Labor Day Grill-a-Thon

I’m pretty sure there’s a law that says we MUST grill something on Labor Day.  Not being one to intentionally break the law, I will abide.

I’m sticking with an unconventional theme for today’s grilling, after yesterday’s Chicken Satay Salad.  The law says we must grill but it doesn’t say what we must grill.  So, today’s adventure includes red snapper filets, Portobello mushrooms and mini-eggplants. 

As I ponder this seemingly odd grouping of food items I want to find taste sensations that will tie everything together.  I’m going with citrus fruit, garlic and olive oil – – maybe this can be considered “Mediterranean meets the Gulf of Mexico”, who knows?

It’s a small affair this year…no big blow-out party, thanks to the persistent virus!  This will serve three people.

The eggplant will take the longest to cook, followed by the mushrooms and red snapper.

Grilled Mini-Eggplants

Ingredients:

8 to 10 mini-eggplants

3 garlic cloves sliced very thin

3 Tbs olive oil

1 Tbs balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

1 orange, sliced into ½” thick rings and cut in half.

Directions:

Cut the eggplants in half from tip to stem but stop short of cutting completely.

Place several slices of garlic inside each eggplant.

Place the eggplants in a cast iron skillet, or make a reinforced tray out of heavy-duty aluminum foil.

Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the eggplants.

Add a few pinches of salt and pepper.

Bake on a hot grill (400°) for 30 to 45 minutes.  The temperature of the coals will diminish during the grilling process but that’s ok.  Cover the eggplants, if necessary to steam and soften them but finish by uncovering them.

The eggplants are done when they are soft.

Serve hot, with orange slices on the side.

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms

Ingredients:

2 Tbs olive oil

½ tsp balsamic vinegar

2 tsp garlic powder

2 Portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed

½ cup panko bread crumbs

1/3 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese

3 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup chopped green onions

1 tsp oregano

½ tsp thyme

2 Tbs melted butter

Juice of ½ lemon

Directions:

Using a spoon, scrape the gills out of the mushrooms.  This will give you more room for the stuffing.

Mix the oil, balsamic vinegar and garlic powder together. 

Marinate the mushrooms for about 10 minutes. 

Mix panko bread crumbs, Mozzarella, Parmesan, green onions, oregano and thyme together.  Drizzle the butter over the mixture.

Pack the center of the mushrooms with the stuffing, leaving a little room on the edges.  Place the mushrooms on the hot grill and cook until the cheese melts and bubbles, (about 5 minutes).  Remove from the grill, squirt a little lemon juice on the mushrooms and serve warm.

Grilled Red Snapper Filets

Ingredients:

Salt and pepper to taste

Juice and zest of ½ lemon

Juice and zest of 1 lime

3 Tbs olive oil

Directions:

Apply salt and pepper to both sides of the filets.

Squirt lime and lemon juice onto both sides of the fish.

Form a rimmed tray from aluminum foil.

Place a tablespoon of olive oil in the tray and smear both sides of the fish in the oil.  Lay the fish on the foil, skin side down.

Grill for about 10 minutes over medium to high heat.  The fish is done when it becomes firm to the touch and you start to see the oils in the fish sizzling on the foil.

Sprinkle lime and lemon zest over the fish before serving.

Chicken/Basil Sausage with Angel Hair Pasta

Okay, I have to admit, I was flying without a net on this one.  This whole Covid-19 pandemic thing has kept me off balance, in every aspect of my life. 

It’s not uncommon for me to rummage through my pantry or refrigerator to scrape together a meal.  Often times, everything comes together nicely because I know which food items pair well with other items.  Next thing you know, “Dinner is served!”

But this was a case of “Oh no, what am I going to do with all of this stuff?”  That kind of thinking at the onset usually leads to questionable results. 

The only reason I had angel hair pasta was because I picked it up by accident.  I meant to get spaghetti…you know, real spaghetti, not the dainty, angel haired variety.  I have found that I am not very observant in the grocery store, now that I’m wearing a mask and trying not to over-handle items on the shelves.  The chicken sausage looked interesting, so I picked it up.  It was stuffed with chopped basil leaves and it seemed like something fun to try.  I had sun dried tomatoes, packed away in my freezer, a few fresh tomatoes, a few pieces of broccoli, some Parmesan cheese and a few semi-fresh hot dog buns in my pantry.  All of those ingredients are worthy, in their own right, and could be put to good use but my mind drew a blank when it came time to put everything together.

As it turned out, the dish qualified as real food.  The sauce was a little too thick but, the leftovers were great!  I added a cup of water to the leftovers and put it in the microwave for two minutes and voila!  Perfectly, creamy.

I mention all of this to illustrate a point.  Being a home cook isn’t easy, especially with the added stress of a pandemic and civil unrest.  Some  home cooks, myself included, come home every evening and are faced with the daunting task of making something delicious and nutritious and…something that we haven’t already had three times this week, for goodness sake!

Ingredients:

3 cloves roasted garlic, mashed

½ cup sun dried tomatoes

1 ripe Roma tomato, sliced into 1/2” discs

1 tsp fresh rosemary, diced

1 tsp cracked black pepper

1 tsp coarse salt

2 Tbs butter

¼ cup half and half (milk and cream)

2 cups water

2 large pieces of broccoli, stems and leaves included

8 oz chicken sausage (4 links)

2 cups cooked angel hair pasta

½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

A few hot dog buns

Directions:

In a hot skillet, add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tsp of mashed roasted garlic.  Simmer for a minute.

Add the half and half and 1 cup of water and cook for a few minutes.  Add the Parmesan cheese and turn the heat off.  Remove the cheese sauce to a bowl and keep warm.

In a separate pan, boil some water and add the broccoli.  Cook until tender.  Remove and slice into long pieces.  Set aside.

Slice the tomato and set aside.

Cook the pasta according to the directions, drain and set aside.

In a large pan, add a little olive oil and then add a teaspoon of mashed, roasted garlic.  Simmer for a minute and then add the chicken sausage.  Simmer at medium heat, turning the sausages occasionally.

Remove the sausages and cut into 1” pieces.

Return the sausage back to the pan and sauté for a few minutes.

Add the sun dried tomatoes and rosemary, stir for a minute. Add the fresh tomatoes and simmer at low/medium heat for five minutes.

Add the melted cheese mixture.  Stir briefly.

Add 1 cup of water and the cooked broccoli and stir to combine. Add the cooked pasta and mix. Top with a little more grated Parmesan cheese. Serve warm with toasted, buttered hot dog buns.

Remember, making dinner is really just an invitation for families to sit together.  Conversation at the dinner table is the real prize.  Dinner-time conversations will linger in hearts and minds long after the food is gone!

Aloo Fry

This is a fun and easy way to add variety to a meal and a good way to spice up ho-hum potatoes.  You don’t have to serve this with a curry dish but it certainly goes well with one.  This could be served with baked chicken and vegetables or anything else you desire.

I had just finished making a vegetable stock from vegetable scraps and I boiled the potatoes in the stock, instead of boiling them in water.  Regular water would have worked just fine, but the broth seemed right for the dish.

Ingredients:

3 large red potatoes, washed, peeled and diced into ½ inch cubes

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, mashed and minced

1 tsp fresh ginger, minced

Salt, to taste

½ tsp turmeric

1 tsp Garam Masala

1 tsp cumin

1 Tbs lemon juice

1 dry chile de arbol

2 Tbs cooking oil

Cilantro, for garnish

Directions:

Boil the potatoes for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are nearly cooked.  Strain potatoes and rinse under cold water.  Set aside.

Heat oil in a wok and add the chile de arbol.

Remove the chile de arbol after 30 seconds.  Add chopped onions and fry for 2 to 3 minutes on medium heat.

Add ginger and garlic and fry for 2 minutes until the onions are lightly browned.

Add the spices, along with salt to taste.

Add diced potatoes and stir for a minute or two.

Sprinkle some water over the potatoes and cover the wok and cook for 5-8 minutes.  Stir occasionally to prevent the potatoes from sticking to the wok.

Sprinkle a little more water if needed and cook for another 3-5 minutes until the potatoes are thoroughly cooked.

Turn off the heat and add lemon juice.  Add chopped cilantro and serve.

Easter – Mac and Cheese

Well, our first major holiday during the pandemic is nearly over and I hope everyone is safe and well.  I thought that maybe this was our second holiday, considering the pandemic was on the rise during Valentine’s Day but, I believe we were still in “discovery mode” during that time.  The virus was mostly abroad and we only had a few cases reported in the United States.  It’s amazing how quickly our perception changed.

Churches are not having services, which is very odd, especially during a religious holiday.  Many families are separated from each other and there are unfilled seats at our dinner tables.  I’m thankful for our phones and the internet because we still have the ability to reach out to those we love.

But, enough of all that.  This is a food blog.  Let’s dig in.

I am fortunate that my daughter was available to help make this dish.  She’s a mac and cheese aficionado and I was thrilled to have her on my team!

This is a variation of the recipe I posted several months ago.  If you want to see the original post, click here.  The original recipe calls for 2 cups of dry macaroni noodles and I only had 1 ¾ cups this time, so I scaled some of the other ingredients down accordingly and made a few substations.

Easter Mac and Cheese

Ingredients:

3 strips thinly sliced bacon

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 ¾ cups elbow macaroni

¼ cup butter

2 tsp bacon fat

¼ cup flour

3 ½ cups whole milk

½ tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp Tabasco sauce

8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated

8 oz queso Chihuahua (white Mexican cheese), grated

Directions:

Cut the 3 slices of raw bacon into 2” pieces with a sharp knife.  Add the bacon pieces to a small frying pan.  Crowding the pan is recommended because the bacon needs to be cooked at the lowest heat setting and the resulting bacon fat will help regulate the temperature.  Frying the bacon at low heat will  help ensure that the bacon and the bacon fat does not burn.

Add freshly ground black pepper to the bacon.  I probably used between ¼ and ½ teaspoons.  The pepper will flavor the bacon and the fat that it produces.

Remove the bacon once it has become firm.  Set aside.  Reserve the fat for later.

Reserve the bacon fat.

Boil the elbow macaroni in a large pot of water. 

While the macaroni boils, heat the milk in a microwave oven for about a minute or two.  The goal is to warm the milk to about 120°, or just a little hotter than bath water.  Set the milk aside.

Strain the macaroni after it has become soft.  Leave the macaroni in a colander and reserve at least 1/3 cup of the starchy water.

In the same large pot, now empty, add the butter and bacon fat.  Set the heat to low and simmer for a minute. 

Add the flour and whisk, to form a roux. 

Slowly add warm milk, while whisking.  Turn the heat to medium high and keep whisking for a few minutes while the sauce thickens.

Add the Tabasco sauce and mustard.  Whisk to incorporate.  Once the sauce has thickened, turn the heat to low.

Slowly add the grated cheese.  Stir slowly, with a spatula, as the cheese is added. 

When the cheese has melted, add the macaroni and fold, to coat the macaroni.

Pour the mac and cheese in an oven-proof backing dish and bake at 350° for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it starts to bubble.

Remove from the oven and top with crumbled bacon.

Serve with love!

Happy Easter.