Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Stuffed Tomatoes with Grilled Corn


Two of my all-time favorite things to eat in the height of summer: ripe garden tomatoes and grilled corn. The boys love corn. I love how my 2-year-old will eat corn off the cob like a little monkey. The boys and tomatoes... not so much. They love cooked tomatoes but my oldest will gag from the meaty texture of a raw tomato. You would think I was poisoning him if you saw his face when putting sliced tomatoes in front of him. Sigh.

But I had to give this recipe from Bon Appetit a try. Tomato, corn, and goat cheese? Yes please!


Stuffed Tomatoes with Grilled Corn
Adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2001

INGREDIENTS:

2 large ears of corn, husked
1 large red bell pepper
4 large beefsteak tomatoes (each about 9 to 10 ounces)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon grated lime peel
1 garlic clove, pressed
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 teaspoons minced seeded jalapeño chili
1/2 cup crumbled soft fresh goat cheese (about 2 ounces)

DIRECTIONS:

1. Lightly oil grill racks. Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Grill corn and bell pepper until corn is tender and beginning to brown in spots and pepper is blackened, turning occasionally, about 12 minutes for corn and 15 minutes for pepper. 

2. Enclose pepper in paper bag 10 minutes. Peel, seed, and chop pepper; place in large bowl. Cool corn, then cut kernels off cobs; add to bowl with pepper. 

3. Cut tomatoes crosswise in half. Using melon baller or small spoon, scoop center of tomatoes into small bowl, leaving shell. Sprinkle inside of tomato shells lightly with salt; place cut side down on paper towels and let drain 30 minutes. 

 tomato shells and tomato shells draining on paper towels

4. Discard tomato seeds and juices in bowl; coarsely chop tomato solids and add to corn mixture. Whisk oil, lime juice, lime peel, and garlic in small bowl to blend. Add to corn mixture. Mix in red onion, cilantro, and jalapeño. Season with salt and pepper. 


5. Spoon corn salad into tomato shells. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover and chill.) Sprinkle cheese over and serve. 

little cup of goodness with BBQ chicken on the side

The Good: A great summer side dish: refreshing, easy to prepare. The goat cheese balances well with the mild heat of the jalapeño. I couldn't get enough.

The Bad: There is really nothing bad to say about this one. The boys even enjoyed it!

Grade: A+. 'Nuf said.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Bulgur Is Not Vulgar: Experimenting with Faux Burgers


Vegetarians do not stand a chance in our house. We love meat. My family loves burgers (see Wild Willy's restaurant review). So why would I even attempt making homemade veggie burgers?

There was a time in my distant memory when my oldest son loved Gardenburger veggie burgers. The youngest has yet to try one. I can appreciate a good veggie burger now and then. One with tons of flavor, meaty texture and good dose of much needed fiber. So when I came across this recipe on Epicurious, I had to give it a shot.

Bulgur Veggie Burgers with Lime Mayonnaise
Adapted from Gourmet, June 2008

INGREDIENTS:
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil plus additional for brushing
  • 1/2 cup bulgur
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup panko crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup walnuts (2 1/2 ounces)
  • 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup packed cilantro sprigs
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated lime zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 2 slices multi-grain flatbread, halved

DIRECTIONS:

1. Cook half of onion with 1/4 teaspoon salt in oil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Add bulgur and water and cook, covered, over low heat until water is completely absorbed, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and stir in chickpeas and soy sauce. 

 Brown bulgur wheat and white onion not the easiest thing to photograph!

2. Pulse bulgur mixture, panko crumbs, lightly beaten egg, walnuts, garlic, cilantro, cumin, cayenne,  1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and remaining onion in a food processor until finely chopped. 

 Followed advice of other reviewers by adding panko and egg to keep mixture together

3. Form mixture into patties. Chill at least 20 minutes. While patties chill, stir together mayonnaise, zest, and juice. 

Important: let mixture chill for at least 20 minutes, otherwise they are impossible to handle

4. Prepare grill for direct-heat cooking over medium-hot charcoal (medium heat for gas). Put perforated grill sheet (we used aluminum foil) on grill and preheat 10 minutes. Brush patties all over with oil. Oil grill sheet, then grill burgers on grill sheet, covered only if using a gas grill, *carefully* turning once, until golden brown, about 8 minutes total. 

Tip: turn these puppies over VERY carefully!

5. Serve burgers sandwiched between flatbread with lime mayonnaise.

The Good: These were super tasty! The lime mayo really made all the difference. Umdaddy even enjoyed these, and he is not a fan of veggie burgers. The oldest ate his entire burger. The little one ate some with a spoon.

The Bad: Even with the panko and egg to bind the mixture, these fell apart very easily. Using flatbread was one solution. Much prep time needed.

    Grade: B+. These will not take the place of the burger in our household, but will be a welcome change from time to time.

    Monday, July 19, 2010

    Baby Bok Choy, Carrot and Apple Slaw


    I'm always looking for new and delicious recipes loaded with veggies that my kids will devour. So when I came across this recipe from the kitchens of Martha, I had to give it a try. My boys love baby bok choy and will sometimes eat a carrot or two. And who doesn't love apples? This makes a great summer side dish to a BBQ or picnic. And much lighter than your traditional mayo-laden cole slaw.

    Baby Bok Choy, Carrot and Apple Slaw
    Inspired by Everyday Food, Great Food Fast

    INGREDIENTS:

    1 pound baby bok choy (4 to 6 heads)
    1 teaspoon coarse salt
    1 peeled apple, cut into matchsticks
    2 large shredded carrots
    3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    1 tablespoon sesame oil
    1 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
    Coarse salt and ground pepper

    DIRECTIONS:

    1. Cut the baby bok choy in half lengthwise; rinse under cold water to remove grit. Cut crosswise into thin strips; place in a large colander, and sprinkle with coarse salt. Toss to coat. Top with a plate that fits inside colander; weight with a heavy object (such as a skillet or canned goods). Set aside in sink to drain. 

    2. In a large bowl, mix apple, carrots, lemon juice, sesame oil, and peeled fresh ginger. Add bok choy; season with coarse salt and ground pepper. Toss.  

    The Good: My oldest ate all of his. The youngest had no interest in it. Quick and easy to prepare.

    The Bad: If you don't drain the bok choy completely, the dressing can get watered down.


    Grade: B+. This will be a regular side dish in our house since we often will have these ingredients on hand.

    Friday, July 16, 2010

    Move Over Fish Sticks. Here Comes The Whaler.


    My boys love fish. And in our house, it is typically prepared by steaming whole fish or fish fillets with ginger, green onions and black beans. They are, of course, fans of Trader Joe's fish sticks in a pinch. But a fish sandwich is a new concept to my little landlubbers. Except recently, my oldest saw the quirky, internet sensation McDonald's Filet-O-Fish commercial. He will enthusiastically sing "Give me back that filet o fish. Give me that fish! Ahh!" whenever he sees a fish.


    Warning: you will be singing this song the rest of the day

    So I was eager to try the 101 Whaler Fish Sandwich recipe from the now defunct Cookie magazine. Anything to get my kids to try something new, and just maybe, get my son to stop singing the top earworm of the ad industry. I also made a side of Martha Stewart's Bok Choy, Carrot and Apple Slaw as a side. I'll be posting the recipe soon!

    101 Whaler Fish Sandwich
    Cookie, March 2006
    Click here for the full recipe

    DIRECTIONS

    1. In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the milk and eggs. In another medium-size bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, and parsley. I used tilapia filets since that was what we had in the house.


    2. Season the fish with the salt and pepper.

    3. Dredge the fish through the egg mixture, then coat it thoroughly with the flour mixture. I experimented by doing a combo of corn meal and panko bread crumbs.


    4. In a large sauté pan, immediately heat the oil over medium-high heat. When it is hot but not smoking, add the fillets to the pan. Cook on one side until the batter is light golden brown, about 4 minutes. Carefully turn the fillets and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more. Using a slotted spatula, remove them from the pan and drain on paper towels. 


    5. Meanwhile, whisk together the tartar-sauce ingredients (if using).

    6. Slice the buns and spread the tartar sauce (if using) on the insides. Place a fillet on each bottom bun, then top with the lettuce, tomato, and cheese, if desired.

    The Good: The boys loved it. Pretty easy to make and cooks up fast. 

    The Bad: Panko did not add anything to the breading. I would either go all corn meal or all panko. Prep time is a little longer.

    Grade: A-. Will be making this again. Even if it elicits more "Give me back that filet of fish."

    Thursday, July 8, 2010

    Restaurant Review: El Sombrero (Southington, CT)

    Don't let the cactus fool you - this is a strip mall in Connecticut.

    Smartphones have decidedly changed the way my family travels. On a long road trip, web access has settled arguments with a quick Google search. And even better, finding a Starbucks or a place to eat is a snap thanks to sites such as Yelp and Citysearch. So while driving through Connecticut on our way home from Amish Country, I turned to my BlackBerry to help us find a good restaurant that all of us would like.

    Because we wanted to avoid the national chains, we were excited to try what was reviewed as a "hidden gem". We were swayed to drive to El Sombrero (off I-84) in a quiet Connecticut town thanks to reviews such as "THE best salsa EVER" and "the best Mexican food in CT hands down!" El Sombrero even had a Facebook fan page, so it had to be good, right? Well, not exactly...

    Located in the Oak Hill strip mall, we walk in to find the place decorated with pinatas, sombreros, and every other cliche you can think of. We were seated right away in the "main" dining room and given menus. The dinner menu was extensive but a little gimmicky. The boys were given childrens' menus and crayons. From their off-the-shelf kids' menu, there was a selection of burgers, chicken fingers, hot dog, mac-n-cheese, and grilled cheese (groan). There was also a taco, enchilada, burrito and quesadillas, so we ordered our youngest the kids' quesadillas ($5.50). Our oldest loves fish tacos, so we order him the fish tacos ($10.25) off the regular menu. Umdaddy got the Carnitas Asadas ($11.95) and I went with the chicken and beef fajitas ($13.95).

    Fish Tacos with rice, refried beans. Notice the kid's menu?

    After chowing on some corn chips and possibly the WORST salsa I've ever had (think tomato sauce from a can), our food arrived. The kids quesadillas were two flour tortillas with a side of rice and beans. The little one ate some rice and corn chips. The fish tacos platter was big enough for three kids to share, so it was no surprise our son ate half of one taco and a forkful of rice. I had a bite of the fish tacos and was unimpressed with the lack of flavor and texture as compared to the fish tacos at Dorado Tacos and Cemitas (our favorite).

    Watch out kids - hot sizzling meat at your fingertips!

    Then came the sizzling hot platter of meat and peppers and onions. Learn from me - not a good idea to order fajitas with children and an overcrowded table! My meal was just okay - the meat was tough and over cooked and everything else was pretty bland. Umdaddy found his dish to be mediocre as well. 

    El Sombrero hardly met our high expectations, especially after reading all the rave reviews. I guess this means there are not a lot of good Mexican joints in Connecticut? I guess we'll stick with pizza.

    El Sombrero
    151 Queen Street
    Southington, CT 06489
    (860) 621-9474

    Tuesday, July 6, 2010

    Greek Pasta Salad, Meatballs, and BBQ Cupcakes in Amish Country

    We made our annual trek to visit the in-laws in Lancaster county last weekend. The boys, while at times feisty during the 7+ hours in the car, had a wonderful time. It's a weekend complete with doting grandparents, trains (note: parents of "trainiacs", the Strasburg Railroad Museum and Choo Choo Barn are a must-see), playtime with relatives, and a good dose of country air.

    Country Air!


    For umdaddy and I, we get to relax (thanks to doting grandparents), spend some quality time with relatives and get our dose of country air. Some might think a trip to Amish Country equates to simple, butter-laden meals by candle light. In actuality, we were treated to some fresh-from-the-garden, sophisticated meals in the comfort of central AC (no, my in-laws are not Amish in case you were wondering).

    One dinner consisted of a comforting and delicious baked lasagna with meatballs. Instead of slaving over a frying pan, we tried baking them in muffin tins for the first time (a tip I saw on Good Eats).

    Baked meatballs in mini muffin tins

    We were also treated to a cookout complete with burgers, dogs, and local corn on the cob. We had fun improvising and whipped up a delicious Greek pasta salad (check out the recipe at the end of the post). And every meal ended with a delicious dessert. Check out these adorable brownie cupcakes made to look like grilled meat.

    Brownie cupcakes with grilled "hot dogs", "pork chops" and "kebabs"

    And no road trip is complete without some food off a major highway in either a chain restaurant or hole-in-the-wall establishment. We decided to roll the dice and dined at El Sombrero, a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant in Southington, CT (off of I-84). I'll be posting my restaurant review of El Sombrero soon!

    It was a successful and great mini-vacation and I'm already looking forward to our trip next summer.


    {Recipe} Greek Pasta Salad
     Serves 6-8

    INGREDIENTS:
    12 ounces farfalle pasta (bow-ties)
    1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
    1 1/2 cups crumbled feta cheese
    1 cucumber, cored and chopped
    1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
    3/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
    1/2 cup chopped red onion
    2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
    1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
    1 tablespoon minced garlic
    2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
    1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

    DIRECTIONS:
    1. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Rinse with cold water; drain well. Transfer to large bowl. 

    2. Add crumbled feta cheese, cucumber, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, red onions and parsley .

    3. Combine vinegar, garlic, oregano, and mustard in small bowl. Gradually whisk in 1/2 cup olive oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. Add dressing to farfalle mixture and toss to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  


    The Good: Easy to make, great as leftovers, perfect side for a picnic/BBQ.

    The Bad: Boys did not like anything but the farfalle.

    Grade: A-. This will be a summer regular.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010

    {Recipe} Grilled Tomato Linguine

    Tomatino Festival: World's largest food fight

    I'm crazy for tomatoes. Especially in the height of the summer when they are at their best. I really love them. Roasted, broiled, sun-dried, stewed, diced, crushed, whole, you name it. I don't think I would like Tomatino however. Held on the last Wednesday in August in Bunol Spain, Tomatino Festival is the largest tomato fight in the world. But I think I would thoroughly enjoy the paella eating contest beforehand!

    Back to edible tomatoes. I hadn't tried grilled tomatoes so was eager to try the Grilled Tomato Linguine recipe from the kitchens of Martha Stewart Living. I've made Todd English's Roasted Tomato Sauce from The Figs Table cookbook in the past and loved it. So I'm thinking this was going to be a winner. It looked simple and since it was a hot day, was looking forward to cooking outdoors.


    Grilled Tomato Linguine
    Adapted from Everyday Food

    INGREDIENTS:
    3 lbs plum tomatoes, cored and halved lengthwise
    5 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
    1 Tbs chopped fresh thyme or 1 Tsp dried
    2 Tbs chopped fresh basil (optional)
    1 head of garlic, halved
    Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
    1 lb linguine
    1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese


    DIRECTIONS:
    1. Heat grill to high. In a bowl, toss the tomatoes with 3 Tbs of olive oil and thyme; season generously with salt and pepper.


    2. Starting with cut sides down, grill the tomatoes and garlic until soft and charred, 8-12 minutes per side.


    3. Return tomatoes to the bowl. Once cooled, remove 3-4 garlic cloves and add to tomatoes. Cut tomatoes and garlic into coarse pieces with kitchen shears.

    4. Meanwhile, cook the linguine in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente according to the package instructions. Drain; return to pot.

    5. Add the remaining 2 Tbs olive oil, the Parmesan, basil and grilled tomatoes. Divide among bowls and serve immediately with more grated cheese.

    The Good: Super easy and good summer pasta dish alternative. The kids cleaned their plates.

    The Bad: The boys were not fans of the char, or "dust" as my son calls it, in their pasta. Even with the roasted garlic, it was lacking some flavor.

    Grade: C. It lacked the richness of oven-roasted tomatoes. Could be due to mediocre tomatoes. Might try again with native, vine-ripened tomatoes.

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