Spicy Sesame Noodles

These noodles are a strong food memory for me. The first time I can remember eating them was probably when I was four or five. I think we were at an outdoor picnic/concert that involved John Denver and a backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. As insane as that sounds, for 1985 in Denver, that was pretty hip. My mom has this recipe on heavy rotation for summer entertaining and they have always been one of my favorites. I made them this past weekend for a BBQ and as always they were enjoyed. I make a couple versions of this that are a bit healthier, but wanted to share the tried and true recipe from The Silver Palate cookbook because it is absolutely the best. I served them with these Vietnamese style Banh Mi Burgers that are incredible. Not your average BBQ and a hard sell, once tried by everyone they realized that regular cheeseburgers are great, but Banh Mi is so much  better. I highly recommend both of these recipes for your next outdoor dinner.

Spicy Sesame Noodles
The Silver Palate Cookbook
serves 6

1 lb thin linguine or other thin pasta
1/4 cup peanut oil
2 cups sesame mayonnaise (recipe follows)
drops of Szechuan hot chili oil to taste (look for it in the Asian food section)
8 scallions, trimmed, well rinsed, and cut diagonally into 1/2 inch pieces
Blanched asparagus tips, broccoli florets, or snow peas, for garnish (optional)

1. Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot. Drop the linguine and cook until tender, but still firm. Drain toss in a mixing bowl with the peanut oil, and let cool to room temperature.

2. Whisk together the sesame mayonnaise and drops of the chili oil, to taste, in a small bowl. Do not hesitate to make it quite spicy; the noodles will absorb a lot of heat.

3. Add the scallions to the pasta, pour in the sesame mayonnaise, and toss gently. Cover and refrigerate until serving time. (Better if made day before or longer)

4. Toss the noddles again and add additional sesame mayonnaise if they seem dry. Arrange in a serving bowl and garnish with the asparagus, broccoli, or snow peas. Serve at room temperature (preferred) or cold.

Sesame Mayonnaise
makes 3 1/2 cups

1 whole egg
2 egg yolks
2 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar (in Asian food section of market)
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup dark sesame oil (in Asian food section of market)
2 1/2 cups of corn oil (I used vegetable)
Szechuan style hot chili oil (optional, in Asian food section of market)

1. In a food processor or blender, process the whole egg, egg yolks, vinegar, soy sauce, and mustard for 1 minute.

2. With the motor still running, dribble in the sesame oil and then the corn oil in a slow, steady stream.

3. Season with drops of the chili oil if you use it, and scrape the mayonnaise into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Note: This is a great dip for crudite, served over steamed asparagus, or as a salad dressing as well.



Caprese Spaghetti

Sometimes the simplest of dishes are by far the best. This pasta is one of them. Just a few familiar ingredients and you have a delicious dinner. I thought of this recipe as I walked past the beyond fragrant basil plants for sale in the market. Caprese salad is one of my favorite ways to enjoy fresh basil and summer tomatoes. Mozzarella, tomato, and basil is so classic you can use these flavors in anything. Crostini, salads, sandwiches, pizza, it all works. I also came across fresh pasta, which I never buy and it truly blew my mind. As an avid pasta eater, there is no going back now.

Caprese Spaghetti
Forks & Amusement 2011
serves 4

1/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (more if you like heat)
10 Campari tomatoes or 20 cherry tomatoes or 3 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb fresh spaghetti (in refrigerated food aisle, or use dried pasta)
1/2 lb fresh mozzarella, small cubes
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Place a skillet over medium high heat and add the oil. Once hot, add the garlic and red pepper, cook for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the tomatoes,wine, salt and pepper, and bring to boil. Turn heat to medium low and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half and tomatoes are broken down, about 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook pasta until al dente (not quite cooked all the way through, still has a bite to it). Then add it and 1/2 cup of the pasta water to the skillet. Turn heat up to medium high and combine well until pasta has soaked up the sauce, about 2 minutes.

Turn off heat. Toss in mozzarella and 1/2 the basil and combine well. Transfer to a large serving bowl and sprinkle remaining basil on top.

Serve immediately.



Grilled Potato Salad

I am experimenting a lot this summer when it comes to the grill as I am on a mission to try to grill everything. Obviously I am no pioneer, but stretching my culinary inventiveness can only make me a better cook and give me more to share. I have always grilled tons of vegetables. Any and all, a little olive oil, salt, pepper and you can serve them with anything. I was making burgers for dinner the other night and thought about how to make a better potato salad. Not one to shy away from any side, I thought I could make potato salad a little differently and healthfully. This only has a few ingredients, but has great flavors, and the delicious char that only the grill can give you. It is tangy, a little sweet, and the potatoes provide the creaminess instead of hundreds of calories of mayo. So far the inventiveness is paying off.

Grilled Potato Salad
Forks & Amusement 2011
serves 6

12 red medium potatoes, halved
2 red bell peppers, cut in quarters
5 scallions
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
2 shallots or garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or any white vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs like chive, thyme, or cilantro

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add the potatoes and cook for 15-20 minutes, until just tender. Drain.

Heat grill to medium-high heat.

Brush the potatoes, bell peppers, and scallions all over with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Add potatoes to the grill, cut side down, and grill for 6 minutes. Add the peppers and scallions and cook for an additional 6 minutes, turning once. Potatoes should be tender, but not mushy. Remove from grill to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together the shallot, mustard, vinegar, honey, and salt and pepper to taste. While whisking, stream in 2 tablespoons of olive oil to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Once vegetables are cool enough to handle, cut the heads off the scallions and roughly chop. Cut potatoes in quarters and roughly chop the peppers. Combine in a serving bowl and pour dressing over. Toss to combine well. Top with fresh herbs. Serve warm or room temperature.



Grilled Pork Chops with Rosemary & Fig Onion Compote

It is great to be outside using the grill almost every night. It makes making dinner so easy and clean up much faster. What is great is most proteins taste great when grilled with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. But, to make it more flavorful and interesting, it is nice to make something that brings it to a different level. This caramelized onion compote is so delicious with the pork chops. It is sweet, savory, and requires little work. Pork usually calls for something on the sweet side to enhance the flavor, but I don't like anything too fruity. I saw these fig preserves at the market and knew it would be delicious with some balsamic and rosemary. You could also make the onions and use to top crostini, pizza, flatbread, or even a burger. Such a delicious way to start a (hopefully) beautiful summer.

Grilled Pork Chops with Rosemary & Fig Compote
Forks & Amusement 2011
serves 4

3 large onions, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup fig preserves, like Bonne Maman (you could use orange or apricot as well)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons freshly chopped rosemary, plus some for garnish
crushed red pepper to taste
salt and pepper
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 pork chops (I prefer the bone in loin chops, so much flavor)

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, once hot add in the onions. Toss with the oil to coat and cook, stirring frequently, until just starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Add in the preserves, balsamic, rosemary, crushed red pepper, and salt and pepper to taste. Combine well ad bring to a boil. Turn heat down to medium-low and cook, stirring and scraping bottom occasionally, until onions are very tender and caramelized, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a grill or grill pan over high heat. Brush pork chops with the mustard and season generously with salt and pepper. Grill chops on both sides until thermometer registers 150 degrees, about 8-10 minutes per side depending on thickness of chops. Let meat rest for 5 minutes.

Serve each chop with a generously helping of the onion compote on top. Serve immediately.



Diet Mac & Cheese

As you have noticed on every restaurant menu on the planet, macaroni and cheese has graduated from a box to a high brow side dish filled with beautiful cheeses and in season ingredients. Never one to pass it up on the menu, I have sampled many. Whether it is truffle, bacon, or chipotle, they all are indulgent, rich and the perfect side to share. What I try not to do is eat it all the time, not eat the entire dish (although so very hard) and forget the hundreds, possibly thousands of calories involved. But there is always a time to indulge and always a time to enjoy a fantastic restaurant version. I came across this lower calorie recipe in Rocco DiSpirito's new cookbook and thought I would give it a try. Now this is not the dish you would be ordering for a night out at your favorite bistro. It won't hold a candle to the truffle mac at the new gastropub. What it is a lower calorie stand in should you be watching your diet or are just looking to get your fix at home. This is also great for kids who have mac and cheese on heavy rotation. The portion size is laughable, so I doubled it and it is still only 440 calories a serving. I also used Barilla Plus, as I prefer that pasta over whole wheat.

Macaroni and Cheese with a Crusty Crunch
Adapted from Now Eat This! by Rocco DiSpirito
makes 4 side servings

Nonstick Cooking Spray
8 oz whole wheat elbow macaroni
1 cup onion-garlic puree (see instructions below)
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 pinches of cayenne pepper
2 cup shredded 50% reduced fat cheddar, such as Cabot
2/3 cup nonfat greek yogurt (I used 2%)
salt and pepper
1/2 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs (I used regular as I had it in the pantry)
1/2  cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Onion-Garlic Puree: Roughly chop 1 large onion, plus 9 garlic cloves. Place in bowl with 1/2 cup of water. Microwave on high for 10 minutes. Process until smooth in blender, food processor or mini chopper. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 8x8 or larger baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook according to the package directions, 7 to 9 minutes; drain.

3. While the pasta is cooking, bring the onion-garlic puree, mustard and cayenne to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring often. Whisk in the cheddar until it has melted. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the yogurt.

4. In a medium bowl, toss the cooked macaroni with the cheese sauce to coat thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the macaroni into the prepared baking dish, and sprinkle the panko over the top. Top with the parmesan cheese.

5. Bake until cheese has melted and the macaroni is hot throughout, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.



Greek Grilled Chicken and Lemon Couscous

As much as this blog makes it seem otherwise, I eat out a lot. Cooking is something that I love, but do not force on myself when not in the mood. One place that is always on the favorites list is Rockit in Chicago. It is a staple for me and all of my friends, so I have tried pretty much everything on the menu. One dish that is ordered for dinner frequently, and usually by more than one person in the party, is the Chicken Paillard. It is flattened chicken with a cucumber, tomato and feta salad. It is fresh, healthy and delicious. I wanted to take a stab at making a homemade version and came up with this. It was delicious and will most certainly be on summer rotation. I served it with warm pita and the tzatziki from this post.

Greek Grilled Chicken with Lemon Couscous
Forks & Amusement 2011
serves 4

1 1/3 cup whole wheat couscous (in the rice section of the market)
2 cups chicken stock or water
salt and pepper
juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 minced shallot or garlic clove
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tomatoes, deseeded and diced
2 cucumbers, deseeded and diced
1/2 cup sliced peperoncini (optional)
1/2 cup crumbled feta
2 lbs. thinly sliced chicken breasts (one of my fave new market finds) or 4 breasts pounded thinly

In a small sauce pan, bring the stock or water to boil. Place the couscous in a heat safe bowl and pour the stock over it. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork, season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. Set aside in fridge or freezer to cool. (Can be made in advance)

Preheat grill or grill pan to medium-high heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, oregano, and shallot. Slowly add the oil while whisking until well combined.

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Grill on each side for a few minutes until cooked through.

Toss tomatoes, cucumbers, peperoncini, and feta in bowl with vinaigrette. To serve, place a mound of couscous on each plate, place chicken on top, then layer the tomato and cucumber salad.



Tuscan Lemon Chicken

There are some ingredients that I really can't live without. And I am not talking about the basics like olive oil or salt, I mean the ingredients that I go to multiple times in a week and can't resist on any menu. This recipe has 2 of them, rosemary and lemon. Ah, lemon. It is basically a miracle worker in the kitchen. Anything you make that is missing something that is not salt or pepper, add lemon and it will be cured. Seriously, every great recipe has some tartness to it and lemon is the best way to get it. What I like about lemon in this recipe is that you take it to a whole different level but grilling the halves. I wish I could take credit for this, but it comes from the Barefoot Contessa, who is a master at using lemon. She loves it like I do and that is why her cookbooks are always splayed open in my kitchen.

Tuscan Lemon Chicken
Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, Ina Garten 2008
serves 2 or 3

1 (3 1/2 pound) chicken, flattened*
Kosher salt
1/3 cup good olive oil
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1 tablespoon minced rosemary leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, halved

Sprinkle the chicken with 1 teaspoon salt on each side.

Combine the olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, rosemary, and 1 teaspoon pepper in a ceramic or glass dish just large enough to hold the flattened chicken. Add the chicken, and turn to coat. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight, turning once or twice.

When ready to grill, prepare a hot charcoal fire on one side of the grill (or turn a gas grill on low heat). Spread 1/4 of the coals across the other side of the grill. Place the chicken on the cooler side skin side up, and weight it down with the dish you used for marinating (pour off the marinade into a small saucepan). Cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until the underside is golden brown.

Place saucepan with marinade on the stove, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Keep warm.

Turn the chicken skin side down, weight again with the dish, and cook another 12 to 15 minutes, until the skin is golden brown and the chicken is cooked through. Place the lemon halves on the grill for the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Remove the chicken to a plate or cutting board, cover with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Cut the chicken in quarters, sprinkle generously with salt, and serve with the grilled lemon halves and cooked marinade.

*Stand the chicken upright and cut the backbone with a large kitchen knife. Spread the chicken open on a board with the skin side down. Cut around and remove the breast bone with a boning knife. (You can ask your butcher to do all this for you.)

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