Friday, July 31, 2009

Blink - The summer is half over!

Unbelievable! I blinked my eyes and the summer is half over. The act of turning the calendar page to August (a theoretical act of course, my calendar is computerized!) starts my brain racing towards the fast approaching holidays.

August is not too early to start planning, inviting and even getting a head start on some of the preparing. Because of the "clutter" of school starting, and the holidays right on top of each other, you can keep your frenzy to a minimum by starting your game plan now.

This year, the chagim mostly fall out on shabbat. This overlap can be viewed as a plus or minus, depending on your personal point of view. I see the minuses as having to prepare all the food for two days of chag ahead of time, with no last minute "chag cooking", and losing Sundays as errand days. On the plus side, fewer vacation days to use for chagim. It doesn't really matter whether it's a plus or a minus anyway, since it is!

My holiday organization goes something like this.....

I start off with a big sheet of paper (or a fresh document on the computer) and list (leaving spaces between each) every lunch and dinner of every holiday from Rosh Hashanah through Simchat Torah. The I fill in the annual traditions (things like...we always go to Aunt Bertha the first night of Sukkot). Next would be to consider who I want to invite for which meal, keeping in mind how late lunch will be after Rosh Hashana services (don't invite people with young kids), and that my shul generally has a terrific kiddush on sukkot (no one will be hungry!). As I go along, I jot down whether I think the meal will be meat or dairy.

Once invitations have been issued and accepted, meal planning begins. More about that next week.

Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

To Pound Or Not To Pound

Chicken cutlets may be more expensive than chicken on the bone, but have almost no waste, are easy and quick to cook, and nearly everyone likes them. When they go on sale, I buy several family packs, spend time trimming them, separating the tenderloins, and packaging them in bags of four cutlets each before they go in the freezer. The tenderloins are packaged in larger bags (always with the amount written on it), to make chicken fingers when a big group of kids are coming over. This way, I can take out just the right amount from the freezer. The small packages defrost quickly, and even if I end up cooking a few more cutlets than are needed for one night's dinner, leftovers seems to magically disappear from the refridgerator overnight!

The decision whether to pound the cutlets thin or not depends on the recipe. Shnitzel - always pounded! That way the cutlets, once breaded, cook quickly and evenly and the chicken is cooked through as soon as the coating is crisp.

For grilled cutlets, whether or not to pound depends on how the cutlets will be eaten and when. If it's a large party and people are eating hot off the grill, it's best to pounds the cutlets, give a quick marinade and then they grill in just a minute or two on each side. For cutlets cooked before shabbat to eat warm for shabbat dinner or sliced and eaten for shabbat lunch, it's best to grill without pounding. Grill marinated, unpounded cutlets over a lower heat and they will stay moist and juicy, and can be sliced on the bias for sandwiches, shredded to be added to green salads or pasta salads, or simply eaten.

This past shabbat, I made a spicy marinade and the chicken was delish!

Spicy Grilled Chicken Cutlets

8 skinless, boneless chicken cutlets

1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup lime juice
shredded zest from one lime
1 clove garlic, shredded or crushed
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine all marinade ingredients in a zipper bag and mix well. Add cutlets. Put in refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours. Grill over low or indirect heat.

Note: For shabbat lunch, we made sandwiches on whole wheat challah rolls spread lightly with mayonnaise, chicken sliced on the bias, arugula and fresh, ripe tomato slices - YUM

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Honeydew Lime Soup - Spicy, Sweet and Tangy

Since we had no company, I felt free to take liberties with new recipes last shabbat, using more new recipes than I would customarily tackle, and tinkering with the recipes right away. There were two great successes - one was was my variation on the Honeydew Lime Soup recipe I'd come across by making the spicy feature much more pronounced. The result was fantastic. This soup was cooling both by being cool, and by it's strong spice factor, which is known to increase sweating, thus cooling you down. It's quick, simple and delicious..

Honeydew Lime Soup

1 5-6 pound honeydew melon, cut into 1 inch chunks
2 teaspoons honey (omit if melon is super-sweet)
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
1/2 jalapeno
1/2 teaspoon salt
Extra cilantro leaves for garnish (whole or chopped)

In batches, puree all ingredients in food processor until smooth. Chill well and stir before serving. Garnish with either whole or chopped cilantro.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Quiet Summer Shabbat Menu

Due to some minor kitchen uproar (a little project tends to turn into a big one....), no company this shabbat - but that's no reason not to eat delicious foods to celebrate shabbat. Of course being in the throws of hot, sticky weather, oven and stove use will be kept to a minimum! I will prepare several mains and side dishes, and we will pick and choose for dinner, lunch and seudat shlishit as the mood strikes...

This week I'm making:

Spicy Honeydew Lime Soup

Grilled Steak
Spicy Grilled Chicken Cutlets
Marinated Grilled Vegetables
Cole Slaw
Israeli Salad
Tomato Basil Pasta (see earlier post for recipe)
Grilled Potatoes
Herbed Summer Rice (see earlier post for recipe)

For dessert, I'll make Spiked Watermelon Salad with Mint and unless the humidity breaks, it will be one of the rare weeks where the bakery will get my business!

Shabbat Shalom and happy air conditioning to all!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Recipes By Request / Lessons Learned / Tapas Potatoes

There is great satisfaction to a blogger to know your posts are being read - similar to a cook's satisfaction in being asked for a recipe. When a guest enjoys a meal I've prepared so much that s/he follows up with a phone call or note asking for a recipe - that's a fantastic thrill. And it's also a great thrill for me when readers post comments and ask for recipes.

Last week, a reader commented about a menu I'd posted years ago, requesting the recipes. It happens that I recall the menu well because I'd broken one of my cardinal rules of menu prep - no more than one new recipe per meal! The post/menu in question is and both the soup and the salad were new recipes - that were both bombs!

The Tapas Potatoes - my variation on a recipe I read in Kosher by Design Entertains is always a big hit!

Debra's Tapas Potatoes

3 pounds red potatoes, divided
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 red onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, finely minced (or use microplane grater)
28 ounce can whole tomatoes in juice, drained and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro, divided
Juice of one lime
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or less, to taste)
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco (less or none to taste)
2 teaspoons salt

Peel potatoes and cut in 1/2 inch dice. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in large skillet over medium high heat, saute 1/2 of the diced potatoes, stirring occasionally until browned on all sides. When potatoes are browned, and crispy, about 10-15 minutes, remove to a bowl and repeat with two more tablespoons of oil and the other half of the potatoes. Set all potatoes aside.

Bring skillet back to heat, add last tablespoons of oil. Saute onion until soft, add garlic, saute one more minute, stirring frequently. Add tomatoes, lime juice, cumin, crushed red pepper, Tabasco and salt. Bring to boil. Add potatoes, stir, cook uncovered fifteen minutes. Serve hot or room temperature.

Note: The spices are to my kids' tastes - super spicy! Adjust accordingly

Friday, July 17, 2009

Herbed Summer Rice

Made a terrific rice recipe last shabbat - perfect for the summer with all the fresh herb flavors coming through - and also perfect since the stove is only on for 25 minutes! The rice was also delicious cold.

Herbed Summer Rice

1 vidalia onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
2 1/2 cups water
2 teaspoons salt (or less to taste)
3 tablespoons chopped italian parsley
3 tablespoons chopped dill
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon

Sautee onion in over medium high heat for about five minutes, until soft, but not browned. Stir in rice, stirring around for about a minute. Turn heat to high, add water and salt. When water boils, stir, cover, turn heat to low and cook 20 minutes.

Turn off heat and let rice sit for 10 minutes. Stir in herbs.

Serve and enjoy.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Grilled Summer Salad

I was once served a meal where every dish included the hostesses favorite summer ingredients - corn, zucchini, tomatoes and basil - in some way.

Browsing Epicurious this week, I came across a Zucchini Corn Salad recipe, with all raw ingredients - I thought it would be a good starting point - but made a few (ok a lot) changes.

Here's what I came up with:

Deb's Grilled Summer Salad

4 medium zucchini
2 ears corn
extra virgin olive oil
1 container grape tomatoes
Juice of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon salt (more or less to taste)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (more or less to taste)
large handful basil leaves, cut into fine strips

Slice the zucchini lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices and brush with olive oil. Grill for 2 minutes on each side on preheated grill. Brush corn with olive oil and grill, turning to cook all sides, until cooked with light grill marks. Set zucchini and corn aside to cool.

When cool, cut zucchini intro 1/2 inch dice. Cut corn from cobs. Half grape tomatoes. Put all vegetables in large bowl. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper and mix well. Gently stir in basil. Toss and serve.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Summer Shabbats

Like most people without central air conditioning, I hesitate turning on the oven in the summer. A cool evening will inspire me to bake lots of cookies and get them in the freezer, but regular shabbat meal planning revolves around the barbecue and lots of salads. While making salads frequently requires boiling some water (for the pasta, potatoes or rice), the stove and boiling water don't produce enough heat to bother me.

Unless company is coming, I prefer barbecuing several kinds of meat, making four or five salads, and serving both Friday night dinner and shabbat lunch as buffets, letting everyone pick at their favorites.

One of my favorite summer dishes is Fettuccine with Raw Tomato Basil Sauce. It's wonderful served fresh, with bright green strands of basil, and tomatoes that still have a bit of bite to them, and less elegant looking, but even yummier the next day when the fettuccine has had a chance to really absorb all the flavors.

Fettuccine with Raw Tomato Basil Sauce

1 pound fettuccine
1 bunch basil
6 ripe tomatoes (not overly ripe)
2 cloves garlic, crushed or microplaned (see 6/9/09 post) (more or less to taste)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)

Cook fettuccine according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, rinse basil very well, pat dry, stack the leaves and slice into very thin strips (referred to as chiffonade )
Dice the tomatoes into 1/4 inch pieces, making sure to reserve all the juices. The best way to do this is to put your cutting board inside a baking pan. Put tomatoes, basil and garlic in a large bowl. Add oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper (if using). Pour hot drained pasta over tomato mixture and gently toss together. Allow to cool to room temperature.

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