Election 2012 Dinner – Recipes and Photos

If you didn’t see the menu (or the ballot) for our Election Night 2012 Dinner yesterday, here it is:

  • Buffalo Left Wings (the drummettes) & Parmesan Right Wings (the flats)
  • Wedge Issue Salad with Blue State Cheese, Red State Tomatoes, Purple Swing State Onions and Pork Barrel Crispy Bacon Bits
  • Stuff Your Own Ballot Calzones

Buffalo Wings
I followed the instructions in this recipe on Epicurious.com for cooking these wings. The wings are baked on a cooling rack (such as for cookies) placed on top of a rimmed baking sheet. That way the grease & fat dripped down and away from the wings. It worked quite well although next time I will probably spritz the cooking rack with a little spray oil to keep the wings from sticking. If you line the rimmed baking sheet with foil you will really reduce the pans needed to be cleaned at the end of the night. I did not toss the wings with oil as per the recipe, because I felt I was trying to reduce the grease-factor, not add to it; plus the wing sauce already has butter in it.

Per the recipe referenced above, bake the wings at 400º for 45 minutes.

Plain Baked Chicken Wing Drummettes

While the wings were cooking, I melted 2 Tbsp butter in a bowl & mixed in ¼ cup Texas Pete Hot Sauce. After the hot wings came out of the oven, I tossed them in the bowl with the hot sauce mixture. It was the right amount of sauce for my 1¼ lb of wings. They came out on the medium side of mild.

Baked Chicken Wings in Buffalo Sauce

I served them with celery sticks, bottled ranch and bottled blue cheese dressing (Cindy’s brand which I buy at Whole Foods in the produce section).

Parmesan Right Wings
For these wings I used this recipe from TasteOfHome.com

The wings are dipped in melted butter with a pinch of garlic powder and then into a mixture of dried bread crumbs & Parmesan cheese (this is definitely the time to use the stuff from the green can).
They were cooked on a foil-lined cookie sheet but would probably be even better if they had been elevated as the Buffalo wings were. I baked them as directed at 350º for 50-60 minutes.

These were by far the winner of the family taste test.

Wedge Issue Salad
This was just a standard wedge salad with catchy names for all the components.

Wedge cut pieces of iceberg lettuce
Red State Tomatoes – diced tomatoes
Purple Swing State Onions – thinly sliced red (purple) onion rings
Pork Barrel Crispy Bits – cooked & crumbled bacon
Blue State Cheese – blue cheese dressing (the same the I used above for the Buffalo wings)

Stuff your Own Ballot Calzones
I can buy 1-lb bags of pizza dough at my local Publix which is exactly what I did yesterday. Each of two bags was split into two balls and then rolled out so I had the base of 4 calzones ready. I prepared a bunch of toppings and let each person assemble their own calzone.

Toppings I used: diced cooked onions, diced cooked green pepper, sautéed sliced mushrooms, sliced black olives, shredded mozzarella cheese, sliced fresh mozzarella cheese, pepperoni and precooked chicken Italian sausage which I sliced & sautéed. For calzones, the vegetables all need to be precooked or they will release too much liquid into the middle of your calzone.

Calzone Topping Bar

I followed an article in an old issue of Fine Cooking (May 2008) about pizzas, calzones & strombolis. Since it’s not available on their website unless you are a member, I’ve summarized the instructions that I used below.

You could certainly use a purchased pizza sauce or even marinara sauce but I used the quick no-cook sauce from FineCooking.com that was part of the article about calzones.

Before shaping the dough, preheat the oven to 500º.

Shape the dough – Using floured hands and a floured work surface, press one dough ball into a round disk with your fingers. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a circle or oval (or what ever crazy shape your dough wants to make) about ⅜” thick. Dust both sides with flour. Repeat for the other balls of dough.
Fill calzones – spread about ¼ cup of sauce on one half of the dough leaving a narrow border. Cover with about ½ cup of soft melting cheese. Add your choice of additional toppings. Sprinkle with 1 Tbsp grated hard cheese (Parmesan, Romano, Asiago).
Brush the edge of the dough with cool water and fold the empty half of dough over the filling. Crimp edges with a fork.Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (not wax paper). Brush top with olive oil and cut three steam vents (we tried to carve initials in ours).Put baking sheet in oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 450º. Bake until crust turns a rich golden brown. Serve with additional tomato sauce for dipping.

My personal calzone – pepperoni and lots of veggies

I really had fun coming up with catchy ideas for Election Night and it definitely a great way to talk about concepts such as wedge issues and stuffed ballots without sounding too too much like a teacher.

Also, the wings & calzones are fabulous recipes for any football watching you might be doing this Fall. Let me know what you think!

Braces Off Celebration plus Election Dinner Preview

My older son finally got his braces off yesterday & I planned a celebratory meal based on foods he wasn’t allowed to eat with braces on (but did anyway). Here is my adorable son.

Nate without Braces

I wasn’t going to serve candy apples and LaffyTaffy for dinner so I decided on corn on the cob, nuts & crunchy raw carrots.

For the nuts I made a Pecan-Crusted Cod based on this Pistachio-Crusted Cod from FineCooking.com

Pecan-Crusted Cod
  • ½ cup pecan pieces⅓ cup panko
  • 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan (from the green shaker can, horrors)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 pieces of cod
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 425º. Mix pecans, panko, Parmesan & olive oil together in a small bowl (I forgot the olive oil & just ended up drizzling it over the fish after topping with pecan mixture.)

Line a rimmed cookie sheet or broiler pan with foil & mist with spray oil. Place fish pieces on foil & spread with the Dijon. Carefully cover each piece of fish with the pecan topping. Season with salt & pepper. (This is when I drizzled the olive oil on top)Bake for 10-12 minutes until the fish is cooked through and the topping is crisp & browned.

For the raw carrots I just served a veggie tray with bottled ranch (gasp!).

And, we used our standard method for the corn:
  • Shuck corn
  • Lay out piece of foil big enough to wrap one ear in.
  • Put pat of butter in the middle of the foil.
  • Place corn on the butter.
  • Season with salt & pepper.
  • Wrap up.
  • Repeat for all ears
  • Grill corn (that’s Eric’s job – one of these days I need to learn how to use the grill).

Last but not least, the preview for tomorrow’s Election Night Dinner…..

Election 2012 Dinner Ballot

Rustic Gazpacho and Avocado Toasts

I think everyone has a different recipe for gazpacho. Mine is a more rustic style soup, thick with chopped vegetables. It’s also very easy – everything is chopped in my food processor and there is no cooking or straining. When I made it last night I served it with avocado toasts.

Gazpacho
Serves 8 as a first course; serves 4-6 as part of a soup & sandwich/salad lunch

  • 2 lb. ripe tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 English cucumber (not peeled, not seeded) or 2 regular cucumbers, peeled & seeded
  • ½ c. red onion
  • 2 medium green bell peppers, cut into 8 pieces
  • 2 11.5-oz. cans V-8 vegetable juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ¼ c. red wine vinegar
  • ¼ c. extra virgin olive oil
  • Mild Green Tabasco, optional

Place tomatoes in food processor; pulse until finely chopped.

Pour into a large bowl. Cut cucumber into medium chunks; place in food processor. Add red onion to food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to the bowl with tomatoes. Place green pepper into food processor; pulse until finely chopped (oops, no photo). Transfer to bowl. Add V-8, garlic, red wine vinegar & olive oil. Mix well. Season with salt & green Tabasco to taste. Chill thoroughly. Serve in chilled bowls. Offer Green Tabasco for those that want it more spicy.

Avocado Toasts
Here’s just another way to get more of that delicious fat called avocado. We’ve all heard lately how healthy it is for us but sometimes want something other than guacamole & chips. Enter avocado toasts. You need good bread – such as ciabatta or a Tuscan loaf. Slice it thickly & toast (or grill). Slice the avocado and place a slice or two on a piece of toast. Smash with the tines of a fork to cover the toast. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Yum!!

Grilled Mahi Mahi Tacos

My family loves fish. We eat it frequently so I buy it in bulk from Costco (those big bags of individually flash frozen pieces). Then, I just defrost what we need for that night. If you’ve never had fish tacos then you are in for a surprise – they’re amazing. Most restaurants will serve fried fish tacos but I like the fish grilled for several reasons – (1) it’s much healthier, (2) you can actually taste the distinct flavor of the fish, and (3) the smoky flavor from grilling adds another dimension to the tacos.

Eric & I like it with corn tortillas but the boys prefer the flour so I warm up both. There are numerous toppings you can add to your tacos. I like offering a fruit salsa, pico de gallo, shredded cabbage and a chipotle yogurt sauce. You can probably tell after reading through these recipes that I like lots of cilantro and chipotle peppers (which are smoked dried jalapeños). Adjust to your own tastes.

These tacos are a complete meal for 4 but if you want to stretch the fish add a side or two such as rice and beans.

Mahi Mahi & Spicy Chipotle Rub

  • 4 6-oz. pieces Mahi Mahi or other firm white fish such as cod or halibut
  • Olive oil
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 Tbsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. Chipotle Chile Pepper or to taste
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
The Chipotle Chile Pepper is ground chipotle peppers. It is different from “Chili Powder” which is a mix of chili pepper, salt & other spices; the Chipotle Chile Pepper is spicier than Chili Powder.

Chili Powder on the left; Chipotle Chile Pepper on the right

Mix cumin, oregano, chipotle pepper & salt to make rub. Brush fish lightly with olive oil & sprinkle rub over both sides. Refrigerate up to 30 minutes.

Mahi Mahi with chipotle rub ready for the grill

Grill or broil until cooked through. Flake with a fork into large pieces and place in a serving bowl.

Fruit Salsa

  • 1 c. diced fruit – pineapple, mango, watermelon, peach, strawberry or nectarine
  • ½ sweet bell pepper, small dice – red, yellow or orange (color to contrast with the fruit)
  • 1 Tbsp. lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp. red onion, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped

Mix all fruit salsa ingredients together & season with salt. Set aside to combine flavors. This is amazing served with grilled fish or shrimp regardless of what else you are serving.

Pineapple Salsa

Pico de Gallo

  • 1 c. tomatoes, chopped
  • ⅓ c. white onion, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • ¼ tsp. green Tabasco, or to taste

Mix all pico de gallo ingredients together & season liberally with salt. Set aside to combine flavors.

Pico de Gallo

Spicy Chipotle Yogurt Sauce

I make this with fat-free Greek yogurt but you could use sour cream if you prefer.
  • ⅔ c. fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp. adobo sauce from canned chipotle in adobo
  • 2 tsp. lime juice
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped

Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce

Some recipes call for a pepper from the canned chipotle in adobo; others call for the sauce. You will have most of the can leftover. I put it in a plastic container and freeze it (be sure to label it). Then, when you have another recipe that calls for it, just defrost in the microwave, scoop out what you need and return to the freezer.

Mix all chipotle yogurt sauce ingredients together. Set aside to combine flavors. I also offer plain sour cream for those who don’t like their food spicy.

Spicy Chipotle Yogurt Sauce

Tacos

  • Corn or flour tortillas, fajita or soft taco sized – 3 per person
  • 1 bag angel hair cole slaw
  • Fresh limes – cut into wedges for squeezing over your fish

To warm up the tortillas: lay a piece of plastic wrap about 3x the diameter of your tortillas on the counter. Take a piece of paper towel about 2-3x the diameter of your tortillas, wet it thoroughly and squeeze until damp but not dripping. Lay this on the plastic wrap and then place a stack of tortillas in the center. Fold the damp paper towel over the tortillas, then wrap in the plastic wrap.

Wrapping tortillas for warming in the microwave

Microwave until warm, about 30 seconds per side for a stack of about 6-8 tortillas.

Place warm tortillas, grilled fish, fruit salsa, pico de gallo, shredded cabbage, chipotle sauce and lime wedges on the table for dinner to build their own tacos.

Building Your Taco Step 1 – place fish on tortilla

Step 2 – add some salsa (pico de gallo on left; pineapple salsa on right)

Step 3 – add some shredded cabbage

Step 4 – add chipotle yogurt sauce

Take a bite. Close your eyes. And imagine you’re in Mexico. Someone pass the margaritas please. I guess that will have to be in another post….

Roasted Asparagus

I have a love/hate relationship with asparagus. Chilled steamed asparagus – could take it or leave it. Over-cooked boiled asparagus – not so good. Roasted asparagus – heavenly. Once you’ve tried asparagus this way you won’t ever cook it another way. My special finishing touch? A drizzle of raspberry balsamic vinegar right after they come out of the oven.

Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar – this stuff is amazing

Now, asparagus come in a wide range of sizes, from the thick spears down to pencil asparagus. Therefore, I’ve given a wide range of cooking times. Just check them frequently and you should be good.

This is more of a method than a recipe; so quantities are not given.

Ingredients

  • Fresh asparagus, tough woody ends trimmed
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Raspberry balsamic, balsamic or raspberry vinegar

Directions
Preheat oven to 450º. Place asparagus in a baking dish so that most spears are in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt & pepper.

Roast until the tips just begin to get crispy, about 5-15 minutes, depending on size. Drizzle with vinegar and serve.

I served it the other night with Caesar Salad Pasta with Chicken.

Caesar Salad Pasta with Chicken

This is one of my all-time favorite recipes because it’s one that I created completely on my own. Years ago, my hubbie & I used to consistently order this dish at Cheesecake Factory until they eventually took it off their menu. We enjoyed it so much I decided to try to replicate it. It probably took me about a half dozen tries before I perfected it. It’s a hot pasta dish with a sauce flavored like a Caesar dressing, wilted romaine, grilled chicken and toasted bread crumbs. It’s really an entire meal in one dish but if you wanted a side dish then I would recommend something like roasted carrots or baked tomatoes to contrast with the beige and green of the pasta. Without further ado, here is the recipe and photos.

Caesar Salad Pasta with Chicken
Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast pieces
  • ⅓ cup lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 c. fresh bread crumbs
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 packet Hollandaise sauce mix
  • 1 c. fat-free milk (or per instructions on mix)
  • ¼ c. butter (or per instructions on mix)
  • 6-7 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 8-10 rolled anchovy fillets with capers, drained
  • 2-3 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2-3 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2-3 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 box (13.25 oz) thin spaghetti
  • 1 head romaine lettuce or 2 hearts of romaine, cut crosswise into ¾” strips
  • Freshly grated Parmesan for serving

Directions
Make marinade: Combine ⅓  c. lemon juice, 2 Tbsp. olive oil,  1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce, 1 tsp. Dijon and 2 garlic cloves. Add to chicken in a resealable plastic bag and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 4 hours.

Make bread crumbs: Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and bread crumbs and sauté until crumbs are lightly browned and crispy. Set aside.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain & set aside, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking water. Remove chicken from marinade & grill. (if grilling is not an option you can broil or sauté the chicken).  Slice crosswise and set aside, covered with foil to keep warm.

Meanwhile, make Hollandaise sauce according to package directions (mine called for 1 c. milk and ¼ c. butter). Place in a blender the 6 cloves garlic, anchovy fillets, 2 Tbsp. lemon juice, 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce and 2 tsp. Dijon. Blend on low speed to combine. Add hot Hollandaise and purée until well mixed.

Return pasta to pot. Add sauce and romaine. Warm over medium-low heat until romaine just begins to wilt. If sauce is too thick add up to 1 cup of reserved pasta cooking water, ¼ cup at a time. Transfer to serving bowl.  Arrange sliced chicken on top and sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan and a pepper grinder on the side. Sit back & wait for the compliments.

I served it with roasted asparagus because it was in the fridge and I needed to use it before it went bad.

Cod with Corn Sauce and Summer Vegetables

Need a great, easy, healthy meal featuring summer vegetables and suitable for entertaining? Plus, one that doesn’t have to be grilled (since we’ve been having so many severe thunderstorms)? Take a look at this dinner from last week:

I’ve got a story to tell you first about it and then I will give the recipes (4 different components) plus some tips on modifying it for your tastes & needs.

The story: Years ago (15 maybe?), my husband and I used to go to a restaurant called Van Gogh’s in Roswell, GA – a suburb of Atlanta. Our favorite item on the menu was a sea bass recipe with a corn sauce, haricots vert and crispy potato matchsticks on top. Eventually, they changed the menu, to our great disappointment, and then they even changed the restaurant. It is now called Bistro VG and although owned by the same people the focus is different. Fast forward to last year. We were out having dinner at different restaurant called Vinny’s that is owned by the same people. We saw a cod dish on the menu that looked very similar to the sea bass that we used to get. Needless to say, we both ordered it. It was delicious and came very close to what we remembered. Within a week I was trying to recreate that dish at home. This is the result of my experimenting.

Now, on to the cooking!! There are four components to this meal – sautéed cod, a creamy corn sauce (containing no cream), sautéed vegetables and a tomato concasse. The corn sauce and tomato concasse can both be made ahead. The fish and vegetables need to be served immediately after cooking but sauté very quickly on the stove. The corn sauce, tomatoes & vegetables all serve 4-6 people. Cook as much cod as you need.

Creamy Corn Sauce

Modified from a recipe by Ellie Krieger on FineCooking.com

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp flour
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris or Pinot Blanc)
  • 1 3/4 cup low salt chicken broth
  • 2 cups frozen corn
  • 2 tsp butter
  • Salt & pepper

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan and sauté onion until soft but not browned. Add flour & cook 1 minute. Add wine and simmer until reduced in half. Add broth and bring to a boil. Add corn and cook 10-15 minutes.

Take off heat. Purée in blender, being VERY careful of the steam (I take the inner piece off the top and cover it with a kitchen towel). Pour back into the pot and set aside. Rewarm before serving and stir in butter. Season to taste with salt & pepper.

Tomato Concasse

This is really just diced tomatoes that have been marinating for a little. If you have the time & the inclination you should peel & seed your tomatoes. I prefer to use all of the tomato, partly for the nutrients and partly because I just don’t have the time or the inclination.

  • 2 large tomatoes, diced
  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar

Combine tomatoes, oil & vinegar. Let sit at room temperature for up to several hours.  Season with sea salt just before serving.

Cod

1 cod fillet per person

Blot cod fillets dry very well with paper towels. This will help the fish to brown instead of steam. Season both sides with salt & pepper. Heat a large fry pan over high heat. Add about 3 Tbsp regular olive oil. Swirl around to cover pan. Add cod and reduce heat to medium high. Sauté until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Serve immediately.

Vegetables

  • 2 ears fresh corn, kernels removed
  • 8 oz haricots vert (fancy French-style skinny green beans)
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

Heat oil in medium sauce pan over medium heat. Sauté green beans & corn together just until the beans turn bright green. Season with salt & pepper. Serve immediately.

Plating

Spoon some of the corn sauce in the middle of the plate. Place a cod fillet on top of the corn. Spoon some of the corn & green bean mixture on top of the cod (some will fall off, this is okay). Use a slotted spoon to scatter some of the tomatoes around the corn sauce.

Variations

  1. Use salmon, chicken or shrimp instead of the cod
  2. Prepare your protein choice on the grill instead of sautéing
  3. Add some chopped basil to the tomato concasse and serve it with toasted bread as bruschetta
  4. Skip the corn sauce and serve with mashed potatoes, rice or risotto.
  5. Add some kalamata olives to the tomato concasse, use balsamic vinegar instead of the red wine and serve with grilled flank steak
  6. Switch out the vegetables depending on what’s fresh and your preferences – other good choices would be snap peas, red peppers, regular green beans. Adjust cooking times as needed
  7. If your diners are not big vegetable eaters cut the corn sauce, tomatoes & vegetables in half
  8. Only make one or two components of my meal – whatever sounds most appealing