Saturday, May 15, 2010

Warm Weather.... but not your usual BBQ foods....Hurrah!

I guess there's no denying it anymore, warm weather is here. Since it will be with us for quite a while (no sense trying to think ahead or hallucinating coolness...) might as well make the best of it and seize the day!

Hot weather usually means outdoor meals around the pool or the beach, maybe picnics in the park and a staple during this season is of course.... the BBQ! Most love to bring out the "quest for fire" in them or have a legitimate excuse to play with fire.... but none can deny not only the attraction to Belsebub's main stock in trade but the charred, smokey flavor imparted to food by this most popular cooking method is amazingly good! YUM!

Over time, and as foodie's sophistication has brought us past the barriers of "old time BBQ'ing" when all you'd see would be steaks and chicken, now you can feast on an ever growing array of unusual delicacies, previously verboten on the grill but now pretty much staples atop fire. Case in point comes delicate fruits and vegetables and not to be forgotten the ever present mushrooms, herbs, spices, breads and more... more.... more!

So let's plan a lovely and romantic dinner under the stars, surrounded by night flowering Jasmine and twinkling stars taking us away from our daily grind while we savor nor only the flavors but aromas of the embers as they produce a wonderful meal. Come and join me on a romantic sojourn down the South of France where BBQ is almost turned into art.

Simple recipes joined with fresh ingredients will insure not only heightened flavors but an unforgivable experience you'll want to not only remember, but repeat often. Another good thing about our improved BBQ skills is the focus on nutrition and health benefits which we can all use.

We'll start with some Salads that you can have anytime that won't leave any doubt that Summer is here:

Roasted Mediterranean Fennel Salad.- The colors and flavors of this dish will surely make it a favorite for everyone!

1 fennel bulb (Eneldo, photo at right)
olive oil
Fleur de sel (organic salt) and freshly ground pepper
1 orange in supremes*
half of a small red onion, sliced paper thin
1 handful small black olives
1 handful toasted pine nuts
Lemon juice and zest, to taste

Trim the fennel, reserving a handful of green fronds. Slice fennel into the thinnest slices you can. Heat a little olive oil in a pan, and, working in batches and seasoning with salt and pepper as you go, fry the fennel on both sides until golden and tender. As the fennel is done, arrange it on a serving platter. Zest the orange and set the zest aside. Remove the skin with a sharp knife, taking care to remove all the white pith from the fruit. Discard the peel. Cut out the orange sections (*supremes), arranging over the fennel, and squeeze the orange juice over the whole salad. Slice the onion into paper thin rings and arrange over the salad. Scatter over the olives and pine nuts. Squeeze over lemon juice to taste. Drizzle over a little more olive oil. Finally, scatter over the reserved fennel fronds. Serve.

Summer Fruit Salad with Pistachios.- The flavors of this salad will capture you! You may also roast the fruits on the grill for more flavor....

4 apricots
2 peaches
2 tbl sugar
2 tbl honey
1-3 drops orange flower water
2 tbl chopped green pistachios

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Make a crisscross with the point of a knife in the bottom of the fruits. Plunge them into the boiling water for one minute. Remove and plunge into a bowl of ice-cold water. Peel, pit, and slice into a low-sided serving dish or onto a platter. If you are roasting on the grill, just slice the fruit in half, remote the pit and cook until they begin charring.

Put the sugar and honey in a saucepan with 1/2 cup water. Boil 5 min. Remove from the heat and add a few drops of orange flower water. Pour over the fruit, then scatter over the nuts, and serve with crème fraîche on the side if you like. You may add salt and pepper lightly as well.
NOTE: You could also add berries of all colors as well as other fruits. We also have this as a dessert with whipped cream or ice cream...yummy!

Aubergine Caviar.- Or Eggplant as we know in this most wonderful presentation that will delight you. Serve over good toasty bread which you can grill and caviar it IS!

1 medium eggplant
2 to 3 tbl olive oil
1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground cumin, more to taste
Salt and pepper
1/2 of a red pepper, very finely diced
10 leaves mint, shredded

Heat the oven to 400F. Halve the eggplant lengthwise, lightly brush the bottoms with olive oil so it won’t stick to the pan. Lay, cut-side down on a baking sheet, and bake until completely soft.Or you can roast on the grill.

When the aubergine is done, scoop the flesh out into a bowl and beat smooth with a fork. Add the garlic and cumin, to taste. Then stir through the confetti of red pepper and the mint leaves. Stir in the olive oil. Serve spooned onto crackers or thin croûtes.

Fabulous Chive-Tarragon Potato Salad.- A perfect complement to fresh food and no mayo.

4 lbs Yukon Gold or Charlotte potatoes
1/2 cup white wine
2 tbl red wine vinegar
2 pink shallots, sliced into very thin rings
2 handfuls of torn fresh tarragon and chive
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup grape-seed or olive oil
salt and pepper

Put the potatoes in a pot and cover with cold water. Salt, bring to a boil, and cook until tender. The time required will depend on the size of the potatoes. When they are tender to a fork, drain, peel, and slice into a bowl. Pour over the white wine and mix until absorbed.

While the potatoes cook, put the shallots into a small bowl and pour over the red wine vinegar. Leave to macerate five minute. Drain thoroughly. Add the shallots to the potatoes with the herbs. Stir the mustard into the oil, and pour over. Season with salt and pepper. Toss, and serve.

Mediterranean Style Radishes and Peas.- A flavorful and unusual vegetable combination that will surprise you!

2 tbl butter
2 bunches radishes, about 1-1/4 lbs, quartered or sliced
2 cups freshly shelled peas
1 pinch Salt and pepper
2 green onions, thinly sliced
handful of chopped fresh dill

Melt the butter in a pan and gently cook the radishes until half cooked. Add the peas with 1/4 cup water. Continue cooking until the peas and radishes are tender. Season, and scatter over the green onions and dill.

My favorite Greek Salad.- What can I say about this? Fabulous!!!! and good any time! I can have this as a main meal, picnic take-along or as the best side dish ever.....

1 cucumber, finely diced
3-4 tomatoes, diced
1 medium red onion, very, very thinly sliced
1 green pepper, finely diced
11 oz kalamata olives
2 tbl capers (optional)
7 oz feta cheese, crumbled
1 tbl dried oregano
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tbl red wine or Jerez vinegar, more to taste
1-2 tsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

Combine the cucumber, tomato, onion and pepper. Scatter over the olives, capers, feta, and oregano. Add the olive oil and vinegar and toss the salad well to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Taste to check the seasonings and add more vinegar, salt or pepper, as needed. Serve.

Shrimp Skewers.- Easy to prepare and big on flavor, you'll love these!

24 large shrimp, peeled and tailed
24 thin zucchini ribbons
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp chili pepper flakes
1 tbl chopped fresh mint or basil
Salt and pepper

Skewer the shrimp, with zucchini slices ribboned in between each piece. Stir together the olive oil, pepper flakes, mint, and salt in a glass casserole. Lay in the skewers, cover, and refrigerate for a few hours to marinate, turning once or thrice. Cook on the grill until the shrimp are pink and the zucchini striped with grill marks, three to five minutes per side.
NOTE: You can change veggies too. Also, if you made the Mojo al Ajo I gave you some days ago, you can have an even easier version by smearing the shrimp skewers with the Mojo, letting them rest in the fridge for an hour or so and then grilling them! Super easy and tasty!

Chicken and Fig Balsamic Brochettes.- Wonderfully glazed and flavorful chicken brochettes you will want to share!

2 chicken breasts
1/2 balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper
4 fresh figs, halved

Cut the chicken into 1-inch/2.5 cm cubes and put into a glass bowl. Combine the vinegar, oil and garlic and pour it over. Cover and let marinate for a few hours, turning now and again. Meanwhile, soak wooden skewers in water. Before grilling, skewer the chicken and fig halves alternately on skewers, without shoving them right up against each other. I like to do only three items per skewer, for looks. Grill on both sides until the chicken is fully cooked, about 10 min.

Grape Jello with Wine.- Unusual, very easy to make yet looks fancy.... Refreshing too!

1 tbl unflavored gelatin
1 cup sugar
2 cups dry white or sparkling wine
15 oz small, seedless red and green grapes
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tsp sugar, more to taste
1 tsp vanilla or Cognac

Stir the gelatin into 2 tbl of water, and set aside to soften. Put the sugar and wine in a saucepan, and heat to dissolve the sugar. Do not boil. Remove the wine from the heat and whisk in the gelatin until completely dissolved. Cool. Arrange the grapes in 6 ramekins or tea cups. Pour over the wine mixture. Cover, and chill several hours to set. To serve, run a knife around the edge of the molds and dip the bottoms into hot water for a few seconds, then invert onto serving plates. Whip the cream with the sugar and flavoring to serve alongside.
NOTE: You could also use flavored gelatin, omit the wine and change the fruit!

What to drink? How about Sangria? (Wine, OJ, Lemon Juice and fruit)
Or Bellini Cocktails? (Champagne and Peach Puree or Juice)
How about Mimosas? (Champagne and OJ)
Micheladas? (Beer, Lemon Juice, Worcestershire, Soy Sauce or Maggi, Tabasco, salt & pepper)
Elit Midnight Millionaire? (Champagne and Vodka)
White Wine Spritzer? (White Wine and either Mineral or Soda Water)
Cardinal Cocktail? (Red Wine and Creme de Cassis)

I only included drinks with very few ingredients that were easy to make. Since these are mixed you need not use name-brand liquors either.... they're all VERY refreshing!.....


Can you visualize the evening with these dishes? Maybe a family get together while you enjoy the garden or patio under the summer sky..... Fresh food full of flavor, easy to prepare or make ahead too, so it's even practical! Then you add something great to drink and the perfect evening awaits. So go ahead and try something new, you'll be glad you did!
Wishing everyone wonderful summer nights! Talk soon............

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