4th of July Juicy Burgers and a Red, White and Blue Dessert

Here come the flags and fireworks! The 4th of July, with orchestras playing and splashes of explosive fireworks, is arriving this week.

We like to do the traditional route of burgers and hot dogs on the grill. This year the menu will include a lemon cole slaw and a potato salad with shallots, vinegar and herbs.

We’ll make the trip to Trader Joe’s for their brioche hamburger buns because they make every burger better.

The guys like their hamburgers with cheese. We use a grill pan that fits on the grill grates and helps create a nice sear on the outside of the burger for a crunchy exterior.

The pan heats up on the grill grates and the burgers cook evenly. To give the burger flavor, we use Worcestershire and soy sauce like we do with our steaks.

We also make a panade which are bits od bread soaked in milk that get mixed in with the meat. This combination keeps the burgers moist and juicy.

What also  helps keep a burger moist? Water. Water in the form of steam.

People tend to press the burgers on the grill as they cook. All that does is press all the moisture out of the burgers. Place the burgers on a hot grill pan and don’t touch them.

Allow them to sit and develop a caramelized outer layer. Flip the burgers to get a crust on the other side. What needs to happen now is to finish cooking the interior of the burger, with the lid closed, to trap the heat and create an oven-like environment.

After the other side of the burger has a sear on it, pour some water on the super-hot grill pan. The water will immediately hiss and create a cloud of steam. Quickly close the grill top and trap that steam around the burgers.

If you are making cheeseburgers place the slices of cheese on top of the burgers before you add the water on the pan and close the lid.

A swim in the pool, some hamburgers, potato salad and cole slaw, followed by a red, white and blue dessert. The guys don’t believe they are eating cheese when they are served ricotta with honey swirled into the creamy cheese and topped with fruit.

They believe that a dessert can’t have cheese in it in any form.

For the 4th of July it will be slices of strawberries and blueberries that are just peaking on our blueberry bush with scoops of ricotta and mint leaves.

The blogathon for 2014 has come to an end. A post every day for the month of June. Cue the fireworks!

 

 

How Would You Like Your Eggs on Sunday Morning?

Sunday mornings with a newspaper and a cup of tea. Doesn’t get any better.

Now that the warm weather is here that means breakfast outside on the patio. As lovely as the morning breeze is, it can make reading the newspaper tricky.

The reason we love to use eggs in our kitchen is because they are the kind of food that can show up at breakfast, lunch or dinner in a variety of ways.

We can use them as hard-boiled eggs where we place them in a pot of cold water and slowly bring to a boil. Once the water is at a rapid roll of a boil the pot gets covered and removed from the heat.

After a stay of ten minutes the eggs come out of the water and are rinsed under cold water. When the top of the egg is cracked it breaks the seal between the egg and the shell.

The inside yolk can be scooped out and mixed with mayonnaise and a bit of Dijon mustard. They can get a dusting of paprika. The eggs always get a snip of chives from the garden.

The guys like fluffy scrambled eggs for breakfast. They will have bacon or Canadian bacon with the eggs as a weekend breakfast.

How do you get the fluffiest eggs possible that are light and flavorful? Keep it simple.

You want to start with good quality eggs from the market. How do you know if an egg is no longer good for cooking? Place the egg in a bowl of water with some salt. If it floats it’s edible — if it sinks – don’t use it.

Start with cracking your eggs on the surface of the counter. This is better than doing it on the rim of a bowl where some of the shell can recede into the egg. Add a splash of whole milk and a good pour of cream with salt and pepper.

Pull out your immersion blender and mix the eggs, milk and cream. This whips air into the eggs for fluffy scrambled eggs. Season with salt and pepper.

Melt a pat of unsalted butter in a pan. Working from the outside of the pan drag the eggs to the middle of the pan allowing the rest of the eggs to fill in the gaps.

Keep the eggs moving. When the eggs look like they are almost cooked through pull the pan from the heat. The heat from the pan will continue to finish cooking the eggs as you prepare to serve.

When the mood strikes, we’ll poach some eggs and make a Hollandaise sauce for Eggs Benedict. Perfectly poached eggs and Canadian bacon sitting on toasted English muffins with the silky sauce and chives.

Sometimes we make a batch of punch that everyone can enjoy with orange juice, cranberry juice, lemonade, ginger ale and mint.

Tomorrow is the last day of the blogathon!

Hot Off the Grill Pizza

Pizza on the grill. It’s a summer tradition for us. Slightly charred pizza dough and sweet tomato sauce with cheese melted on top.

We do different kinds of pizza. For those with maybe more grown-up taste we do a pizza with a blend of parmesan and fontina with caramelized onions and tiny thyme leaves.

That pizza, with a light salad, and glass of wine on the patio is a summer meal that satisfies.

Kids always want their tomato sauce and melted mozzarella with torn basil leaves scattered across the surface. Sometimes you just have to stick with the basics. Fair enough.

The important step in working with pizza dough is to have a floured surface to work on and a bit of olive oil to coat the dough to help stretch it out.

A well-oiled dough will stretch better and it will help prevent the dough from sticking to the grates of the grill. Create whatever shape you want. Round or oblong. You want to make sure the dough has a consistent thickness so that it cooks evenly.

When you pre-heat your grill you want to create a hot zone and a cool zone like we talked about some posts back. Stretch the dough and place it on the side with the direct flame.

As little bubbles of the dough appear, pinch them with your tongs. This maintains an even surface for what will be the bottom of the pizza when you flip it.

After flipping the dough, spread tomato sauce almost to the edge of the pizza and sprinkle with cheese. Move to the cool zone and cover with the lid of the grill.

The cool zone is important when working with pizza. The dough will cook rather quickly. Then, you want to trap the heat with the lid closed after moving the pizza to the part of the grill where there is no direct flame.

This will continue to melt the cheese on top of the pizza without burning the crust underneath.

To remove pizza from the grill place your cutting board at the edge of the grill grates and use your tongs to slide the pizza off the grill and onto the board. Slice into pieces and enjoy!

We keep pots of basil right next to the grill. This has two benefits. The basil is within reach when the pizza is done and we are ready to let some basil leaves melt into with the warm cheese.

From the perspective of the plant, the basil is very happy to sit next to the grill as it is an herb that particularly likes the warmth that radiates from the grill.

There are two more days of the blogathon for 2014! Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow.

5 Ideas for Vinaigrettes

One of the great pleasures of the summer season is dining outside. The meal is relaxing and who cares if anything drops on the floor. Well really, that’s for the dog to take care of inside and outside.

Don’t feed him from the table, but anything that drops to the floor, or flies from your fork from animated conversation, is a treat for our furry friend.

Now that you have the ratio of 3 to 1, oil to vinegar memorized here are some variations of the basic vinaigrette.

Mustard

Stir in some Dijon mustard for a bit of a tang in the vinaigrette. Any version of mustard works. Use a regular Dijon mustard and try a whole grain mustard too. Each lends a different texture to the vinaigrette.

Roasted Garlic

Many people don’t like the taste of raw garlic in their vinaigrettes. Raw garlic can have a pungent flavor that some people find unappealing. As we said in another post, garlic takes on a completely different flavor when it is roasted. It is less assertive and has a sweetness to it.

We talked about roasting garlic before, but you’re not going to want to roast a whole head of garlic to use some of it in a vinaigrette. Place 1 or 2 cloves of garlic in a cold pan with the extra-virgin-olive-oil that you would use in the vinaigrette.

Slowly warm the oil. The garlic will infuse the olive oil. This will take about 2 minutes. Remove the garlic and allow the oil to cool. Then you are ready to finish making the vinaigrette.

Creamy

Make a creamy vinaigrette by adding a splash of light cream or half and half. This creates a slightly rich vinaigrette with a milky flavor. This is a time when you would think about swapping out a dark balsamic vinegar for a white balsamic.

The taste combination is a little more of a blend that works and the color of the vinaigrette is a better visual presentation.

Shallots

Shallots are good in a vinaigrette because they lend a mild onion taste to the ingredients. You don’t even have to be a master mincer with a knife.

Cut a shallot into a few chunky pieces and use the same method with the shallots as described above with the garlic. Heat the shallots in the oil and allow it to take on the taste of shallot in the background of the oil.

Herbs

Snip them in your garden or pick them up at the farmers’ market. Add some thyme, tarragon or chives to the vinaigrette for an added freshness. Some basil or rosemary. Try different herbs and combinations of herbs. They will make your salad sing.

Today is the first official day of summer vacation. Let the fun begin!

School’s Out for Summer

Not much to share today since a second-grader and a sixth-grader have closed out their careers. The end of June is a whirlwind of activity, and wrapping things up and finishing projects. To celebrate, we are heading out to a favorite restaurant to have dinner.

We’ll pick up the discussion tomorrow where we left off about salads and vinaigrettes. Tonight we will order the favorite salad we get when we go to this place. It has briny olives, broccoli spears and tiny bits of fresh mozzarella. It feels like the place to be as we have marked other milestones at this restaurant. That’s what a restaurant can mean to you. It feels like another kitchen and table that makes you relax and enjoy a meal with family and friends.

There is a quote from an author that anyone dealing with school schedules, baseball practices, art classes and music lessons needs to remember in the roller coaster years of raising children.

“The days are long but the years are short.” -author Gretchen Rubin

Dressing Up Your Salad

Yesterday we talked about salad dressings and how much hidden sugar there is in those bottles lining the shelves of the market. With a few simple steps you can be mixing up your own vinaigrette to toss your salad greens in your bowl.

Follow the easy steps to make a basic vinaigrette to keep your salads tasty and healthy. One problem people run into is creating a salad that is weighed down by too much dressing or vinaigrette. Start out with a lighter hand as you can always add more dressing later. Once it’s in there, you can’t take it out.

After you mix your vinaigrette, pour it along the inside rim of the salad bowl. This is also a good idea if you are not serving the salad immediately.

Your salad and vinaigrette are prepped ahead of time but you toss it at the last minute so the leaves are lightly coated and ready to be served. Nothing spoils a salad faster than having too much dressing weighing down the leaves, or one that was tossed with dressing, and not served immediately.

Remember your basic ratio for a vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar.

BASIC VINAIGRETTE

3 tablespoons extra-virgin-olive-oil

1 tablespoon vinegar or any acid (like fresh-squeezed lemon or orange juice)

This amount is about right to serve four salad servings.

You can explore using other oils and vinegars. If making your own vinaigrette is new for you, it may be surprising to you how many different options are available. Try different vinegars like red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar or white balsamic vinegar.

You can also find other oils for your salad that come in different varieties. Some oils will have a very strong taste like walnut oil or a neutral flavor like grapeseed oil.

If you are just starting to explore the avenue of making vinaigrettes buy your ingredients in the smallest bottles possible and commit to the larger size when you have settled on something as an ingredient you know you like.

Making your own vinaigrette is so simple and fast. It’s much better for you since you aren’t using the pre-made bottles of dressing with ingredients like added sugar that isn’t part of a healthy eating plan.

If you missed the post about plastic bottles of extra-virgin-olive-oil being too close to the fiery hot grill. well here you go.

Tomorrow is the last day of school. See you then!

Easy-to-Make Vinaigrettes

There are some decent salad dressings available in stores. Look at the labels and read the list of ingredients carefully.

There is so much added sugar. According to many nutritionists making salads is one area where someone can be unknowingly sabotaging their healthy eating habits.

If you’re having a salad that means you are eating healthy. Right? Maybe not.

The problem isn’t with the tender leaves. It’s everything people put on top of those salad greens.

Once you hit the salad bar toppings the blue cheese crumbles, bacon bits and other items starts to take the calorie count way up. That’s before you add the salad dressing packed with hidden sugar. That salad can ruin your healthy-eating plan.

So, here’s what you need to make your own vinaigrette. The ratio is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar or any other acid like citrus juice.

The only part of the equation you want to make sure and follow is that you want to slowly add the oil to the acid. This helps the mixture emulsify and come together.

Place a kitchen towel under a bowl to keep it from slipping and having to chase the bowl around the counter as you mix. This way you have one hand free for the whisk, or kitchen fork, and the other hand can slowly stream the olive oil as you mix.

Does it make a difference if you use extra-virgin- olive oil? It does. The extra-virgin-olive-oil is the first pressing and yields a more delicate, fruity flavor. You want to use the extra-virgin-olive-oil for your dressings and vinaigrettes and save the regular olive oil for the saute pan.

Since there a few ingredients in a vinaigrette you want them to be quality ones. Their flavors are front and center and you want the vinaigrette to have clean and clear tastes to dress the leaves.

A vinaigrette is the perfect place to let fresh herbs round out the ingredients. Some just-picked herb leaves can give a vinaigrette some perfume from basil or an added lemon flavor with lemon thyme.

Experiment with different ingredients like honey, mustard, citrus juices and zest, cream, and herb combinations. Remember, the ratio is 3 to 1 and the possibilities are endless.

Looking for ideas to get started? Stop back tomorrow when we discuss some basic vinaigrettes to get you started!

 

Meatless Monday Pasta Dinner with a Tomato Pesto

Here’s a Meatless Monday dinner idea we use and it’s a hit with the guys. We came across this recipe in an issue of America’s Test Kitchen’s Cook’s Country or Cooks Illustrated.

There are so many cooking magazines that land in the mailbox.

This is an Italian recipe that is a riff on pesto replacing the basil and pignolia nuts with tomato and almonds.

It’s a nice combination of flavors and the guys prefer this to a traditional pesto.

We have tinkered with different ways to make this dish and the version they like best is the one where we added a smoky flavor to every layer of ingredients.

We grill the tomatoes and get a nice char on the skins. In the winter months, we roast them in the oven.

We’re in full swing with grilling season so the tomatoes are prepped with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Roasted garlic is a must for this dish. Roasted garlic tastes nothing like the raw or slightly cooked garlic slices. The garlic softens and develops a sweetness.

When you roast the garlic the skins are left on. Slice an entire head of garlic and place on some aluminum foil.

Drizzle with a little extra-virgin-olive-oil and a sprinkle of Kosher salt. Close the head of garlic together and wrap in aluminum foil. Place the packet on the grill where there isn’t a direct flame.

Now for the almonds. They add a nutty flavor to this tomato pesto that give it an interesting almond presence in the background.

It’s good when used in a raw state but toasting the almonds and releasing their essential oils brings all the grilled, roasted, toasted notes together. Don’t walk away from these! They toast quickly.

Add some cheese to these ingredients as you would when making pesto. Parmigiano Reggiano or Parmesan. Grab some basil leaves and add to the mix.

We like to serve this tomato pesto with a tubular pasta like penne or ziti. It works with any type of pasta you like. Use any type of tomato you prefer too.

This tomato pesto dinner is fast and easy to pull together on a weeknight.

You need to boil pasta in the kitchen but everything else can get ready outside while you enjoy some type of beverage on a beautiful evening. This bloom came out overnight in one of the pots near the grill..

 

We are heading into the last full week of the blogathon for 2014.

As of tonight, there is officially no more homework! It’s all good as we slip into summer. Tomorrow is Tuesday!

compound butters add layers of flavor

Compound butters are a delicious addition to your menu ideas all year long.

The butter flecked with bits of cinnamon and flakes of brown sugar that make your waffles taste even better on a cold winter morning can also be the dab of delicious for your summer corn laced with the kick of ancho chile powder, and studded with chives, for the ears of summer corn or hefty steak coming off the grill.

The combination of flavors is only up to you and your imagination. And the compound butter adds a layer of ingredients and taste to everything from the breakfast menu to the lunch items and the dinner table offerings.

Compound butter sounds like something that is a high-end part of menu choices. It requires no more effort than bringing a cold stick of butter to room temperature and adding some  ingredients.

It can be savory for a steak or grilled chicken breast, with some rosemary and thyme leaves, or sweet with mint from the garden melting on a strawberry shortcake or a peach cobbler for the summer dessert selections.

The no-salt butter is left on the counter to get to room temperature. Once it has softened, you can make the choice for the butter to be used as an ingredient to add to a lunch or dinner dish or something that lends itself to the sweeter side with a breakfast or a dessert dish.

These kinds of flavored butters are sold in markets at an inflated price because they are offering a customized kind of butter. Don’t pick these up in the market when it is so easy to make your own and be in complete control of the ingredients.

Sure, a chive butter placed on top of a steak when it is still hot off the grill is a nice slick of flavor for the grilled meat. But a compound butter melting down on top of it with some chives and oregano from the garden is an explosion of flavor.

Unwrap a stick of butter and decide which direction you want to tackle. It’s the same for savory as it is for sweet. You just have to use the background of creamy butter and splash whatever ingredients you desire across the canvas.

A compound butter can add another profile to dinner, breakfast or dessert. It’s up to you how you decide to use it.

Tomorrow is another day!

Frozen

The reality of seasonal ingredients is that when the time comes for your favorite fruit or vegetable to say good-bye they are gone until the next growing season.

Some items have shorter windows than others. This is where your freezer can help extend your enjoyment. It’s a common misconception that frozen foods are inferior to their fresh offerings.

This isn’t the case and the frozen food industry is on a campaign to help change the public’s thoughts on the frozen food aisle.

Frozen food makers are trying to spread the word that fruit and vegetables are frozen at the peak of freshness.

They have been trying to get the word out that freezing food is like pressing the pause button on nature and capturing the essence of the fresh fruits and vegetables at their best.

 

Corn, berries, peas, and other fruit and vegetables, are all frozen at the exact moment when they are in a premium state. They can be added to soups, stews or omelets at the end of cooking time as they just need to be warmed through or brought to room temperature.

 

Use this idea to capture and preserve the state of summer by making a berry compote. A compote isn’t quite a jam and you can cook down the berries into a thick mixture that can be stored in the freezer and retrieved at a later date when you want to be reminded of the tastes of summer.

The compote can include lemon juice and zest, or other citrus notes, and herbs from the garden like mint or the perfume of basil.

Boil down the berries and allow to cool. The compote can be put in plastic freezer bags and labeled with the date of storage. Lay the bags flat so that they can be stacked one on top of another.

Play with combinations of flavors. You can do one that is an all strawberry compote or one that is a mix of berries. The whole idea is to use your freezer to hold the season’s flavors and enjoy them when you miss them the most. Think that bowl of berries is magic for you in July?

The happiness you’ll have when you are reminded of these flavors in the cold winter months will make you glad you took the time to make a compote and store it in the freezer.

The combinations of flavors are limitless. Frozen fruit compote helps you remember the berries of summer on a winter day. Frozen is good.

So, there it is. Embrace the frozen produce. And post number one hundred!

See you tomorrow!