Monday, June 21, 2010

Hickory Wings with Bourbon-Molasses Glaze

Ladies and gentlemen, I have the perfect grilled appetizer for your summer get-togethers. How about smoky, sweet, and spicy wings with the unmistakable taste of Kentucky bourbon? Be prepared to have a reputation amongst the neighbours!

I love making wings on the grill, since they're so different than what I'm used to getting in a restaurant. Once you try them, there will be no going back. Trust me, you're about to start just staying home on wing night. These wings are rubbed with a flavourful mixture of smoked paprika, mustard, garlic, onion, and chipotle before being smoked over hickory wood chips.

A glaze consisting of bourbon, soy sauce, molasses, and butter is cooked just long enough to melt the latter; therefore, you should use a bourbon that you like, since the glaze will taste strongly of it. When the wings have had a chance to get comfortable on the smoky grill, brush them with the glaze, basting them a few times until they're ready to eat.

Amazing. Serve them up with some chunky blue cheese dressing, of course (along with lots of napkins).  They'll quickly become a favourite. You may find yourself going through a bottle of Wild Turkey in no time...just a friendly warning!

Hickory Drumettes with Bourbon-Molasses Glaze: The Recipe
From "Weber's Way to Grill" by Jamie Purviance

Amanda's notesContrary to what you may think, this blog is not sponsored by the Weber people. What can I say? I just find myself not having to look anywhere else for great recipes for the grill. 
I use salted butter and dark molasses, and the wings taste fine to me!

1 tbsp smoked paprika
2 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1/2 tsp granulated onion
1/4 tsp ground chipotle chile

20 chicken wings, split (about 3 lbs)

2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp bourbon
1 tbsp light molasses
1 tbsp unsalted butter

2 handfuls hickory wood chips, soaked in water for at least 30 min

In a large bowl mix the rub ingredients. Add the wings and toss to coat them evenly. Prepare the grill for indirect cooking over medium heat.
In a small saucepan, bring the glaze ingredients to a boil over high heat and cook just until the butter melts. Transfer to a small bowl and let cool.
Drain and scatter the wood chips over lit charcoal or put them in the smoker box of a gas grill, following manufacturer's instructions. Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the wings over indirect medium heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, until the meat is no longer pink at the bone, 20 to 30 minutes, turning and basting with the glaze once or twice during the last 20 minutes of cooking. Serve warm.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Classic Burgers with Barbecue Spices

When you make sure to buy good quality ground beef, it's true that you can make it into delicious burgers with nothing more than a little bit of salt and pepper, and maybe some Worcestershire sauce. However, if you feel like adding a little kick to your burger meat, do I have the spice blend for you!

This spice blend is adapted from Weber's "Charcoal Grilling" and is our go-to rub for hamburgers. It's the perfect combination of spicy, sweet, salty, and pungent ingredients, and it's the only thing you need to add to your beef before forming patties. Forget the eggs, oatmeal, or bread crumbs; as Iron Chef Bobby Flay would say, these are burgers, not mini meat-loaves! Simplicity is best.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I wanted to try a blend of cream cheese and blue cheese as a burger topping; I've had it since then and it's a new favourite. The creaminess and the strong flavour of the cheese really complements the beef.

I combine roughly equal amounts of the cheeses together, spread the mixture on some pita buns and then place them on the burgers when they're close to being done. Mouth-watering meltiness ensues. Mmmmm mmmm!

With your favourite fixings and condiments (lettuce, tomato, and lots of mustard for me) these classic burgers with barbecue spices make for the perfect summery meal. Simple, cheesy, juicy...what more can you ask for on a nice, grill-friendly day?

Classic Burgers with Barbecue Spices: The Recipe
Adapted from Weber's "Charcoal Grilling: The Art of Cooking with Live Fire" by Jamie Purviance

1.5 lb ground chuck (80% lean)

1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp pure chili powder
1/2 tsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp celery seed
1/4 tsp ground cumin

Combine rub ingredients in a small dish. Add to ground chuck and gently incorporate. Form 4 equally-sized patties. Grill or fry as usual to your liking. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Smoked Salmon Spread

Last summer, we got together regularly with two other couples for what I like to call "Barbecue Club." Every few weeks, we would take turns hosting gatherings to which everyone brought their own meat to grill (and beverages, of course) while the appetizers and sides were a shared responsibility. It was a fun and no-pressure way to have frequent dinner parties.

Therefore, as this weekend's temperatures hit the high teens, I was delighted that we resurrected Barbecue Club. As Jeff prepared a spice rub for the steaks he bought at the farmers market that morning, I whipped up the appetizer I had agreed to provide: a smoked salmon spread.

Atlantic smoked pepper salmon was on sale at my grocery store, so I took advantage. I combined roughly equal amounts of flaked salmon and a mixture of cream cheese, mayonnaise, and fresh lemon juice by hand, folding in green onion, fresh dill, and pickled capers for extra flavour. Once it was well blended, I gently folded in more salmon flakes for a chunkier texture.

I let the spread sit for a couple of hours before tasting it. It was delicious! Very rich, creamy, and full of great flavour. I served it with an assortment of fancy crackers, but it would also be perfect on rice crackers, crostini, rye toasts, or even on lettuce leaves or cucumber slices.

Whether served at an elegant cocktail party indoors or a casual outdoor gathering with your pals next to a hot grill (my preference), this smoked salmon spread is a great way to kick off an evening of good food and conversation. I can't wait for all the delicious meals that I'll be having in good company thanks to the arrival of nice weather!

Smoked Salmon Spread: The Recipe
Amanda's notes: If you can't find smoked pepper salmon, just add plenty of freshly cracked pepper to the spread.

150 g smoked pepper salmon, flaked, divided
3/4 block of cream cheese, softened 
2 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 green onions, finely chopped (including green parts)
2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
1 tbsp pickled capers, drained, roughly chopped

Combine cream cheese, mayonnaise, and lemon juice in a bowl, working with a spatula until very smooth. Mix in 3/4 of the flaked salmon until smooth. Fold in green onions, fresh dill, and capers until incorporated. Gently fold in the rest of the flaked salmon, until just mixed through. 
Let spread sit in the fridge for at least a couple of hours. Garnish with a sprig of dill, and serve immediately with a selection of crackers, rice crackers, crostini, rye toasts, or mound onto lettuce leaves or cucumber slices. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Margherita Pasta Salad

Whenever I am fortunate to be eating in a restaurant that has a wood-fired oven, I like to order a Margherita pizza. In my opinion, this simple and classic combination of tomato, fresh mozarella, and basil is the perfect way to enjoy a good quality pie. I haven't had one in a while, but, for some reason, as I was dreaming up a pasta salad for tonight's supper, the image of a Margherita pizza popped into my head. Once it did, it wasn't going anywhere! So, I decided to just roll with it.

I kept the salad very simple, just like the original concept. I tossed some cold fusilli, halved grape tomatoes, and quartered bocconcini in a homemade garlic-infused olive oil and let the mixture marinate for a few hours. In order to keep the basil as fresh as possible, I waited until I was ready to serve the salad before tearing the leaves and adding them in. I sprinkled a little bit of asiago on top as a garnish, and I was good to go!

Sometimes, simple is best. Tomato, fresh mozarella, and basil are a classic for a reason; the combination of the three just tastes right! (A little garlic in the background never hurt anyone, either.) The Margherita pasta salad was very refreshing, and I think it will be perfect for warm weather cooking, alongside just about anything. Why not borrow flavours from one dish to create another? I'm glad I did!

Margherita Pasta Salad: The Recipe
Amanda's notes: When cooking pasta, make sure your water is very salty--like the ocean! This is your one chance to add flavour to the pasta itself. If you do it right, you won't even have to add salt to the final dish before serving.

1 pkg fusilli pasta
1 container bocconcini (200 g), quartered (or whole baby bocconcini)
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup garlic-infused olive oil*
freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
1 bouquet fresh basil leaves
grated asiago, to garnish

Cook pasta to al dente in plenty of boiling, salted water; drain, rinse under cold water until cool. Toss with bocconcini and tomatoes, add olive oil and toss to coat. Add plenty of freshly cracked black pepper, stir, and set in fridge for at least a couple of hours. Stir occasionally.
When ready to serve, tear basil leaves and fold into pasta. Taste and season if necessary. Garnish salad with grated asiago, serve immediately. Enjoy!

*To make your own garlic-infused olive oil, pour 3/4 cup of olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add 2 or 3 peeled and smashed cloves of garlic. Once oil heats and bubbles for 5 minutes, strain and cool.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Grilled Pear and Blue Cheese Breakfast Panini

As much as I love cheese, I'm still learning to like the blue stuff. I do enjoy chunky blue cheese dressing, for example, but straight up melted blue cheese on bread is too much for me; therefore, the key for me at this point is dilution. Recently, I watched Chuck from Chuck's Day Off mix blue cheese with cream cheese as a topping for hamburgers. While I think his intention was to adhere the cheese to the bun, I saw it as a great way to introduce more blue cheese into my cooking.  

I was curious to try the classic pairing of blue cheese with pear, and I adore making panini for weekend breakfasts; so, I combined the two into one exciting event (to me, anyway.) A panino is best when it is very simple, so I like to stick to a maximum of three elements: in this case, the cheese mixture, the grilled pears, and a bit of baby arugula for a peppery taste.

I was very pleased with the results! There was enough of a distinct blue cheese taste and smell present in my panino for me to appreciate the contrast between its sharp pungency and the sweetness of the grilled pears, but not so much that I found it difficult to eat. What really meant a lot to me was Jeff admitting that he would never in a million years have been interested in this panino on a restaurant menu, but he absolutely loved it and was glad he tried it. 

I think the next step in my blue cheese mission will be not only to increase the ratio of blue cheese to cream cheese in the spread, but also to try it in different dishes. For one, I will definitely be trying Chuck's hamburgers. I'm excited, because I feel that there is a whole new world for me to explore in cooking with cheese. Here's to adventures in acquiring tastes!   

Grilled Pear and Blue Cheese Breakfast Panini: The Recipe
Amanda's notes: You absolutely do not need a panini press to make panini. Put your assembled panino in a skillet, and cover it with another heavy skillet or pot to flatten it while it grills; then, flip and repeat. You can grill your pears in a skillet as well.

Makes 2 panini

1/4 cup cream cheese
1 heaping tbsp crumbled blue cheese, any kind (I used Danish)

1 pear, halved, seeded, and sliced thinly (I used a bosc pear)
1 tsp olive oil

4 slices dense bread
olive oil for brushing

baby arugula, to garnish

Toss the pear slices in a bowl with olive oil, and grill 2-3 min per side. Meanwhile, fold blue cheese crumbles into cream cheese and spread on two slices of bread. Top each with grilled pear and arugula, and finish with second slice. Brush the top of the sandwich with olive oil, place oiled side down on the grill, then oil the second slice. Press for 2-3 minutes per side, to your liking. Enjoy!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Spicy Roasted Sweet Potato Salad

Ah, it’s finally beginning to feel like Spring. Even though it’s fairly likely that we’ll see snow again before (or even after) the season changes, it’s been sunny for the past week or so; therefore, desperate to welcome any shred of nice weather, I’ve found myself craving warm flavours. Enter this spicy sweet potato dish.

When I roast sweet potatoes, I don’t want to sweeten them one bit. No brown sugar or maple syrup (gasp!) here, no sir; I want to balance them with some fiery spice. I usually accomplish this by serving my simple roasted sweet potatoes with some chipotle mayonnaise for dipping, but this week I created a warm salad that went just as well with our first barbecued burgers of the season. (Oh, charcoal! I missed you dearly.)

I coated chunks of sweet potato with my own mixture of spices (chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, chipotle, and a bit of cayenne pepper) then roasted them with some red onion and a few smashed cloves of garlic. Once everything was soft and caramelized, I tossed it with a homemade lemon dressing.

I loved this dish! The end result had a good amount of spice that acted as a perfect contrast to the sweet potatoes and the red onions; meanwhile, the mellow, roasted garlic was a nutty taste in the background, and the acidic lemon dressing really brightened up the flavour of the salad. I couldn’t be happier; along with the warm(ish) weather we’ve been having lately, this new spicy roasted sweet potato salad is leading me, skipping, to Spring.

Spicy Roasted Sweet Potato Salad: The Recipe
Amanda's notes: There's nothing lacking, but if you'd like to add some cheese to this salad, I think feta or goat cheese would be a great match. Also, if I had had a can of corn on hand, I might have tossed it with the roasted veggies before dressing the salad.

2 large sweet potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp spice mixture*

1 red onion, chopped into small wedges
4-6 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled

olive oil
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

lemon dressing* at room temperature, to taste
1 green onion, sliced, to garnish

Preheat oven to 400F.
Toss the sweet potato with the olive oil in a large bowl. Sprinkle with spice mixture, toss to coat. Spread in a roasting pan; add red onion and garlic cloves. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and stir gently to coat. Roast for 40 minutes or until sweet potatoes are tender, stirring halfway through.

Once the potatoes are tender, transfer the contents of the pan to a bowl. Drizzle with lemon dressing a few tablespoons at a time, tossing to coat, until the vegetables are coated to your liking. Taste and season if necessary. Garnish with green onion. Serve immediately.


*Spice mixture
Mix the following together:
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp chipotle chili powder
pinch cayenne

*Lemon Dressing
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (1 lemon)
¾ cup olive oil
1 tsp whole grain dijon mustard
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Whisk first three ingredients together. Season to taste. Store leftovers in an air-tight container, and use as you would any dressing.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Green Beans with Balsamic Vinegar, Toasted Walnuts, and Goat Cheese

I absolutely love green beans and eat them as a side dish all the time. Normally, I boil them for just a few minutes before tossing them with some butter and salt and pepper. Simple and delicious! This weekend, though, I had an idea and was ready to try something a little different.

I sauteed my fresh green beans in olive oil until they were lightly browned, then glazed them with a bit of balsamic vinegar. I tossed in some walnuts that I had toasted earlier to concentrate their flavour, and, once the nuts were warmed through, I sprinkled in some goat cheese crumbles. The aromas coming out of the pan were incredible.

Well, it turns out that I have a new favourite way to enjoy green beans! I loved the combination of the acidic balsamic glaze, the meaty walnuts, and the tangy, slightly melting goat cheese with the crisp-tender green beans. There were so many flavours present, but they all came together in a way that made perfect sense to my taste buds.

This dish brought a little bit of fancy to a comforting meal of (Jeff's epic) meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I'm not saying that I'm going to give up on my usual boil-and-butter method; rather, I'm just excited to have yet another great way to enjoy delicious green beans.

Green Beans with Balsamic Vinegar, Toasted Walnuts, and Goat Cheese: The Recipe
Amanda's notes: I made this on the fly, so keep in mind that the amounts listed in this recipe are very approximate! Just trust your instincts with this dish, because you can't go wrong.

1 lb fresh green beans, ends trimmed
olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1-2 cups toasted walnuts*, roughly chopped
1/4 cup goat cheese crumbles
kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

Saute green beans in olive oil over medium to medium-high heat, 6-8 minutes. A couple of minutes before the green beans are cooked to your liking, drizzle them with balsamic vinegar, tossing to coat. Add toasted walnuts, stirring until they are heated through. Sprinkle with goat cheese; reduce heat to low, cover pan for a few minutes until the cheese is slightly melted. Season to taste; serve immediately. Enjoy!

*To toast walnuts: Spread nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Toast in a 400F oven until lightly golden, about 5-7 minutes, shaking the pan halfway through.
Alternatively, heat a skillet over medium heat. Add nuts, shake continuously until lightly golden, about 5-7 minutes.
Allow nuts to cool before chopping.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pecan-Crusted Tilapia

There's a stall at my local famers market that sells the most amazing toasted pecans I've ever eaten in my life. I don't know how they do it, but they taste like happiness and I just can't get enough.

I recently tried pistachio-crusted halibut in a restaurant, and I really enjoyed the crunchiness of the nuts paired with the tender fish. Soon after, while savouring my daily snack of pecans from Heaven, I wondered how they would work in a similar recipe. Ooh, an experiment of the delicious kind!

I coated fresh tilapia fillets by submerging them in an egg wash, then a seasoned flour mixture, and once again in the egg; then, I pressed them into the toasted pecans that I crushed by putting them in a plastic bag and bashing them with a rolling pin (fun!) After a short fry in vegetable oil, the fish was ready for Jeff and me to enjoy.

The pecan-crusted tilapia couldn't have turned out any better. Both crispy and flavourful, it was a nice change from the usual bread crumbs (don't worry, panko, I still adore you! I just need a little variety!) This is a very special way to eat fish at home, and it's easy to do. I would eat it with guests at a dinner party, I would eat it by myself in my pyjamas; I would eat on a boat, I would eat it with a goat; I would eat it in the rain, I would eat it in a ditch somewhere (is that how it goes?)

As a little aside, fish needs a potato. I tossed some blue potato chunks with olive oil, kosher salt, and freshly cracked pepper, and roasted them with the rest of the fresh rosemary that I had kicking around from last week's lasagna, removing the stalks before serving. Rosemary and potatoes is a combination that I just love!

I don't know what else to say but to try this recipe as soon as possible. I'm sure any type of fish or nut would work, but trust me that tilapia and pecans are a great match. I love discovering new favourites. Here's to successful culinary experiments! 

Pecan-Crusted Tilapia : The Recipe

1 large egg
All-purpose flour
Kosher salt
Fresh cracked pepper
Smoked paprika

1/2 lb toasted pecans

2 fresh tilapia fillets
vegetable oil for frying
kosher salt

Place pecans in a sealed plastic bag, and crush with a rolling pin or a heavy mug.
Beat egg with a little bit of water and place in a shallow dish. Cover a shallow dish with all-purpose flour, mix with kosher salt, pepper, and paprika. Spread crushed pecans in a third shallow dish. Pour 1/4 inch of vegetable oil in a skillet, heat to medium heat.
Pat tilapia fillets with paper towel to remove moisture. Coat both sides of fillet in egg wash, then flour, then egg wash again. Press both sides into crushed pecans, shake fillet gently to remove excess.
Fry fillets in oil, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle immediately with kosher salt.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Butternut Squash Lasagna with a Garlic and Rosemary Bechamel Sauce

This morning, when Jeff questioned me about what I wanted to make for dinner, nothing appealed to me. Did I want to cook the roast that we have in the freezer? No. Did I want chili? Nah. Chicken? Blah. Then, it dawned on me that I was feeling crummy because I had eaten out three nights in a row; instantly, I knew what I wanted. "Vegetables!," I cried out. "My body's saying it wants vegetables!" And right then, I knew it was time to make my butternut squash lasagna.

I'd never made my butternut squash lasagna until today, but I've been creating the recipe in my head for quite some time. Today was the perfect day to make it, too; Jeff was going to be out for the afternoon and I hadn't made any plans, it was snowing again so a heavier dish was in order, and, as I mentioned before, I had eaten out so much that I was happy to spend a couple of hours cooking. It was simply meant to be.

I roasted my butternut squash, gently mashed it, then mixed it with some spinach. Inspired by my zucchini boat recipe, I folded the vegetables into a mixture of ricotta and Parmesan cheese.

I wanted to add complementary flavours to my bechamel sauce, but I didn't want to overwhelm my star ingredient, the squash; therefore, I decided on an infusion: I added full sprigs of fresh rosemary and some smashed cloves of garlic to the simmering milk, straining the sauce before using it in the lasagna.

Having finished the filling and the sauce, I was ready to layer them with fresh pasta sheets.

Finally, I topped the lasagna with a layer of fresh mozarella, set it into the oven to bake, and proceeded to wash what seemed like every single dish I own. Oh well, at least it's a good way to pass the time when you're looking forward to your meal (three cheers for thinking positively! Hip hip hooray!).

This lasagna was everything I imagined it would be. I loved the sweet taste of the squash, the creaminess of the ricotta, the saltiness of the parmesan, and the subtle taste of garlic and rosemary in the smooth, nutty bechamel. The fresh and tasty mozarella was the perfect topping, stretching into long ribbons with every forkful of pasta.

By the time dinner was ready, Jeff was home and glued to my side, sticking his nose two inches away from the fragrant dish as I began slicing. I set a big square on each of our plates, adding a giant pile of lightly dressed greens alongside. As we sat down to eat our homemade meal, I could feel my body thanking me profusely for such delicious vegetables.

Butternut Squash Lasagna with a Garlic and Rosemary Bechamel Sauce: The recipe
Amanda's notes: When it comes to lasagna, I'm more interested in the filling than the pasta, which is why I have a small number of layers. If you want to use more layers of pasta, scale up the amounts of the filling a bit, and make as many thinner layers of filling between pasta as you like. Or, use the recipe as written but make the lasagna in a smaller pan.
This dish is time consuming, but not at all difficult. Try it this weekend!

Ingredients: filling
1.5 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
1 pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 container ricotta cheee
1 cup Parmesan cheese
olive oil
kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400F. Toss squash with olive oil and salt and pepper, roast on a cookie sheet for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, mix parmesan and ricotta cheee. Allow roasted squash to cool slightly, then mash lightly, mix with spinach, and fold into the ricotta and parmesan cheese mixture. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Set aside.

Ingredients: Garlic and Rosemary Bechamel Sauce
Basic bechamel sauce adapted from Iron Chef Mario Batali
5 tbsp butter
4 tbsp all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
4 sprigs rosemary
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 to 1 tsp salt (to taste)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, whisk until completely smooth. Cook mixture, whisking constantly until golden, about 5-6 minutes. Meanwhile, add milk, garlic, and rosemary to a saucepan and heat to just below the boil. Add the heated milk mixture to the butter and flour mixture gradually, a cup at a time, whisking constantly to keep smooth. Bring the milk to a gentle boil, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes.
Remove sauce from heat. Strain into another saucepan. Add nutmeg, and salt to taste.

Ingredients: Assembly
1 pkg oven ready fresh pasta sheets (such as Olivieri)
fresh mozarella, sliced or grated

Preheat oven to 350F. Spread 1 cup of the sauce on the bottom of a 9x13 in baking dish. Add a layer of noodles, cutting the sheets to cover the surface, overlapping slightly. Spread half of the filling into an even layer on the noodles. Pour 1 cup of sauce over the filling, spreading evenly. Top with another layer of noodles. Press with your hands to tighten the layers. Repeat layering, ending with a 3rd layer of noodles. Poor remaining sauce over top layer, top with mozzarella, cover with foil, and bake for 35 minutes. Remove foil, bake 5 minutes more. Broil cheese for 5 minutes.
Remove lasagna from oven, cover, and let rest for 15 minutes before serving.