Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cooking Fresh While the Heirlooms are in Season

I adore heirloom tomatoes and look forward to this season all year! I came up with a fresh twist on eggplant parm using ripe heirlooms. All you need is the tomatoes, an eggplant, fresh mozzarella cheese and a grill.

First, preheat the grill and adjust to a medium-low heat. Slice the eggplant lengthwise into 4–6 slices (depending on the size). Remove the skin from the two outer slices. Brush each slice lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill the eggplant, turning often to make sure it does not burn. While the eggplant is on the grill, slice and lightly salt the tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, and gather a hand full of fresh basil. Set the tomatoes aside. As soon as you pull the eggplant from the grill, layer it in a stack with the fresh mozzarella and some of the basil and allow the cheese to melt for a couple of minutes. Drizzle the stack with a little good extra virgin olive oil and top with the tomatoes and remaining basil! The only thing left to do now is enjoy! Bon Appetito!!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Adventures in Barbecue

Barbecue. To me, the word alone invokes insatiable hunger for pulled pork in a spicy, not-too-sweet vinegar-based (or tomato-based) sauce topped with fresh coleslaw on a soft round roll. I wasn't always a fan of barbecue, but that all changed once I realized the reason I didn't care for it was that I had never had really good barbecue.

When my husband Steve and I embarked on our cross country journey moving from Philly to our temporary home in Phoenix, we had to come up with some sort of foodie subtext for the trip. All who know us can appreciate this aspect of the trip! We took a southern route to spend time with my family in Houston mid-drive, so we decided to try as many local barbecue joints as we could along the way. We tasted barbecue from Memphis to west Texas. The best that we encountered was a roadside stand in Arkadelphia, AR — Alan's Bar-B-Q. We tried brisket and pulled pork. The pulled pork was so amazing we had to split a second sandwich. Even Allie, our lab/border collie mix, got a nibble and was begging for more. Perfectly spicy and not too sweet — wow!

Since then, we've had some barbecue at restaurants and at home — most recently the barbecue dry rub and companion sauce that I wrote about a couple weeks ago. We had another barbecue encounter in July. We had a few friends over for the 4th and opted for a East Carolina barbecue extravaganza. I roasted a Boston butt pork roast with a few secret ingredients and dressed it with a vinegar based, true Carolina style barbecue sauce that I created based on a combination of recipes in cookbooks and online. Steve made a cool coleslaw to top off the sandwiches. We made collard greens and baked beans to complement the pulled pork — a true East Carolina feast!

I recently got the opportunity to try San Diego's best Barbecue. Apparently Phil's BBQ used to be located in Mission Hills and was constantly jam packed. The were forced to close their doors after a fire and reopened in Point Loma some time later. The new location is all I know and it is fabulous! No table service, just get in line — a long one at peak times — and place your order at the counter. Find a seat at the bar while you wait and have a cold draft beer from their frost coated tap. My friends had beef and chicken. Both were tasty, but I think my pulled pork sandwich stole the show. They pile it so high it is hard to pick it up, but it is worth the sticky fingers. The sauce had the right savory-to-sweet balance for my taste. The sandwich was paired with perfectly crisp french fries that I sprinkled with Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning that was sitting on the bar to give them a perfect kick! Now I just can't wait to take Steve there — Hmmm, maybe dinner tonight!

Summer Grilled Chicken Salad

I alway think of my dear friend Julie when I make my favorite summer salad. Julie is fellow foodie who I met in soon after moving to Hoboken and quickly became friends. I remember so vividly stopping by Julie's apartment in Jersey City one summer evening to visit and have a bite of dinner. The salad she made for me would be my inspiration for a salad I make all the time, especially in summer months. It is a quick, easy and healthy summer dinner that is a delight to prepare and to eat.

I start by pounding out a chicken breast, and marinating it in a simple mixture of lime juice, olive oil, a spoonful of Dijon mustard, Herbs de Provence, salt and pepper. Let that marinate at least 15–20 minutes. In the mean time, fire up the grill, prepare a bed of salad greens (I like the herb salad spring mix), and toast up a handful of walnuts in a dry pan, flipping often and watching carefully.

Once the chicken is on the grill, dress the greens with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of good olive oil. Crumble some goat cheese over the greens. When the chicken is done and has rested, slice it in strips and place it on the salad, topping it with sliced fresh strawberries and the toasted walnuts. Serve with a nice chardonnay or sauvignon blanc for a perfect meal.

Bon Appetit!!