Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Chilled Zucchini Soup with Lemon-Cumin Shrimp and Cilantro Cream

A cool meal is just the ticket on a hot day, and here's a great one for you: Chilled Zucchini Soup with Lemon-Cumin Shrimp and Cilantro Cream.

I made this for a client today, and it's got so much going for it: it's cool and refreshing, surprisingly hearty and really flavorful.

My client doesn't eat dairy, so I used soy sour cream. I also changed up the recipe by using 1 1/2 pounds of shrimp for four main-dish servings, which I sauteed in the oil called for. I tossed the cooked shrimp with ground cumin (the client can't tolerate seeds), lemon zest, salt and pepper.

The finished product was an absolutely perfect hot summer day dish.

Great news: If tomorrow's forecast is hot and steamy (or company's coming for lunch or dinner), make the recipe a day ahead: each of the elements of the dish can be prepared ahead of time, and then assembled in the bowl prior to serving. Which will leave you as cool as a cucumber (or zucchini) come dinnertime.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Saucy Tofu (or Beef) Stir-Fry

"What smells so good?" each child asked as he or she wandered into the kitchen yesterday afternoon. "Tofu," I answered, and my taste testers ran screaming from the room. Well, they didn't actually scream, but they went out to the back yard to play Frisbee after I reassured them that I also had some beef to stir-fry for those who didn't want tofu. The great smell came from the sauce, a combination of soy sauce and barbecue sauce, two condiments I always have on hand.

Aside from the family-friendly sauce, one of the great things about this recipe is that you can make it vegetarian, or you can make it with beef, or you can do both and please everyone at your table. It's up to you.

Another great thing is that you can do lots of preparation ahead of time (like when you're making school lunches in the morning and already have the cutting board out, or when you're in the room as homework helper but aren't needed yet). That way, when dinner time comes, you just need to heat up a pan for the stir-fry and boil some water for noodles or rice, and you'll be good to go.

I did a lot of the chopping in the afternoon, enabling me to sit on the deck with a glass of wine and act as the official Frisbee photographer later on. I don't think I should quit my day job just yet:

Saucy Tofu (or Beef) Stir-Fry
Serves 3 - 4

1 package of extra firm tofu, pressed and sliced into 1/2-inch thick slices, and/or1 pound of sirloin steak tips, sliced very thin
2 Tablespoons Canola oil, divided
2 - 3 bell peppers, sliced thin
1 onion, sliced thin
1 bunch broccoli, steamed for 3 minutes
2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
freshly ground black pepper
3 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
rice or noodles

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 T. oil.

Add the peppers and onions; stir and cook for 6 minute or until crisp tender. Add the broccoli during the last minute of cooking. Remove all the vegetables to a cookie sheet and set aside.

Heat the other tablespoon of oil in the same pan.

If using tofu, place the slices in the skillet and do not move for 5 - 6 minutes. Flip. They should be golden brown. Cook the second side for about 5 more minutes. If using beef as well, remove the tofu and set aside. If not, skip the next paragraph (about cooking the beef) and proceed with the recipe.

If using beef, place the meat in the skillet and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and black pepper and cook about 1 minute more, until beef has just lost its pink color.

Add the soy sauce to the pan and cook for 30 seconds. Add the barbecue sauce and stir. Add the cooked vegetables back into the mixture and stir together. Serve over rice.

(If you've also cooked tofu, I recommend adding some sauce to the tofu before removing it from the pan, and then tossing some of the cooked vegetables with it.)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Seafood and Vegetable Kebabs (and lunch the next day!)

Tonight's dinner was unplanned, made without a recipe, and absolutely delicious. In fact, it was the kind of meal I wish I could find on a restaurant menu, but I can't.

I was in the mood for scallops and shrimp tonight, so I picked some up at the fish counter this afternoon during my Saturday grocery shopping. Around 5 pm, I rummaged through the vegetable drawer and found half an onion, a few bell pepper pieces and a zucchini, which I chopped and marinated in olive oil, vinegar and some olive paste I had in the fridge. I tossed the seafood with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon zest and let it sit while I preheated the grill.

Everything was grilled to perfection in under 10 minutes: my ideal restaurant meal, right in my own backyard. Life is good.

Editing to add - I turned the leftover shrimp and scallops into a "Poor Man's Lobster Roll" for lunch the next day. I chopped the seafood, added a stalk of finely chopped celery, a squeeze of lemon, a scant tablespoon of mayonnaise, salt and pepper and spooned it into a buttered, toasted hot dog roll. Life is good for a second day in a row!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Santa Fe Quinoa Salad

Lunch with friends is always a treat, and when your friends are personal chefs, it's even better!

A few of us have been trying to get together for lunch for a while, and today was finally the day. A little-known fact about personal chefs is that many of us have Fridays off. Why? Because our clients want to eat our meals during the week: Mondays and Tuesdays are my most sought-after days. When I cook for families on those days, they end up with a fridge (and sometimes freezer) full of meals to enjoy on busy weeknights. And, most personal chefs are our own bosses, so if we want Fridays off, we take them off.

Today, each of us brought a dish, and our lunch was suberb: Christine's Crab Cakes with Spicy Remoulade, Patti's (dairy-free) Cream of Asparagus Soup, Lyn's Marinated Vegetable Salad and my Santa Fe Quinoa Salad.

Santa Fe Quinoa Salad
Serves 4 - 6 as a side dish

3/4 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons canola oil
Freshly ground pepper
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 small red bell pepper -- finely diced
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
1 3 ounce jar cocktail onions

In a medium saucepan, combine the quinoa, water and a pinch of salt; bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until the water is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. Spread the quinoa on a baking sheet; refrigerate for about 20 minutes. (Or make quinoa a day ahead and refrigerate until needed.)

Combine the ground cumin, lime juice, oil, salt and pepper in a jar and shake until combined. Pour the dressing into a bowl and add the black beans, bell pepper, cilantro and cocktail onions. Scrape the quinoa into the bowl, season with salt and pepper and serve.

Make Ahead:
The quinoa salad can be refrigerated overnight.

Recipe adapted from Food and Wine, May 2010

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Laura's Greek Chicken Bake

It's a busy time of year at mi casa: we've got the school play, dance recital, lacross games, the invention convention, the arts festival and final exams on the agenda. Healthy meals and snacks are absolutely in order to keep everyone happy and energized, but most days, there's not a whole lot of time to shop and cook.

Yesterday afternoon I needed to whip up something that wasn't too heavy but would keep our stomachs from grumbling during DD's dance recital. I turned to my pantry and fridge, and then to my friend and fellow personal chef Laura Whalen's recipe for Greek Chicken. I served it with Spinach Orzo.

Laura's Greek Chicken Bake
Serves 3

1 package fresh chicken tenders (about 1 pound)
Penzey's Greek Seasoning, or salt and pepper
1 T. olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 small jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
15-ounce can diced tomatoes with garlic and oregano
4 ounces sliced black olives (or kalamata olives or 2 T. capers)
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
fresh parsley for garnish

Season the chicken lightly with Greek Seasoning or salt and pepper. Heat oil in a very large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and brown on both sides (about 1 - 2 minutes per side); chicken will not be fully cooked. Remove chicken from pan and place in a greased casserole dish.

Turn down the heat and add the chopped shallot, garlic and jalapeno to the same pan and saute until the vegetables start getting soft, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and olives to the sauce. Stir and pour over the chicken in the casserole dish. Top with feta cheese.

Bake casserole at 350 degrees for 25 - 30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and dish is bubbly around the edges. Garnish with parsely.

Spinach Orzo
Serves 3

Place a couple of handfuls of baby spinach in a colander in the sink. Cook 1 cup of orzo according to package directions. Drain the orzo over the spinach, to wilt the spinach. Season with butter, salt and pepper if desired. Toss and serve.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Cold-brewed iced coffee

Iced coffee is my a.m. drink of choice this time of year (and peanut butter toast is my breakfast year-round, in case you wondered). I love Starbucks' iced coffee, and Ann at my local Starbucks makes it just the way I like: mostly decaf, a splash of caffeinated coffee and a splash of soy milk. It's the perfect drink to get me through a hot morning of cooking.

When I'm home, I seldom make iced coffee. But this low-tech method was so appealing, I had to give it a try. I made up a batch (OK, two batches) over the weekend and enjoyed my first cold-brewed iced coffee this morning. Good stuff!

I started with Starbucks ground decaf, a couple of empty jars and a measuring cup. The straining part was a bit messy; next time I won't strain twice because it didn't seem necessary. I also didn't find it necessary to mix in any water when I made my drink. I just poured the coffee into a glass full of ice cubes, added a splash of soy milk, and was good to go.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Meaty Calzones

A couple of my weekly personal chef clients are hooked on old-fashioned comfort food. Nothing pleases their families more than Baked Ziti, Meatloaf, Grilled Marinated Flank Steak or Oven-Fried Chicken. Now and then they branch out (two chose Vegetable Enchiladas this week), but for the most part, they ask me to prepare familiar foods.

Meaty Calzones seem to fit that bill. Made of seasoned ground beef and mozzarella cheese wrapped in individual pizza-dough packets, they're sort of a taco in a pocket, or a meat-za with a top.

I serve them with a mild marinara sauce for dipping, as well as a tossed salad, vegetables and dip or green vegetable - I love asparagus. (It's easy to roast while the calzones are cooling: toss trimmed asparagus with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in the same 400 degree oven for 10 minutes.)

Meaty Calzones
Serves 4

1/2 pound lean ground beef
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon cornmeal
1 tube refrigerated pizza dough
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup marinara sauce for dipping

Brown the ground beef in a skillet. Drain all the fat and season the meat with Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spray the paper with nonstick spray and sprinkle with cornmeal. Unroll the pizza dough on the sheet and cut into 4 rectangles. Stretch each rectangle to about 6x5 inches. Place 1/4 of the meat in the center of each rectangle. Top with cheese.

Bring the long ends of the dough up toward the center and pinch together. Fold the ends in slightly toward the center to seal. Flip the calzone over so all the folds are on the bottom. Repeat for remaining 3 calzones. Prick the top of each with a fork and spray with nonstick spray.

Bake for 11 - 15 minutes, until dough is light golden brown. Let sit 5 minutes before serving with your favorite marinara sauce.