Thursday, June 30, 2011

Watermelon with Lime-Mint Syrup

This is an easy way to add a little oomph to watermelon. The lime-mint combination is very fresh. And speaking of fresh, be forewarned, this needs to be served right away. It was so delightful when I first ate it, but then I took some of the leftover to work the next day and it was downright nasty. I think overnight there was a battle between the lime and mint and the mint lost (actually, my taste buds were the real casualties).

Makes 8 servings

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from 1 1/2 limes)
2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest (from 1 1/2 limes)
1 (4-pound) piece watermelon, preferably seedless
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

1.      In small bowl, whisk together sugar and hot water until sugar is dissolved. Stir in lime juice and zest. Cover and refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.  Can be made ahead and chilled, covered, up to 3 days.
2.      Cut the watermelon into wedges or bite-size chunks and refrigerate until chilled.
3.      As close to serving time as possible, stir the chopped mint into the syrup and drizzle over the watermelon. Serve immediately.

adapted from Tracey Seaman
sugar and hot water dissolved

It's brown because I used evaporated cane juice, which is beige.

lime zest
lime zest added

side view
watermelon chunks
fresh mint leaves
lime-mint syrup being poured over the watermelon

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Grilled Pineapple and Banana with Honey-Lime Sauce

I'm going to have to go ahead and declare the scrumptious honey-lime sauce as the undisputed superstar of this dish. As much as I enjoyed grilling the fruit, which was definitely fun and delicious, the sauce made me utter an audible "mmm" (and I think my eyes may have rolled back in my head a little).

At that moment, I was thrilled I'd had the foresight to double the sauce. I was serving the grilled fruit with vanilla ice cream and thought it would be nice to have plenty of extra sauce to drizzle over the top. It was. Turns out it's also nice downed straight from a shot glass (or so I've heard).

Yield: about 3 cups

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract)
4 pineapple rings, peeled and cored (1/2-inch-thick)
4 large bananas (ripe, but still firm), peeled and left whole or sliced in half lengthwise

1.     Place butter, honey, brown sugar, and lime juice in small saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add seeds and bean (or vanilla extract). Bring to simmer over medium heat, whisking until smooth. Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Remove vanilla bean and rewarm sauce before using.
2.     Preheat barbecue (medium-high heat). Brush both sides of pineapple and banana with sauce. Grill about 1-2 minutes per side.
3.     Transfer pineapple to plate; cut into 1/2-inch cubes and place in large bowl (leaving juices behind). Cut the grilled bananas into 1-inch chunks and add to bowl with pineapple. Mix in the remaining sauce.

adapted from Dede Wilson

limes ready for juicing
(the zest was for making lime-cilantro butter)
pouring in the honey
Remember, this is a double batch.
melted and ready

I didn't have a vanilla bean, so I used homemade vanilla extract
(which I love because the vanilla seeds are still in there).
pineapple rings & sliced banana, coated with a little honey-lime sauce
pineapple rings and sliced bananas on the grill
The bananas do cook faster than the pineapple, so keep your
eye on them. It's normal for them to get a little mushy (but in
a good way) when mixed with the sauce. Make sure they're firm
to begin with (otherwise they'll be extremely difficult to turn
over and remove from the grill. Come to think of it, maybe it
would be smarter to keep them whole (I'll try that next time).
pineapple rings just about done
pineapple rings off the grill and on a plate (to catch the juices)
cut grilled pineapple
served with vanilla ice cream

The grilled, hot fruit makes the ice cream get all melty
and then sauce commingles with all of it. Fabulous.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bean Dip

I think most of us have had this bean dip at a party, or at least some variation of it. This version is about as simple as it gets. There's a reason it's so popular. It's good, solid comfort food. Plus it takes only ten minutes to assemble before baking. It's such a crowd pleaser in fact, that I didn't manage to take a photo of it baked and whole before everyone descended on it. High praise indeed.


1 (16 oz.) can refried beans
8 oz. neufchatel (1/3 less fat cream cheese), thinly sliced
1 (11 oz.) jar salsa (I use Newman’s Own medium)
3 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, thinly grated
3 oz. monterey jack cheese, thinly grated
tortilla chips for serving

1.     Preheat oven to 350º F.
2.     Layer ingredients in 9” x 9” glass baking pan (in the order listed above). When layering the cream cheese, it helps to flatten each slice with your fingers before layering on top of the refried beans. Can be made ahead and refrigerated (covered). Bring to room temperature before baking.
3.     Cover with foil (trying not to touch the cheese) and heat for about 40 minutes (or until warm and a little bubbly). Remove the foil and heat uncovered for about 5 more minutes (or until cheese is fully melted).
4.      Let cool for 5-10 minutes.  Serve with tortilla chips.

I think my friend Mary McHugh gave me this recipe about 20 years ago. But I have no idea where she originally got it. Only the version she gave me had no amounts. I've played with it over the years and I think these proportions are now spot on.

refried beans spread
you may have never even noticed the little  "neufchatel cheese  "
written in the bottom, right corner there
once you flatten out each piece with your fingers,
it will be enough to cover the whole pan
cream cheese layer
salsa layer
cheese layer
side view of the layers (before baking)
By the time I got to it with my camera, it already looked
like this (you can see it was attacked by several angles).
dipping a chip

Monday, June 27, 2011

Grilled Asparagus

I know what you're thinking...something along the lines of "lamest post ever". Or maybe you're thinking about hitting the 'unlike' button on my Facebook page. Well, do what you've got to do, but before you exercise that itchy trigger finger, try grilling some asparagus. I'm betting if you've never done it before, you'll be surprised at how incredible it is. If I'm wrong, go ahead and hit the button (that's right, you don't want to play poker with me).


asparagus (washed, dried and tough ends snapped off)
extra virgin olive oil

 1.      Preheat grill to medium-high. Drizzle a little olive oil over the asparagus (just enough to coat the spears). Toss until all the spears are coated and sprinkle with salt to taste. Spread asparagus out on a grill pan (or if you don't have one, you can place them directly on the grate (just make sure you do it crosswise, so they don't fall in).

2.      Grill for about 5 minutes, then turn the asparagus. Grill for another 5-10 minutes or until asparagus is brown in spots and easily pierced with a fork.

asparagus spears
a closer look

Asparagus tips (pun intended)
-      look for firm, brightly colored stalks with closed tips
-      smaller spears are more delicate and tender
-      thicker spears have a more robust flavor and meatier texture
-      should be used within a day or two of purchase if possible
-      store in the refrigerator, standing upright in cold water
-      rinse and break off the tough ends before cooking

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pretzel & Potato Chip Shortbread with Caramel Chocolate Ganache

Just in case you had any doubts that I truly love Top Chef, here's yet another quickfire winning recipe (this time from Top Chef All-Stars). But this wasn't just any ordinary quickfire challenge. This one was called me love cookies! and starred none other than Sesame Street's own loveable Elmo, Telly and infamous cookie connoisseur (the man, the myth), Cookie Monster himself.

photo from
When my daughter's teacher asked me to make something for their kindergarten graduation party, I couldn't get this recipe out of my head. How could I lose mashing up pretzels and potato chips and covering them with chocolate ganache? It's sweet, salty, crunchy and creamy all at the same time. Come to think of it, it's way too good for likes of kindergarteners. Smear some chocolate on a band-aid and they'd probably ask for another one (pleeeease).

Yield: 48 small squares

Shortbread Cookies:
5 oz. potato chips (plain, salted)
5 oz. pretzels (lightly salted)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar

Caramel Chocolate Ganache:
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1.      Preheat oven to 350º F.
2.      In a food processor, crush potato chips and pretzels.
3.      In a mixing bowl, combine crushed chips, pretzels, flour, melted butter and 1/2 cup sugar.
4.      Spread the mixture evenly in a 9” x 13” baking pan and bake for 10 minutes.  Let cool to room temperature.

Chocolate Ganache:
1.      Add 3/4 cup sugar to a heavy pot and cook over medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until all the sugar is melted and it’s a deep golden, amber color. (You can add a little water to the sugar if you want, but it isn’t necessary.)
2.      Heat cream in a separate pot until hot, but not boiling. Add hot cream to the caramelized sugar and bring to a boil. Add chocolate; whisk until smooth.

Spread the ganache evenly over the cooled shortbread. Cool completely, chill in the refrigerator and cut into small squares. Store in the refrigerator.

adapted from Dale Talde (Top Chef, Season 8, Episode 10)

pretzels and potato chips in food processor
pretzel and potato chips crushed
all the shortbread ingredients mixed
shortbread pressed into pan
shortbread baked
evaporated cane sugar
(it looks almost white in this photo, but it's really more of a beige)
sugar melting (it's normal for it to get all clumpy)
even more melted

This is way darker than usual because I used evaporated cane
sugar (which is darker than refined sugar). If you're using regular
granulated sugar, it will be a much clearer & lighter golden color.

 Here is a YouTube video on how to
caramelize sugar that shows the usual color.
caramelized sugar with cream added
chocolate melted in
pouring the ganache on to the cooled shortbread
ganache spread
chilled and cut into squares

Friday, June 24, 2011

Brown Butter Balsamic Vinaigrette

I was watching Top Chef Masters one day and Chef Traci Des Jardins made this sauce. She called it one of those easy "magic trick sauces" that she teaches people from time to time. I couldn't help but think "I like easy." "I like sauces." "I like magic tricks." Then her dish won the quickfire challenge and that sealed the deal. So I tried it. It's not the most handsome sauce you'll ever make (the shallots end up as little brown blobs plopped on top of your dish), but it really is easy and extremely flavorful. A winner.
I served my sauce over grilled chicken
(Chef Traci served hers with halibut)

2 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, minced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
about 1 tablespoon water
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

1.      Add butter to a sauté pan. Brown slightly, add the shallots and soften.
2.      Add balsamic and bring to a boil. Add a little water to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper.
3.      Add parsley.

from Chef Traci Des Jardins, Top Chef Masters

melting the butter
I doubled the recipe and that made enough for 6 to 8 chicken thighs.
butter browning
shallots softening
adding the balsamic vinegar
balsamic and water added
parsley added
I marinated the chicken overnight in olive oil with crushed garlic
and rosemary. Then I grilled it the same way as the grilled
chicken with creamy grits and shiitake sauce
, except I didn't chop
the rosemary first (I didn't have time and I just wanted a hint
of rosemary flavor to come through from the marinade).