Memorial Day Barbecue, 2010

The morning of Memorial Day found us out on the median of a major street, waving flags and cheering on the riders in West Coast Thunder 2010 as they rode up to our local VA cemetery.  We’ve tried to do this every since experiencing the rush of East Coast Rolling Thunder while we lived in DC.

Some of our neighbors were there, and on the spur of the moment, I invited them to a barbecue later that afternoon.  This was a good thing: I had to actually prepare a dinner, and we had to sweep the patio and wash off the outside furniture–items that we’d always been more than happy to put off for later.

The menu was:
Grilled Chicken Breasts in Spiced Yogurt
Lemony Potato Salad
Tossed Green Salad
Fennel Salad with Mint Vinaigrette
Corn on the Cob

and for dessert our friends brought Texas Sheet Cake.

Click on the links to head to the recipes.  To make corn on the cob, buy fresh corn.  Shuck it, rinsing off the silks.  Bring a pot of water to boil, drop in the corn and TURN IT OFF.  Set the timer for 4 minutes, take out the corn and slick it down with butter.  Pass salt and pepper at the table.  My dad bought me these nifty corn holders.  They nest into each other in the drawer so you aren’t stabbing yourself when you rummage around in there.  Yes, I retired the old holders.

There are a billion recipes for Texas Sheet Cake on the web, as it’s been around for upteem years.  That’s why it made me laugh when Pioneer Woman claimed if for her own.  Yeah, right.  Like you can claim this one. Follow her recipe, but instead of *milk* in the frosting, use *buttermilk.*  Then it’s correct.  We’re also a walnut-loving  family–so we use those instead of pecans.

Lemony Potato Salad

Sometimes before I have to start cooking dinner, I’ll lazily browse through the website, as it’s easier than browsing through all my Gourmet cookbooks, and the website has pictures.  This recipe is credited to an Ian Knauer, first published in Gourmet in July 2009.

I’d tucked this recipe away, saving it for a day I was intent on barbecuing–thinking it would be a nice addition to a summer meal.  The only thing I have to say about this is it takes more salt to balance the flavors than you think.  I’d also put the salt shaker on the table, even though we’re not supposed to in this day and age. I’d also cut back on the chopped celery to 3/4 cup.  A bit too much, if you ask me.

The flavor of this is light–not heavy–made even lighter by the use of Light Mayonnaise (NOT the Low-fat variety–ick!), although I’m sure that’s sacrilegious in some households (Dad?).  If you decide to go this way, look for the blue lid and blue label.  It’s tastes pretty close to the original, with less of the nasty stuff.

Yield: Makes 8 servings

Active Time: 15 min, Total Time: 45 min

3 pounds small boiling potatoes
1 cup chopped celery (about 4 ribs–again, I’d use only 3 ribs)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup finely chopped chives
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper

Cover potatoes with water in a large pot and season well with salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer until tender, 12 to 20 minutes.  While potatoes cook, stir together celery, mayonnaise, chives, lemon zest and juice, sugar, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.  Drain potatoes and cool completely, then halve or quarter. Add to dressing and toss to coat.

NOTE: I chunked up the potatoes before I cooked them, cutting them into pieces as shown above in the photo.  The trick to not having your potatoes fall apart, I think, is not BOILING them at a full boil overly long. Just SIMMER them, barely bubbling.  Mine cooked in about 12 minutes after they came to a boil; yours may take longer.

Gourmet says that the potato salad can be made 1 day ahead and chilled. Bring to room temperature before serving.  (Just be cautious about leaving out the mayo-based food for too long; food poisoning, you know.)

Grilled Chicken Breasts in Spiced Yogurt

Sometimes I’ll got looking on the Epicurious website for quick recipes that are flavorful.  This is one of them, originally published in Gourmet magazine in August 2004.  I was trying to find another marinated chicken, one I’d made before, but couldn’t.  This one is just as good as the other that is now lost forever to the vagaries of the internet.  But it is quick: just whisk together the marinade, then while the chicken is marinating, stir up the yogurt-sauce topping and the mint “salad.”  Yep, I thought it was a strange name too–it’s really just a garnish for the chicken.  See the Memorial Day Barbecue post for how the whole thing looks with the sauce and the garnish on top.

Active time: 15 min Start to finish: 35 min

Yield: Makes 6 servings

2 cups plain yogurt (16 oz; preferably whole-milk–I used the thicker Greek yogurt and it was delicious)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons chili powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
shake of cayenne pepper
6 skinless boneless chicken breast halves (2 1/4 to 2 1/2 lb total)
1 cup small fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons minced shallot


Whisk together 1 cup yogurt, 2 tablespoons oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, salt, and spices, then add chicken and turn until coated well. Marinate at room temperature 20 minutes.

While chicken is marinating, prepare grill for cooking. If using a charcoal grill, open vents on bottom of grill, then light charcoal. Charcoal fire is medium-hot when you can hold your hand 5 inches above rack for 3 to 4 seconds. If using a gas grill, preheat burners on high, covered, 10 minutes, then reduce heat to moderate.

While grill is heating, whisk together remaining 1 cup yogurt and 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice and salt to taste.  (I was like, yeah–how do I know how this is supposed to taste like?  But I just added some salt, and tasted it, then added some more.  You really can figure it out–it’s a balance.)

Grill chicken (discard marinade), covered only if using gas grill, on lightly oiled grill rack, turning over occasionally, until just cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes total. Transfer chicken to a platter.

Toss together mint, shallot, and remaining tablespoon oil in a small bowl. Drizzle chicken with yogurt sauce and top with mint “salad.”  Toppings are shown to the left.

Cooks’ note:
If you aren’t able to grill outdoors, chicken can be cooked in a hot lightly oiled well-seasoned large ridged grill pan over moderate heat.

Tossed Green Salad, 2010

Part of our Memorial Day dinner was this salad, with LOTS of vegetables in it.  You can’t really taste the “secret additions,” but it adds crunch, texture and moisture to a standard tossed green salad.  I learned to add these while in Italy, staying at an Albergo, or hotel, on Lake Maggiore that had a restaurant attached.  Actually I should say the hotel was attached to the restaurant, because the food side of things had been going strong for about 120 years (the hotel had been built only a few years earlier).

So, in a large bowl place:
a varitey salad greens, cut into slices rather than torn
Chinese cabbage, sliced very thin, then cut into 2-3″ strips
1/4 zucchini, grated
chopped tomato

I also like adding:
a handful of pinenuts
a handful of craisins
some croutons

Toss with tongs (or your clean hands) to mix all the ingredients.

Then, over the top, pour anywhere from 3 Tablespoons to 6 Tablespoons olive oil, depending on the size of the salad you are making.  The one above, for 4-6 people, had about 1/4 cup oil drizzled over the top.

Give several shakes of red wine vinegar over the top of that.  Then grind on some salt–6-7 grinds (don’t skimp on this–it interacts with the vinegar to made it really yummy) and then grind on some pepper.

Toss it all again to coat the leaves.

I know we all used to use balsamic vinegar, but unfortunately the balsamic vinegars I can afford are much too strong, so I found the red wine vinegar to be a good substitute.  Now if your budget allows for the $15/bottle balsamics, use that instead.

Fennel Salad with Mint Vinaigrette

I found this on the Simply Recipes website.  They are in my Google Reader and this recipe popped up a couple of days ago.  This morning, when in the grocery store, I saw some fennel (also known as “anise”) and decided to make this.  It was a great complement to the other items we served.  It’s also EASY, if you use a good quality sharp knife to cut the fennel.  I upped the sugar and lemon juice slightly from the original recipe; changes are below.

1 large fennel bulb (or 2 medium bulbs)
2 teaspoons sugar
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
2 teaspoons minced shallot or onion

Make the vinaigrette. Put the lemon juice, shallot, mustard, salt, sugar and mint in a blender and pulse briefly to combine. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until it is well combined.

Using a mandoline, shave the fennel into 1/8 inch slices starting from the bottom of the bulb. Don’t worry about coring the fennel bulb, it’s unnecessary. If you don’t have a mandoline, slice the bulb as thin as you can. Chop some of the fennel fronds as well to toss in with the salad.

Toss with the fennel and marinate for at least an hour. Serve this salad either cold or at room temperature.

Serves 4-6.

Confetti Pasta Salad

I first tasted a variant of this salad on an airplane in the glory days of airline travel, when they served real food with real utensils in-flight.  I was intrigued with the savory-sweet combo of the spices and onion against the corn kernels, and wanted to reproduce this.  It didn’t seem to really provide that perfect combination of flavors, but I couldn’t figure out what I was missing until my sister Christine came to visit: she added a shake or two of cayenne pepper to the pasta salad.  Eureka!  That was it.

Use Lemon Vinaigrette for your dressing and then gently shake the cayenne over the top of the salad, then blend in. Caution–a little cayenne goes a long way.

1/2 lb. (1/2 of a box) orzo (a rice-shaped pasta), cooked and drained–you may need to use a wire mesh strainer instead of a colander to drain (it’s tiny!)
1 can black beans (15 oz.), drained & rinsed
1/2 bag bag frozen WHITE tender corn, approx. 16 ounces
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 red onion, finely diced (pieces are about 1/4″ size)–roughly 1/2 to 2/3 cup
fresh cilantro leaves, chopped, to yield about 1/3 cup

Place in large bowl: cooked orzo, beans, corn, pepper, onion and cilantro; pour vinaigrette over the top and stir gently.  As you toss it over the salad, add more olive oil if it looks dry. Season with salt, pepper and a small amount of cayenne, gently fold into salad.  Be cautious: you can always add more cayenne.  Sometimes I’ll just sprinkle that over the finished dish instead.

You can serve with grilled chicken breasts (marinate them also in the vinaigrette before cooking); garnish with lettuce leaf.

If you make it ahead and need to refrigerate it, bring it to room temperature to serve.  Serves 4-6 main dish servings.

For a variation: serve with crumbled mild Feta cheese and halved grape tomatoes.

Avocado-Orange Soup with Citrusy Salsa

A few weekends ago, Dave and I went up to San Jose to attend a wedding and while there, slipped off to the San Jose Musem of Art to catch the Thiebaud exhibit and lunch at their in-house spot: Café Too!  I chose Avocado and Orange Soup with Tropical Salsa and immediately thought I’d partaken of the manna of the gods with this dish.  Oh my.  So, coming home, I’ve tried to recreate it in some fashion.  I’m still working on it, but here’s my latest incarnation.

Avocado-Orange Soup

2 large ripe avocados; pitted and peeled and cut into chunks
1 c  Freshly squeezed orange juice
1 c  Plain yogurt–I use Greek yogurt as it’s a little thicker
juice of 1/2 of a lime–cut in half, and stick a fork into the pulp, turning and squeezing until you see no more juice
1/4 tsp. Tobasco pepper sauce–about four shakes, I think (that’s what I use)
Salt to taste–this takes more than you think

In food processor, blend avocados and orange juice. Add yogurt and the rest of the ingredients. Blend until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Garnish with orange slices.

When I look at the soup from the restaurant, I see little flecks of green in their soup, which isn’t in mine.  Bits of jalepeno? Flecks of cilantro?  I used chopped cilantro on the first batch of soup (above) and it just wasn’t right.  Leave a comment if you’ve figured it out.

Citrusy Salsa

I use three piece of citrus (of three different types) and it varies from whatever’s in the market.  This week I had a Cara Cara orange (cross between a grapefruit and an orange), but you could also use a blood orange, a tangelo, a mandarin orange or other interesting citrus fruit.  The museum had something unrecognizable in theirs–tomato? soft pomegranite?  Never could figure it out, but this one works just as well, I think.  This salsa is also good on grilled salmon.

3 pieces of citrus fruit, all different
1 red bell pepper, chopped teensy–really teensy pieces!
1 mango, pitted and chopped finely
salt to taste

To prepare the citrus, cut off the top and bottom of the fruit, so it stands squarely on your cutting board.  Then, following the curve of the fruit, remove the outer layer of the rind, cutting every so slightly into the fruit in order to remove the membrane.  Cut down the middle, then into section, chopping each into very small pieces.  Repeat for each piece of citrus.

Mix citrus, pepper, mango in a bowl and salt slightly.  I always think now would be a good time to add some minced cilantro (just a bit) or Italian parsley or even a small jalepeno. with seeds and membranes removed and finely minced.

Ladle the soup in the bowl, then top with a healthy spoonful of Citrusy Salsa.  Pass more salsa as needed.