Friday, July 29, 2011

Watermelon Burgers & Curry Rubbed Sweet Potato Planks

Call me a liberal, and you'd be right.  I actually have The New York Times delivered to my house every Sunday. Mike takes the entire week to read and savor each section. He always begins with the book review.  I normally read only one section - The New York Times Magazine.  I head for the back of the magazine to a section called "EAT".  The article is always about some type of food, a bit of background is given and a recipe as well.  On July 10, 2011 Mark Bittman did an article called "Throw Another Melon on the Barbie". (Mark describes himself as "... an avid home cook since 1968, a journalist for nearly as long (longer if you count [his] high school yearbook!) and a professional food writer since 1980." He is not a chef but has worked/cooked with a number of chefs from around the world, and has written a few cookbooks.) Mark's article arrived, in our driveway, during our let's try to be vegetarians phase of cooking, eating and blogging. The timing couldn't have been better!

All the pictures of the fruits and vegetables looked great. He made portobello's with a Vietnamese-style marinade, curry-rubbed sweet potato planks, teriyaki cabbage steaks, chilli-rubbed jicama steaks with queso fresco, miso-glazed eggplant slices and last but not least watermelon burgers with cheese. I decided to try the sweet potatoes and the burgers.

The problem was we were only about three weeks into the whole vegetarian/vegan lifestyle. We were both beginning to miss meat.  We fell hook, line and sinker for the words "steaks" and "burgers" that were appended to the grilled vegetables and fruit names. The watermelon may take on the shape of a burger but it definitely is not a burger. 

We were so excited to try these burgers until we took the first bite.  I can't tell you what a disappointment they were. They tasted just how you might imagine -  a grilled hot sweet piece of watermelon that dripped its liquid with each bite. I usually don't blog about my failures in the kitchen, but I wanted to get the word out that a watermelon should never ever be heated or grilled. Enjoy it for what it is and get your "burgers" a more conventional way. 
To be fair I wanted to see if any other home cook/blogger had tried to make this recipe. I found a blog called The Nervous Cook that had a totally different opinion. Perhaps he/she is a much better cook than me or I have the palate of a goat!

At the same time we tried Mark Bittman's Curry-Rubbed Sweet-Potato Planks. There were fantastic, easy to prepare and a side dish that is good for you.

Curry-Rubbed Sweet-Potato Planks
Time 40 to 45 Minutes


  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • salt and black pepper
  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil, like rapeseed or corn
  • Lime wedges for serving
  1. Heat a charcoal or gas grill to moderately high heat, keeping part of the grill cool for indirect grilling, and put the rack about 4 inches from the flame. Combine the curry powder, cumin, coriander and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper in a small bowl. Brush the sweet-potato slices with the oil and rub all over with the spice mixture.
  2. Put the sweet-potato planks on the cool part of the grill and close the grill cover. Cook, checking and turning occasionally, until the flesh is very tender all the way through, 20 to 25 minutes. Move the planks to the hotter part of the grill and cook, turning once or twice, until golden brown on both sides, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature with lime wedges.
You may be tempted to leave off the lime wedges thinking of them more as a garnish instead of an ingredient.  The lime adds a tart flavor to the sweetness of the potato that makes the entire dish quite satisfying. These planks are restaurant worthy but simple enough to do at home.

Life is good - enjoy!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Italian Vegetable Ragout

Today makes my twenty-second day of being a vegetarian and part-time vegan. It has been a wonderful adventure with only one meal being a catastrophe. I tried to stay away from processed vegetarian fare using only fresh or canned ingredients.  To help me in my quest for delicious food I purchased Robin Robertson's Fire & Spice.

What a treat! This book has 200 global recipes that are 100% vegan using readily available ingredients. You get to try the spicy cuisines of the U.S., South America, Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India and Asia.  Trying to decide with ones to blog about is difficult because everything we tried was wonderful.

One of our favorites turned out to be the Italian Vegetable Ragout. This is a perfect recipe to make as you bring in your gardens bounty or after a trip to your farmer's market.

Italian Vegetable Ragout


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 2 zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 2 pounds fresh ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked or 1 (15.5-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth or water
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper (I used 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Cover and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Uncover, stir in the wine and cook until it evaporates. Add the zucchini, tomatoes, marjoram, hot pepper flakes, cannellini beans, broth and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Just before serving, stir in the parsley and basil.

Serves 4

I did not use the olive oil - just sprayed a little vegetable spray in the pan before adding the vegetables. I did not miss it at all or the additional 250 calories it adds to the entree. The recipe easily divides in half. All you need is a crusty loaf of warm Italian bread to make this meal complete.

I'm not sure how long I will be living the vegetarian life, but I do know that for our little planet and for our big bodies it is a great way to eat. The meals I have prepared were delicious and quite inexpensive to make. Summer is a great time to give a vegetarian meal a try. So, on your next meatless Monday give this a try.

Life is good - enjoy!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Summer Cocktails

I've never been much of a cocktail drinker. I'll drink a gin and tonic on occasion as well as a bourbon and coke, but nothing too fancy.  This summer I decided to up my cocktail game and try to make something that was fresh from summers bounty.

The first thing I found was Bobby Flay's Blackberry-Bourbon Iced Tea. This was published in the Food Network Magazine, issue June, 2011.

Blackberry-Bourbon Iced Tea

Bobby Flay's Blackberry-Bourbon Iced Tea
Serves: 4 to 6

  • 3 cups fresh blackberries
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, plus mint sprigs for garnish
  • 6 good-quality black tea bags
  • Good quality Bourbon, to taste (Bobby likes Woodford Reserve)
  1. Combine the blackberries, sugar and chopped mint in a large bowl and mash with a potato masher or wooden spoon; let sit while making the tea.
  2. While the blackberries are macerating, bring 1-1/2 quarts cold water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from the heat, add the tea bags and let steep for about 3 minutes. Remove the tea bags and pour the tea over the blackberry mixture. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour to let the flavors meld.
  3. Pour the mixture through a strainer into a pitcher, pressing on the solids. Cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours. (You can also pour the mixture into a bowl set over an ice bath to cool it faster.)
  4. Serve the blackberry tea over ice in tall glasses and float a shot of bourbon on top of each. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs (like a mint julep).
This was pretty good. Although I didn't think you could taste much of the bourbon - perhaps a touch more would be appropriate here.

My next find comes from the series Mad Men. They did a link on Twitter for their favorite cocktails from the 1960's. I chose their Tom Collins.

Tom Collins 

1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
1½ oz of gin
Lemon slices

Mix sugar, gin, and juice over ice in mixing glass. Stir, strain in cocktail glass with ice, and top off with soda water. Garnish with lemon slices.
This is basically a lemonade with gin. So light and refreshing. This is the kind of drink that can  sneak up on you so take your time and enjoy.

My last selection. a watermelon vodka slush came from that was submitted by Michael Allbright.

Watermelon Vodka Slush
Prep Time: 10 minutes     Ready IN: 4 hours & 20 minutes     Servings: 4

4 cups watermelon flesh, seeds removed
2 fluid ounces simple syrup
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup vodka
2 fluid ounces melon liqueur
4 twists lemon zest, garnish

In a food processor, puree the watermelon flesh. Pour the pureed watermelon into empty ice cube trays and freeze for at least 4 hours. Also, freeze martini glasses.
In a blender combine the frozen watermelon cubes, simple syrup, lemon juice, vodka and melon liqueur; blend until smooth. Pour into 4 frozen martini glasses and garnish each with a lemon twist.

This was really fun to eat. Although I thought it was a bit bitter. I remedied this by tripling the simple syrup. I also substituted triple sec for the melon liqueur.

I have an ice cream freezer which attaches to my mixer.  I put the pureed watermelon and the rest of the ingredients into it, stirred it up and placed the whole thing in the freezer overnight. The next day I attached it to the mixer and blended it to a beautiful slush mixture. (The alcohol keeps the mixture from freezing solid.)

I also had no idea how to make a lemon zest for the garnish. YouTube came to my rescue with a video, and it turns out that I had the tool I needed for years in my kitchen tool drawer.

Life is good - enjoy!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Art of a Poached Egg

In May of this year I talked about my obsession with the simple poached egg. My problem is I can't make them very well.  I've watched videos of famous chefs and not so famous chefs gently dropping the egg into simmering/swirling vinegar laced water. I found myself truly lacking in water swirling and egg dropping skills. (It kind of like trying to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time.) Last month "Bon Appetit Magazinecame up with a clever way of microwaving an egg in a glass container - poof a poach egg requiring no skill. I was a failure at this as well. It was either undercooked or overcooked. While visiting my daughter Katie, in Charleston, SC, I discovered a new tool that is fool proof. Katie took me to a store called Charleston Cooks. (This store sells all kinds of high end kitchen tools, barware, cookware and gourmet food. ) There I found a Poach Pod. This is a flexible silicone cooking tool for poaching eggs, baking and molding. It floats in water during cooking. I paid $12.00 for two - has them for a bit less.

To use them you spray each pod with cooking spray and drop the egg into the pod. You then drop them gently into a pan with 1 to 1-1/2 inchs of simmering water.

Cover the pan for about four minutes and you have a perfectly cooked runny poached egg. Now lift the pod out of the water and the egg will slide right out of the pod.

This beautiful egg became part of my breakfast this morning. I made a bowl of creamy grits and topped them with sauteed swiss chard, from my garden and then added the poached egg. This is goodness at its best!

Life is good - enjoy!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Cuban Chimichurri

Cilantro, Basil
Parsley & Rosemary

My summer garden is running wild with copious amounts of fresh herbs. I love this time of year, but I run out of ideas for what I should do with all this goodness. A great idea came out of the June/July 2011 issue of  "Taste of Home". Taste of Home allows home cooks to contribute recipes to their publication. Elaine Sweet from Dallas, Texas contributed this one. She says that "[t]his fresh sauce complements steak wonderfully, but try it on a burger. Your taste buds will thank you!"

Cuban Chimichurri

Prep/Total Time: 20 minutes Yield: 1 cup

  • 7 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1-1/4 cups packed fresh cilantro sprigs
  • 3/4 cup packed fresh parsley sprigs
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lime peel
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • grilled steak
  1. Place garlic in a small food processor; cover and chop. Add the cilantro, parsley, pepper flakes and black pepper; cover and process until finely chopped.
  2. Add the vinegar, lime juice, soy sauce and lime peel. While processing, gradually add oil in a steady stream. Serve with the grilled steak.
I really liked this sauce.  It is spicy with a taste that is clean and bright. I'm thinking that it would be fantastic on scrambled eggs or added to Mexican dishes.

Life is good - enjoy!