20 June 2013

Can you believe it's the third Thursday of June already?  June is just flying by.  Probably because the weather has been so awful that it doesn't even feel like summer yet.  The other day it was 89 degrees, which was awesome, but in a matter of hours, the temperature dropped a full 30 degrees. It was 60 by the time we finished dinner and 55 when we got up the next morning.  That's crazy!  I'm having a really hard time with the fact that July 4th is only two weeks from today.

But the calendar doesn't lie, and that means it's time for this month's Improv Challenge.  The premise of the Improv Challenge is easy: each month there are two assigned ingredients.  The participants must make a recipe using both ingredients and blog about it.

This month's assigned ingredients were fish and chips.  I've never actually had the dish "fish and chips", as I'm not a fan of fried fish.  I'm actually not a fan of white fish much at all.  So at first I wasn't sure what I was going to do.  Then I was flipping through last month's issue of Everyday with Rachael Ray and she always has a "Burger of the Month" near the front of the magazine.  Last month's "burger" was actually a fish fillet coated in Panko breadcrumbs and fried.  She called them "Fishwiches".  I was intrigued by this.  I thought about this challenge and wondered if I could use potato chips to create the crunchy coating instead of Panko.    And since I was using potato chips, I thought it would be fun to make a french onion flavored tartar sauce.

I don't consider my recipe adapted from hers, but inspired by hers. I changed pretty much everything about it.  I used different fish, spices, coating, condiment, and I baked mine instead of frying.  Here's what I created.

Potato Chip-Crusted Fishwiches with French Onion Tartar Sauce

½ cup mayo
6 tbsp French onion chip dip
1 tbsp dill pickle relish
1 tsp lemon juice
½ cup flour
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp water
2 cups potato chip crumbs
4 (4-6 oz.) fillets of cod or other white fish
4 rolls, split

In a small bowl, combine the mayo, French onion dip, relish, and lemon juice.  Cover and refrigerate until sandwiches are ready to serve. Can be made a day ahead of time.

Preheat oven to 425°.  Line a baking sheet with foil and top with a baking rack.  Coat rack with nonstick spray.

Set up your breading station.  Combine the flour and paprika in a shallow dish.  Combine the beaten egg and water in another shallow dish.  Place the potato chip crumbs in a third dish.  

Pat fish fillets dry and season lightly with salt.  Coat each one in the flour mixture, shake off excess, and dip in beaten egg.  Then coat with potato chip crumbs.  Place fillets on prepared baking sheet.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until coating begins to brown and fillets flake easily.  Place fillets on rolls and top with French onion tartar sauce.  Add additional toppings (lettuce, tomato, etc) if desired.

Makes 4 servings.

The results were amazing!  Like I said above, I don't really like white fish, so I wasn't really expecting to like these sandwiches that much.  But I loved them!  The coating provides a great seal that keeps the fish incredibly moist and perfectly flaky.  The salty flavor of the chips pairs perfectly with the mild flavor of the fish.  You don't have to worry about whether or not the coating gets crunchy because it's crunchy from the very beginning!  I chose to bake mine instead of pan fry because I didn't think the chip coating would hold up to pan frying, with the turning and the spatula and whatnot.  And since the chips already contained a fair amount of oil, I thought the coating would burn before the fish was cooked through.  Baking worked out perfectly.

I used the Classic Lays potato chips because they are thin and crisp.  I think it would be fun to try this with different flavors, but I wouldn't get to crazy with different textured chips.  For instance, the Wavy Lays are much thicker, so I don't think they'd work as well.  But I think the sour cream and onion flavor of the classic ones would be really good.  Maybe even barbecue.

I am really excited about this recipe because I know fish is good for you, and I have tried in the past to make it, but had yet to find a way that I liked it.  This has opened up a whole new world for me.  If you are trying to limit your carbs, you could easily just eat these as fillets, leaving out the bun altogether.  I'm definitely going to experiment with some other coating options.

Check out all of the other "fish and chips" recipes below and come back next month to see what I make with peaches and herbs.  Yum!

18 June 2013

Did you know you can grill a ham?  Well, why not?  I didn't get a chance to make an Easter ham this year, but they are always so cheap around that time that I couldn't resist buying one for the freezer.  I asked my husband which he would prefer for a lovely Father's Day dinner, a whole chicken or a ham and he chose ham.  I wanted to try grilling it.  I recently got a really great Kindle cookbook for free (sorry, it's $9.99 now), all about grilling.  1,001 Best Grilling Recipes by Rick Browne.  It has recipes for grilling anything you can think of.  There were several recipes for grilling ham.  I ended up combining two of these recipes to come up with this one.  It has a lovely brown sugar/mustard glaze and is cooked and basted with beer.  Perfect for Father's Day!  Here's how I made it.

Beer Grilled Ham

Vegetable oil
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup spicy brown mustard
1 (7-10 lb.) smoked ham, butt or shank portion
2 (12 oz.) cans beer

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat, setting it up for both direct and indirect heating.  Coat grates with vegetable oil.  Line a roasting pan with heavy-duty foil and lightly coat the foil with vegetable oil.  Combine the brown sugar and mustard in a small bowl and set aside.

Remove ham from packaging.  Trim off as much fat as possible.  Score a diamond pattern in the skin, about ¼” deep.  Place the ham over the direct heat and grill it on all sides, a few minutes per side, or until grill marks appear.  Place ham in roasting pan, and slather it on all sides with the brown sugar/mustard mixture.  Place the ham, flat side down, in the roasting pan.  Pour the beer in the bottom of the roasting pan.

Set the roasting pan over indirect heat and cover the grill.  Cook until ham reaches an internal temperature of 145°, basting with the beer occasionally, about 1½ - 2 hours.  Remove from grill and let rest before slicing and serving.

Makes 8-12 servings.

First you sear the ham on all sides over direct heat.  I probably left it on this side a little too long, but it was just fine.  You mainly want some pretty grill marks on there.  It is a little more difficult on the bumpy sides.  I had to hold it in place to get some good color on some of the sides.  But it doesn't take long if your grill is nice and hot.  I used a butt portion ham.  I usually buy the shank portion, but the store was all out of those.  

After searing it on all sides, place it in a roasting pan and slather it with brown sugar and mustard.

Then cook it over indirect heat.  (I took this pic before I poured the beer in the pan.)

The finished product.  

Isn't it pretty?  My grill didn't stay as hot as I wanted it to, so it didn't get as much color as I was expecting, but it still turned out okay.  The nice thing about these hams is that they are already fully cooked, so you don't have to worry about it being undercooked.  The flavor was really great.  The combination of the sweet, caramelized glaze and the hint of beer flavor was really good on the edges of the ham.  I used a light beer (Miller Lite, just because that is my husband's favorite), but you can use a darker beer if you want the flavor more pronounced.

Our Father's Day feast consisted of the ham, Slow Cooker Cheesy Potatoes, Grilled Brussels Sprouts with Champagne Lemon Vinaigrette, and rolls.  The weather was perfect so we were able to eat outside.  It was lovely.

13 June 2013

Wondering what to make for dinner tonight?  I've got a great weekday recipe for you today.  It's one of those super awesome "one pot" meals, where everything cooks in one pot.  Yep, even the pasta cooks right in the sauce.  I love meals like this.  I started with this recipe at Plain Chicken and ended up changing it quite a bit to suit our tastes and the ingredients I normally have on hand.  It turned out great.

Creamy Sausage and Pasta Skillet

14 – 16 oz. smoked sausage, cut into half moons
2½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup tomato sauce
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
8 oz. farfalle pasta (bowtie)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
½ cup light sour cream

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add sausage and cook until lightly browned.  Drain off grease.   Add chicken broth, tomato sauce, and onion and garlic powders.  Add farfalle, cover, and bring to a boil.  Boil lightly for 10-15 minutes, or until pasta is tender.  Stir in peas.  Turn heat to low and stir in sour cream. Remove from heat and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Isn't it amazing how easy this is?  Basically, dump everything in a skillet and let it cook.  I've made this twice now and it's been a big hit with my family both times.  Since my youngest daughter is allergic to dairy, I simply take some out and set it aside before I stir in the sour cream.  The first time I made this I used rotini, but I like it much better with the farfalle.  You can use any short-cut pasta that you have on hand.

The combination of the bright tomato flavor and the creaminess of the sour cream is terrific.  And I love the fresh "pop" that the peas provide.

But mostly, I love how easy this meal is to make, and to clean up.  Just one pan and a couple of measuring cups.  Just perfect for those busy weeknights.

11 June 2013

Are you a rhubarb fan?  If so, you've got to try this pie. It is the best rhubarb pie recipe ever. It takes all of five minutes to throw together (not counting oven preheating and pie crust thawing), has only 5 ingredients, and doesn't require any precooking of the rhubarb or anything fussy like that. Line a pie plate with a pie crust, mix together some flour and sugar, and dump in the rhubarb. Whoever coined the term "easy as pie" must have been making this one!  I got the recipe from Allrecipes and didn't change a thing about it.

Fresh Rhubarb Pie

2 (9”) pie crusts
1⅓ cups white sugar
6 tbsp flour
4 cups chopped rhubarb
1 tbsp butter

Preheat oven to 450°.  Remove pie crusts from fridge at least 15 mins before using.  Coat a 9” pie plate with baking spray.

Place one pie crust in bottom of pie plate.  Combine sugar and flour. Sprinkle ¼ of it over pastry in pie plate. Heap rhubarb over this mixture. Sprinkle with remaining sugar and flour. Dot with small pieces of butter. Cover with top crust and pinch edges together.

Place pie on lowest rack in oven. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°, and continue baking for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool before cutting and serving.

Makes 8 servings.

Isn't it a gorgeous pie?  Just look at that beautiful pink color!  I didn't edit the colors in these photos at all.  The rhubarb is just perfect: soft, but still keeping its shape.  And it's just the right amount of sweet and tart.  This pie holds up really nicely.  The flour thickens it up perfectly.  It won't run all over your plate, provided you let it rest for a while after it comes out of the oven.  Putting a layer of the sugar/flour mixture on the bottom ensures that the bottom crust says perfectly crisp and doesn't get soggy from the filling.  

This is a really great pie for beginners because it's fairly fool-proof.  I had a little bit of trouble with my pie crust the last time I made it (last week), but that's because I used the store-brand pie crusts instead of the Pillsbury.  I used the Meijer brand frequently before, and it was fine, but the store brand I tried last week was not so great.  As the pie went into the oven, I was sure that it was going to end up too ugly for the blog. But even despite problematic pie crust, this pie still turned out beautifully.  And since all you do is dump the other ingredients in, there is very little room for error.

The only way, (yes, there's only one way) to eat this pie is warmed up with a big scoop of homestyle or French vanilla (none of this vanilla bean nonsense) ice cream.  We put individual pieces in the microwave for 15-30 seconds and then plop on the ice cream.  It is heavenly!  The combination of the warm and cold is always good, and the creaminess of the ice cream pairs perfectly with the tartness of the pie.  

I know somebody is going to ask: Can I make this with rhubarb that I have frozen?  The answer is: I don't know.  I have never tried it.  If you try it, definitely do not put the rhubarb in there frozen.  That will create too much liquid.  Try thawing the rhubarb and then patting it as dry as you can get it before adding it to the pie.  If you try it, please leave a comment and let me know how it turned out for you.

So if you have a bunch of rhubarb and don't know what to do with it, please try this pie.

08 June 2013

Guess what? I've joined another monthly blog challenge.  I just love monthly challenges.  Probably the first time ever that I have enjoyed homework!  It is really fun finding and creating recipes to fit certain challenge criteria.  That's when I jumped at the chance when Wendy from The Weekend Gourmet invited food bloggers to join in her new monthly challenge: The Salad Bar.

I was excited to join this challenge because salads are not something I make very often, and when I do, they are pretty much the most boring salads ever.  I really needed something to nudge me to make more salads and to be more creative with them.  So this monthly challenge is just perfect.  Every month Wendy will give us an ingredient or theme and we have to make a salad that fits and post the recipe on the second Saturday of the month.

Wendy kicked things off by announcing that this month's theme would be berries.  Great timing, as berries are coming into season and they are perfect in summertime salads.  The only salad I had ever had that contained berries was a spinach salad with strawberries.  It's a classic, and for good reason.  Really yummy. But I wanted to make a salad that I had never tried before.  I did lots and lots (and lots!) of looking around online to find a unique salad recipe containing berries.  Finally, I found what I was looking for.  The Curvy Carrot posted a Berry Caprese Salad that I just had to try myself.  If you aren't familiar with traditional caprese salad, it has three components: basil, tomato, and mozzarella.  One of the great things about caprese salad is how beautiful it is with those three colors.  Shanon at The Curvy Carrot had the genius idea to swap out the tomato with berries.  She used both strawberries and blueberries, but I kept mine simple with just strawberries.  She used slivered almonds for crunch, but I decided to go with pine nuts, which fit with the Italian theme of caprese salad.  I don't have exact measurements, and probably won't for most of the salads that I post, because I think it's best with salads to just put in however much you like.  Eyeball it.

Strawberry Caprese Salad

Baby spinach
Chiffonade of fresh basil
Fresh strawberries, sliced
Mozzarella pearls
Toasted pine nuts
Balsamic vinaigrette (three parts olive oil to one part balsamic vinegar)

Layer each individual salad plate or bowl with the spinach, basil, strawberries, mozzarella, and pine nuts.  Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette.

These are the "mozzarella pearls" that I used.  They are perfect because they are bite-sized, no cutting into pieces required.  If you can't find these, just get some fresh mozzarella and cut it into bite-sized pieces.

If you are not familiar, "chiffonade of basil" means little ribbons of basil.  Here's how you make them: take one fresh basil leaf and roll it up the long way.  Take your knife and cut it into thin little rolls.  When you unroll them, they look like crinkly ribbons.

This salad is so good!  I wasn't sure how much I would like it, but I loved it.  The mozzarella really helps cut the acidity of the dressing and the strawberries.  And basil and strawberry go so well together.  It really is a super combination of flavors.

I don't recommend making this like a tossed salad.  I tried that, but the balsamic vinaigrette is so dark that it soaks into the mozzarella and makes it quite unappetizing.  It's best served individually.

Thanks so much for starting this new challenge, Wendy!  I can't wait to see what everybody else made.

Come back next month when the theme will be picnic or potluck salads.  Think potato salad, slaws, etc.  There's lots to work with there!

05 June 2013

Today I'm sharing with you a great side dish.  It is meant to go with Asian main dishes, but could work well with a variety of other cuisines as well.  Vermicelli noodles are tossed with sauteed ginger, garlic, and shallot and tossed with a flavorful sauce and topped with fresh green onions.  It's adapted from a recipe I found over at Parsley, Sage, and Sweet when I was assigned to her blog for the Secret Recipe Club.  I made two of her recipes that month: this one and Rainbow Veggie Pizza.  I posted the pizza for my official SRC post, and saved this one for later.  I changed it up a little bit, but it's basically the same idea.

Ginger Scallion Noodles

8 oz. vermicelli
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, grated
1 shallot, minced
2 tsp fish sauce
1 tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp honey
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup green onions, sliced

Boil vermicelli until al dente. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet.  Add the ginger, garlic, and shallot and cook for just a minute or so until fragrant.  Add the fish sauce, soy sauce, honey, red pepper flakes, and salt.  Stir to combine.  Remove from heat and add drained pasta.  Toss to coat.  Add green onion and toss again to evenly distribute.  Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

I served these noodles with some teriyaki salmon and Sesame Garlic Green Beans.  Very yummy meal.

The main difference between my recipe and Lisa's is that she sauteed the green onions along with the garlic, ginger, and shallots.  I prefer green onions raw.  I don't like how they get all wilty-looking when they are cooked.  Since they are raw, they pack in a lot of onion flavor.  My husband wasn't a huge fan.  If you want a more mild onion flavor and don't mind the wilty-ness, then saute the green onions with the rest.

02 June 2013


There are a few exciting things going on here today. One: This is my 500th recipe!  I can't believe I have posted 500 recipes!  It seriously blows my mind.  Good thing Blogger keeps track of this kind of stuff for me!

Two: This is my Secret Recipe Club recipe for this month.  The Secret Recipe Club is a group of food bloggers who secretly make one of someone else's dishes and post them all on the same day at the same time.  It's really fun, choosing a recipe to make, making the recipe, then reading about everyone else's recipes.  It's a great way to "meet" other bloggers and check out some great blogs that you never knew about before.

This month I was assigned the blog Searching For Dessert.  It's written by Shannon, a former pastry chef, recent culinary school graduate, and mother of two.  Shannon is also a pescatarian, which, as I understand it, is a vegetarian who eats fish and seafood.  I am not a vegetarian, but I do try to serve my family meatless meals at least once a week, and have a growing collection of favorite meatless recipes.  I was excited to add to it!  Shannon has some really great recipes on her blog.  I loved the sound of her Chicken Fried Portobello Mushrooms.  Her Slow Cooker Stuffed Onions definitely have me intrigued, but I knew no one else in my family would eat them since they are picky about onions.  And with grilling season in full swing, I really want to try her Grilled Caesar Salad.  But the recipe I tried this month was her Southwest Quinoa Sliders.  My family is fully on board with quinoa, and I thought these sounded really good.  

Southwest Quinoa Sliders

1 avocado, peeled and cubed
2 tbsp ranch dressing
½ cup quinoa, cooked
¼ cup dry bread crumbs
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp chili powder
2 eggs
½ cup corn, fresh or thawed from frozen
½ cup black beans, drained and rinsed
½ tsp salt
Olive oil
8 slider buns
Lettuce, if desired
Tomato slices, if desired

Prepare the avocado topping: Mash up the avocado in a small bowl.  Add the ranch dressing and stir to combine.  Cover and place in fridge until ready to serve.

In a medium bowl, mix together the quinoa, breadcrumbs, flour, cumin, garlic powder, chili powder, eggs, corn, black beans, and salt.  Make sure all ingredients are evenly distributed.  

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet, then divide the quinoa mixture into 8 equal portions, dropping them into the skillet and flattening them slightly. Cook the patties on each side for 3-4 minutes, flipping once.

Serve the quinoa sliders with the avocado topping, lettuce, and tomato on the slider buns.

Makes 4 servings, 2 sliders each.

I only made a few changes to Shannon's recipe.  First of all, I doubled it, and that ended up being perfect for us.  I got 8-10 sliders out of it.  I left the cheese out because one of my daughters is allergic to dairy.  I didn't have a lime, so I left the lime juice out.  I changed the condiment a little bit too.  Shannon's was avocado, garlic, Greek yogurt, and cilantro.  I was lazy and made a simple avocado ranch sauce by simply mashing up some avocado and mixing in some ranch dressing.  It was really good.  

Here is a pic of the slider patties without the buns so you can see them close up.  They are the perfect combination of quinoa, black beans, and corn.  

My family absolutely loved these sliders.  I thought that my husband would just tolerate them, but he went on and on about how great they were.  He was a huge fan.  I loved them too, and and didn't miss the meat one little bit.  I served these with my Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes for an awesome meal.

Since these were such a huge hit with my family, I know they will be in regular rotation on my meatless days. Thanks for a great recipe, Shannon!

Oh, by the way, the other exciting thing that is going on is that there is a big change coming to my little blog.  I don't know exactly when the change will be done, but I will keep you posted!