If at any time while in the oven the skin seems to be getting too dark, rest foil over it while the meat continues to reach temperature. Test both breast and thighs with an instant-read thermometer.
Za’atar-Rubbed Butterflied Chicken with Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette
¼ preserved lemon, pulp and white pith removed, rind rinsed and minced (1 Tbsp.)
2 tsp. white wine vinegar
½ tsp. Dijon mustard
Combine 1 tablespoon oil, 1 tablespoon za’atar, and 1 teaspoon salt in small bowl.
With chicken breast side down, use kitchen shears to cut through bones on either side of backbone. Discard backbone and trim any excess fat or skin at neck. Flip chicken and tuck wingtips behind back. Press firmly on breastbone to flatten, then pound breast to be same thickness as leg and thigh. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and, using your fingers, gently loosen skin covering breast and thighs.
Rub za’atar-oil paste evenly under skin. Transfer chicken to large plate and refrigerate uncovered for 6 to 8 hours.
Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 450 degrees.
Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Combine 1 tablespoon oil and remaining 1 tablespoon za’atar in small bowl. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Place chicken skin side down in skillet, reduce heat to medium, and place heavy pot on chicken to press flat.
Cook chicken until skin is crisp and browned, 20 to 25 minutes. (If chicken is not crisp after 20 minutes, increase heat to medium high).
Off heat, remove pot and carefully flip chicken. Brush skin with za’atar mixture, transfer skillet to oven, and roast until breast registers 160 degrees and thighs register 175 degrees, 10 to 20 minutes.
Transfer chicken to carving board and let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk mint, lemon, vinegar, mustard, ⅛ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper together in bowl until combined. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in remaining 3 tablespoons oil until emulsified. Carve chicken and serve with dressing.
2 Tbsp. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 ½ Tbsp. sumac
1 Tbsp. sesame seeds, toasted
¼ tsp. salt
Process thyme and oregano in spice grinder or mortar and pestle until finely ground and powdery.
Transfer to bowl and stir in sumac, sesame seeds, and salt. (Za’atar can be stored at room temperature in airtight container for up to 1 year.)
On one of our numerous trips to Spain, we took a cooking class in Seville at Taller Andaluz de Cocina. One of the recipes was making a Salmorejo—sometimes known as ardoria or ardorío—a traditional soup originating from the Andalusia region in southern Spain. It is composed simply of tomato, bread, extra-virgin olive oil and garlic.
The soup is served cold and is garnished with chopped Spanish serrano ham and diced hard-boiled eggs. Unfortunately, the grocery store was not carrying either jamón serrano or Ibérico, but push-come-to-shove, prosciutto is an acceptable substitute. Although reminiscent of gazpacho, Salmorejo is more pink-orange, and is also much thicker and creamier in texture, because it includes more olive oil and bread.
A Spanish-themed dinner was planned for a belated birthday of some good friends. For starters, our drinks, tinto de verano, were paired with a tomato-pesto Manchego cheese appetizer. While The Hubs made a seafood paella on his grill, and Spanish music played softly in the background, our guests, Maria Odili and Steve, took the opportunity to do a bit of dancing.
The Salmorejo was our initial course, and boy was it a hit, we think even better than the version we made in Seville, with everyone enjoying seconds! After the paella, lots of laughter and more wine, those that still had room feasted on Maria’s homemade peach cobbler. Not a shabby way to spend a midweek evening at all…
4 oz. stale bread, torn in pieces and moistened with water if too dry
4 oz. extra virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
1 clove garlic, peeled and green shoot removed
2 tsp. table salt
2 tsp. sherry vinegar
2 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped, for garnish
2 oz. jamón serrano or Ibérico, diced, for garnish
Core the tomatoes and cut into quarters while holding them over blender jar. Add the bread, garlic, salt and vinegar. Blend all ingredients until smooth, scraping sides of blender jar as needed.
With the blender on, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream to create a creamy, salmon-orange emulsion. Taste and even out the flavor by adding more salt and vinegar if needed. Remember that the garlic and vinegar flavors will taste stronger after resting in the refrigerator.
Before serving, garnish the soup with chopped boiled egg, diced ham, and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Here’s an elegant low-carb salad that’s bulky enough to feed four as a main entrée. It was the perfect antidote for lunch on a recent Sunday afternoon when a couple of friends dropped by and our original plans for outside dining fell through due to inclement weather.
Much of the prep can be prepared ahead of time, such as the hard boiled eggs, bacon, and shredded chicken. A rotisserie chicken is so easy, and generally cheaper than buying a whole uncooked chicken—basically a no-brainer. But if you happen to have some breast meat already cooked, go ahead and shred that.
We always keep a homemade sherry-based mustard vinaigrette on hand, thus we used it with the added touch of flavor provided by the bacon fat. Sherry vinegar is now appearing not just in specialty stores but also in many ordinary supermarkets. With its nutty, oaky, savory flavors it is good in applications across the board. While we always buy “Columela” sourced from Spain, Napa Valley Naturals costs just $0.43 per ounce and is sold widely in supermarkets, so it’s a good one to try.
Recently a foodie friend posted pictures of this recipe on her FB feed, and I knew I had to try it—thanks Deb! She informed me it’s from “Mostly Plants” by Tracy Pollan, an Emmy award-nominated actress who has enjoyed a successful career in television, film, and on the Broadway stage—and is the wife of Michael J. Fox.
In October 2014, Pollan, along with her two sisters and mother, co-authored the multiple award winning The Pollan Family Table, a cookbook of family recipes, kitchen tips and cooking techniques. Based on the outcome of this dish, I’m curious to try some more from the Pollan family…
If you’ve ever had chicken or veal piccata, you are familiar with the flavor components of tangy lemon, briny capers and aromatic garlic all combined together in a silken butter sauce. Paired with spinach with its range of valuable vitamins and minerals, and navy beans with their high nutritive value and protein content, you got one healthy meal here!
Our changes: Instead of four skinless fillets, we cooked the skin-on salmon whole which required a few minutes longer on each side. In lieu of canned navy beans, which the grocery store didn’t have, we used Great Northern. And there was a lot of liquid in the sauce so the cooking time was nearly doubled to reduce it enough before adding the butter.
In a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Slowly add the spinach and cook, stirring until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the beans and season with salt and pepper, mix until combined. Cook until the beans are warm, about 2 minutes; remove from heat.
In a separate large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat the grapeseed oil until shimmering. Gently add the fillets and cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until light golden brown. Transfer fillets to a platter and tent with foil to keep warm.
Add the shallots to the hot skillet and cook, stirring until translucent, about 1 minute.
Add the broth, wine, lemon juice and capers. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced slightly, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the butter, and when melted, add 2 tablespoons of parsley and stir.
Distribute the sautéed spinach and beans on a serving platter (or divided amongst 4 individual plates). Top with the salmon fillets and spoon the sauce over the fish.
Sprinkle with the remaining parsley, and top with lemon slices. Serve hot.
Khorovats is Armenian barbecue. Here, thick-cut, bone-in pork chops, are marinated in a mix of onion and oregano, then grilled with wood chips to infuse the pork with smokiness. According to Milk Street where we found this recipe, bone-in, blade-end pork loin chops are the best cut because they contain a good amount of fat, which keeps the meat moist and flavorful; but rib chops will work, too (because they are leaner, it’s important not to overcook them).
In a nod to son David’s fiancée Vikki, who has Armenian heritage, we decided to make this meal paired with another dish from the same country, Armenian Grilled Potato Skewers(recipe below). It’s pretty important to get spuds that are the same size, but was an impossible task at the time we were grocery shopping. So we had several that were larger and had to preboil them a bit longer as well as grill them several more minutes.
Left, Vikki and David hold dog Olive while they patiently wait for dinner to be served.
The sauce that accompanies these chops is also excellent with any grilled pork or chicken. All-in-all we agreed it was fabulous, our only complaint was that the garlic cloves could have been softer. I admit, I did choose large cloves, so cutting them in half or going smaller would most likely have remedied that issue.
The consensus was unanimous, we all LOVED the dinner!!
Tip: Don’t soak the wood chips before wrapping them in foil. Dry chips smoke more readily, which is desirable for quick-cooking foods such as pork chops. After placing the pork on the grill, don’t open the lid for 10 minutes. This allows the smoke to collect and create a more intense smokiness in the chops.
To prepare the chops, in a food processor, combine the oil, onion, oregano, 2 tablespoons salt and 1 tablespoon pepper. Process to form a coarse paste, about 1 minute, scraping the bowl as needed. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Using a paring knife, make verticals cuts spaced about ½ inch apart into the fat on each chop. Add the chops to the onion paste and turn to coat, rubbing the mixture into the meat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before heating the grill.
Loosely wrap the wood chips in a 12-by-18-inch sheet of foil, forming a flat packet roughly 7 inches square. Poke several holes in each side of the packet. Prepare a grill for indirect, high-heat cooking. For a charcoal grill, pour a heaping chimney of hot coals evenly over one side of the grill bed and set the wood chip packet on the coals; open the bottom grill vents and lid vents. For a gas grill, place the wood chip packet directly on one burner that will remain on during cooking; turn all burners to high. Heat the grill, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes, then clean and oil the cooking grate. If using a gas grill, turn off one burner, leaving the remaining burner(s) on high.
To prepare the sauce, while grill heats, in a large bowl, toss the tomatoes, peppers and oil. Place the vegetables on the hot side of the grill, then cover and cook, turning occasionally, until lightly charred all over, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to an 8-inch square disposable foil pan and add the garlic, 2 tablespoons of butter and the oregano. Cover with foil and poke a few holes in the foil, then place the pan on the cool side of the grill. Scrape any excess marinade off the pork chops and place the chops on the cool side of the grill alongside the foil pan. Cover the grill, positioning the lid vents over the pork chops if using a charcoal grill. Cook without lifting the lid for 10 minutes.
Move the chops to the hot side of the grill and cook, uncovered and turning occasionally, until well-browned on both sides and the centers near the bone are just barely pink when cut into or reach 135°F, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a platter, place 1 piece of the butter on each chop and tent with foil. Let rest for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, uncover the pan; the vegetables and garlic cloves should be completely softened. Using a fork, mash the vegetables until broken down but a bit chunky. Use tongs to remove and discard any large pieces of tomato or pepper skins that do not break down. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter until melted, followed by the vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve with the pork.
When purchasing potatoes for this recipe, look for ones about the size of an extra-large egg and that weigh about 2 ounces each and are of similar shape and size. The potatoes can be precooked and refrigerated up to a day in advance; just before grilling, skewer them, brush with melted butter and season with salt and pepper.
You’ll need three or four sturdy 12- to 14-inch metal skewers; skewers with pins that are flat rather than round or square help prevent the potatoes from spinning around, making them easier to manage on the grill. Place the skewered potatoes on the hot side of the grill after you’ve removed the pork chops and allow the potatoes to brown while the chops rest.
Keep in mind, you don’t want to precook the potatoes at a rolling boil which can cause the skins to split (which did happen to a few of ours). Aim to keep the water at a gentle but constant simmer. Don’t skewer the potatoes without first chilling them in an ice bath. Chilling firms the potatoes slightly so that they cut more cleanly when scored with a paring knife.
In a large pot over high, bring the potatoes and enough water to cover by about 1 inch to a boil. Reduce to medium-high, cover partially and cook until a paring knife inserted into the largest potato meets just a little resistance, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a gentle but steady simmer, 8 to 12 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice water. Drain the potatoes in a colander, then transfer to the ice water. Let stand for 10 minutes. Drain again and pat dry with paper towels.
Thread the potatoes lengthwise onto each of three 12- to 14-inch flat metal skewers, dividing them evenly. Using a paring knife, make 4 or 5 parallel crosswise cuts into each potato, stopping when knife blade reaches the skewer; leave the second sides of the potatoes uncut. Brush the potatoes on all sides with about ½ of the melted butter and season with salt and pepper.
Prepare a grill for high-heat cooking. For a charcoal grill, pour a large chimney of hot coals evenly over one side of the grill bed and open the bottom grill vents and lid vents; for a gas grill, heat all burners to high. Heat the grill, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes, then clean and oil the cooking grate.
Place the skewered potatoes on the hot side of the grill and cook, turning occasionally, until browned all over, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a platter, brush with the remaining melted butter. Sprinkle with additional salt and pepper and the oregano. Serve with lemon wedges.