Asian-Inspired Turkey Lettuce Wraps

For quick weeknight dinners at home I like to create a meal with a buffet of choices – similar to a taco bar – so that each person can customize to their own tastes. I like mine with lots of extra vegetables; Andy likes just meat and carbs. Nate & Eric just like it all. So, this is an Asian-inspired spin on a taco bar. You cook up the meat mixture and then put out as many topping choices as you want.

Turkey Lettuce WrapsAsian Turkey Lettuce Wraps – meat filling
  • ¼ cup toasted sesame oil
  • 1½ lb. ground turkey (or chicken or pork)
  • 3 cups coarsely chopped raw mushrooms
  • 8 oz. can water chestnuts – finely chopped
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. rice vinegar
Heat sesame oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Cook ground turkey and mushrooms until turkey is thoroughly cooked and mushrooms have lost their liquid. Meanwhile, mix together the brown sugar, soy sauce & rice vinegar. Add water chestnuts plus sauce mixture to turkey and cook for several minutes to completely coat the turkey. Serve with wrap and topping options.
Asian Turkey Lettuce Wraps – wrap & topping options
  • Small flour tortillas (to make it kinda like Mu Shu Turkey)
  • Lettuce leaves – iceberg or Bibb lettuce work best
  • Carrots – shredded or buy the bags of julienned carrots
  • Peanuts – chopped
  • Cashews – chopped
  • Almonds – slivered or sliced
  • Red bell pepper – cut into small pieces
  • Cilantro
  • Mint
  • Cucumbers – cut into small dice
  • Plum sauce
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • Scallions – thinly sliced
  • Spinach – thinly sliced
  • Angel hair cabbage
  • Noodles – spaghetti or Somen noodles cooked, rinsed and tossed with equal amounts sesame oil and soy sauce
  • Cooked sushi-style  or other short grain rice (aka sticky rice)
  • Radishes – shredded
  • Sweet chile sauce

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

Polenta with Italian Sausage and Peppers ‘n Onions

If you’ve never had polenta, think of it as Italian grits. This is comfort food; and, after dropping my iPad and cracking the screen yesterday, it was just what I needed. While polenta is good with all kinds of food, we especially like it with Italian sausage and peppers & onions. This is fabulous fare for your Labor Day cookout or fall tailgating.

Polenta
Serves 4-6
  • 3 cups water, to boil
  • 1⅓ c. plain cornmeal
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 c. (16 oz) grated sharp cheddar
Bring the 3 cups of water to boil. Add dried herbs. Combine 2 c. cold water and cornmeal in a bowl. Immediately pour the cornmeal mixture into the boiling water. Stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium and cook until polenta thickens, stirring constantly.
When the polenta is thick but still pour-able, remove from the heat. Add cheese and stir until combined. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
You can also pour it into a baking dish (spritz with spray oil first) and then broil it. Or, after pouring into the baking dish, chill it and lift slices out (like brownies) to be grilled.
Italian Sausage and Peppers & Onions
I buy the sweet Italian chicken sausage at my grocery and then either Eric grills it or if the weather isn’t cooperating it gets sautéed as below.
Same for the peppers & onions.
Sometimes I serve marinara sauce on the side for dipping (delicious with the polenta, too).
Last night I also sautéed some mushrooms for an additional side.
And, in case you were curious, my iPad is not doomed. I was able to drop it off at an Apple reseller store last night to get the glass replaced and should have it back this weekend.

Oregano and Kalamata Olive Vinaigrette

This is part sauce and part vinaigrette. It’s perfect when you need to perk up plain grilled chicken. It’s also fantastic on grilled zucchini and grilled lamb kebabs. And, it’s really good as a salad dressing over lettuce, tomatoes or potatoes. I just love a versatile sauce.

Oregano & Kalamata Olive Vinaigrette

  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 Tbsp. capers
  • ½ c. kalamata olives
  • 3 shallots
  • 1 Tbsp. Country Dijon mustard
  • c. red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
  • ½ c. extra virgin olive oil

Place garlic, capers, olives, shallots, mustard & vinegar in mini food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to a medium bowl. Whisk in oregano and olive oil. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Grilled Zucchini and Chicken
To prep zucchini, slice lengthwise into quarters. Then slice off the spongy seed-filled tip of the triangle.

Prepped Zucchini

Brush zucchini with olive oil. My husband, Eric, does the grilling in my house. I guess one of these days I’ll have to learn how to use the grill. In the meantime, here’s a picture of him grilling the zucchini and some boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

Eric grilling chicken and zucchini

Dinner:

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.