Souvlaki Pork Chops with Grilled Zucchini Salad

The warmth of summer is fading, and I’m not complaining. My favorite things to cook are autumn and winter foods, and I’m scheming to bring exciting new flavors into the new season.

But we still have to eat between now and then, and the grill has been our BFF this summer, especially as we have challenged ourselves to elevate our home-cooked meals while so many restaurants were closed. Here’s a quick look back at some of the fun grilled foods I’ve put on my plate since I launched Comfort du Jour:


Before the sun sets on summer 2020, I’m throwing down a Mediterranean twist on simple grilled pork chops. I love the flavors of souvlaki, the Greek specialty that highlights the brightness of lemon and pungency of garlic, and is often applied to chicken or pork on skewers, so why not just skip chopping the chops into chunks and just marinate them as they are?

Does this look healthy and delicious, or what?

And tasty grilled meat deserves a fresh grilled side, so I have also whipped up a flavorful, healthy salad made with fresh summer tomato, crunchy red onion and marinated grilled zucchini squash. Here we go!


Ingredients

2 thick sliced, bone-in pork chops

4 cloves garlic, minced

Juice of one lemon

1 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar (or any white wine vinegar + pinch of sugar)

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I used Greek Kalamata)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


For the salad:

1 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut lengthwise into wedges

1 medium firm tomato, cut into chunks

2 thick slices red onion, cut into chunks

6 Kalamata olives, drained and chopped

Dressing: 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, 1 Tbsp. white balsamic, a few shakes of garlic-pepper seasoning, 1/4 tsp. dried oregano, whisk in 2 Tbsp. olive oil.

Feta cheese, cut into cubes

Fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish


Instructions

Take a walk through the slideshow for visual instruction, and refer to the notes below if you need them. Remember, you can download the recipe in PDF format to try it yourself, and please let me know how it comes out for you!

  1. Season pork chops with salt and pepper.
  2. In a glass measuring cup, combine lemon juice, vinegars, oregano, salt and pepper. Drizzle olive oil into the blend, whisking constantly, until mixture is emulsified. Stir in minced garlic.
  3. Pour most of the marinate over the pork chops in a glass dish and set aside for 30 minutes. Turn once or twice during marinating time to ensure even distribution of flavor.
  4. Pour the remaining marinade over the zucchini strips in another dish. Salt and pepper the zucchini and set those aside while you chop and prep the remaining salad ingredients.
  5. Mix together the dressing ingredients and set that aside, giving the dried oregano time to hydrate.
  6. Prepare grill and pre-heat to about 450° F (medium). Carefully place the pork chops over direct heat and sear each side about 1 minute to seal in juices. Then reduce the heat to about 350° F. The olive oil may cause flare-ups, so keep that cold beer in your hand to splash if necessary. Just kidding; either keep a squirt bottle nearby or use a grill tool to try to put out the flare or move the chops.
  7. Continue to cook for about 10 minutes each side, or until juices start to run clear when pierced with a knife tip.
  8. When you turn the chops, pile the zucchini onto the grill also, and turn them frequently to cook evenly and to get those beautiful grill marks.
  9. Allow the finished chops to rest and chop the zucchini spears into bite-sized chunks. Immediately toss the grilled zucchini with the rest of the salad ingredients. Whisk the dressing briefly, then pour over salad and toss gently to combine. Scatter cubes of feta and fresh parsley over salad and serve alongside the pork chops.
Grill, I’m gonna miss you…

Want to print this recipe?


Twice-Grilled Meatloaf

One of my favorite things about summer is backyard grilling. The food is always great, of course, but there’s also something sweetly nostalgic about the experience—the aroma of searing meat, the feel and taste of the cold beer in hand, the far-off sound of a neighbor’s lawn mower, trees swaying in gentle breezes, mosquitoes ravaging my ankles—oh, wait, let’s scratch that last one (so to speak).

But I don’t need to explain the joy of the barbecue to you. Everyone with a backyard or patio looks forward to the same for the fleeting months we have to enjoy it, and we all have our favorite foods to grill, even if it’s as simple as burgers and franks. One thing that has changed at our house is the range of things we cook on the grill. In the past, it was always the meat on the grill, but pretty much everything else was prepared and cooked inside. Why is that? So many other things are possible on the grill, including the chicken romaine Caesar I mentioned at the start of summer, and the grilled vegetables we did for the ratatouille pizza last month. I want to keep knocking down the boundaries of grilling and see what other comfort foods can be twisted up, Comfort du Jour style.

And today, meatloaf, I’m looking at you!

No, not you, Meat Loaf. Whew, what a hot, sweaty mess. But thanks for all the memories, especially “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” because that was freaking awesome. I’m still singing along with that one.

What I’m talking about is the classic comfort food, the blue-plate special, the all-time best example of a home-cooked meal. And I want to make it on the grill.

Just as we don’t need to wait until summer to enjoy ice cream, I believe it’s time to pull meatloaf to center stage outside of winter months. I’m a big fan of this shaped meat classic, and I’ll be excited in the cooler months to show you some of my favorite ways to stuff it with other great flavors. But how in the world does one grill a meatloaf, without burning it or drying it out or having it fall apart and down into the grill? And wouldn’t it take forever? For answers to all my “what-ifs,” I went straight to the highest authority on all things—the internet. And according to grill manufacturer Weber, meatloaf is not only possible on the grill, it’s fantastic. Check out Chef Larry Donahue’s recipe for yourself if you’d like, or stick with me to see how things went with our grilled (not once, but twice!) meatloaf.

I followed Chef Larry’s recipe nearly to the letter, except that we added more garlic, adjusted ratio on the sausage (equal amount felt like too much for our taste) and came up with our own creative solution for draining the cooking grease.

This recipe will cook over indirect heat, and you’ll need a rectangular foil pan to use as a drip pan below the meatloaf. These foil pans are inexpensive and usually available next to foil and plastic wraps in any supermarket.


Ingredients

1 medium onion, diced (about the size of a tennis ball)

3 cloves garlic, minced

Extra virgin olive oil

12 saltine crackers, crumbled

1/4 cup whole milk

1 lb. lean ground beef (90/10)

1/2 lb. seasoned pork sausage* (we used a bulk breakfast type)

2 large eggs

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

1 Tbsp. dried parsley flakes (or 1/3 cup fresh chopped, if you have it)

Kosher salt and black pepper


For the glaze

1/2 cup organic ketchup

3 Tbsp. packed brown sugar

2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Several shakes hot sauce (to taste)


Instructions

Chef Larry’s recipe included instructions for preparing a charcoal grill, but we did ours on the gas grill so our setup was simple. Here’s a quick visual run-through of our adventure, with detailed steps below:


  1. Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil and sauté onions until softened. Add garlic and sauté several more minutes until the onions are tender and translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a large bowl.
  2. In a food processor, combine the cracker crumbs and milk, and process into a paste.
  3. Add the ground meats to the processor bowl and pulse until combined. This goes against my usual rule of “don’t overwork the meat,” and it reminds me of the technique I used a few months ago with the gyros at home recipe. Processing helps make the meat a cohesive mass and this will help it hold its shape on the grill. Transfer the meat mixture to the bowl, along with all remaining meatloaf ingredients and mix with your hands until it’s evenly blended.
  4. Shape meat mixture into a rectangular loaf shape, about 9 by 5 inches. Mixture should be tight and compact so it will keep its shape. The meatloaf may be covered and refrigerated at this point if you wish to work ahead. Otherwise, proceed to step 5.
  5. If you’re using a gas grill, preheat it to 400° F. Turn off the burners under the meatloaf side, but keep them going on the other side. If you have a suitable heat-safe rack, use it inside the foil pan. Otherwise, place the loaf on a pile of scattered thick-sliced onion rings inside the foil pan to aid in draining the grease. For charcoal grill, prepare the grill for indirect cooking, and heat the coals until they are glowing like the metal on the edge of a knife (about 400° F). Place the foil drip pan below the top grill grate, next to the coals. Lay the meatloaf on a double thickness of heavy aluminum foil on the rack above the foil pan, and carefully press on the aluminum foil in several places between grates to create “drip channels” for excess grease.
  6. Grill with cover closed for about 45 minutes.
  7. Combine the glaze ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture is slightly thickened.
  8. Check meatloaf at 45 minutes. If it has formed a crust (oh, how beautiful is that??), brush a layer of glaze over the loaf and cook 10 more minutes. Repeat glazing two more times, then remove meatloaf from the grill and let it rest a few minutes on a cutting board.
  9. Here comes the fun part. You noticed the name of this recipe is “twice-grilled,” right? Cut the meatloaf into thick slices and put them back on the grill, this time directly over the heat until they develop grill marks. Move them to the indirect side, glaze them again, and cook until the glaze is to your liking. Ain’t no doubt about it, we are doubly blessed.
Yes, dear meatloaf, I swear I will love you ’til the end of time.

All my worries and “what-ifs” were put to bed with this easy recipe. The meatloaf had a terrific moist texture, the grilled-in glaze flavor was out of this world, and the whole thing was on the table in the same amount of time as if I’d baked it in the oven. It was delicious, didn’t heat up the house, and you can bet I’ll do it again—next time with a flavor twist!

Comfort food perfection.

We served our twice-grilled meatloaf with these Easy-Cheesy Grilled Scalloped Potatoes. Go get that recipe, too, and start cooking up some comfort in your own back yard.


Want to print this recipe?


Easy-Cheesy Grilled Scalloped Potatoes

I’m breaking all the cooking rules on some all-time classic comfort foods, as I’m determined to find new ways to prepare foods that have too long depended on the oven. It’s hot enough this time of year, so I’m turning off the oven and moving dinner prep outside.

We won this battle at our house recently with a twice-grilled meatloaf, which we served up with these cheesy-good, grilled scalloped potatoes. This Comfort du Jour twist was simple to whip up because it doesn’t involve a cream sauce (that would be a disaster on the grill), but it was every bit as delicious, with tender potatoes, thin slices of onion and two kinds of cheese—pepper jack for a little kick, and crumbled bleu cheese for an interesting touch of funk. The potatoes were great just like this, but I’m certain they’d also be good with cheddar, smoked gouda or any other favorite cheese.

I used non-stick aluminum foil as the cooking vessel, so cleanup was—well, nothing! Seriously, is there anything to not love about this?

This was perfection. Classic comfort foods, with a Comfort du Jour twist that will become a summer go-to for us.

Ingredients

5 medium Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed clean and sliced 1/4″ thick* (see picture tip, below)

1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced

Extra virgin olive oil

3 oz. sliced or shredded pepper jack cheese

1/4 cup bleu cheese crumbles

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper


*Tip

Whole potatoes can slip really easily when you’re trying to slice them thin. Either use a mandoline (be careful there, too), or try this easy trick. Slice a very thin section off one side of the potato, so it will lay flat on your cutting board, making it easier to safely cut it into slices.

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, drizzle olive oil over the potato slices and give them a good tossing to coat them.
  2. Arrange a single layer of potatoes on a large rectangle of heavy aluminum foil (I recommend the non-stick type).
  3. Add a layer of onion slices, season with salt and pepper and distribute half amounts of each cheese.
  4. Repeat with another layer of each ingredient.
  5. Place a second sheet of foil over the “casserole” and crimp the foil all the way around to seal the edges.
  6. Grill over indirect heat (we placed them on the upper rack of our gas grill) for about 30 minutes.

Open the packet very carefully, as escaping steam will be very hot. Serve directly from the foil pack for easy-and-done cleanup!


Want to print this easy recipe?


Spotlight on Peppers

Some women are dazzled by diamonds, others by expensive cars. Me, I tend to get overjoyed with really simple things, such as this stunning display of fresh peppers I ran into on one of my recent grocery runs. There are so many things I can do with peppers, and I couldn’t resist buying up a bunch of them.

But all of my best intentions lost a bit of their sparkle when I came home to the harsh reminder that we still don’t have enough room in the veggie drawer for two weeks’ worth of fresh stuff. So I had to come up with a plan, and fast. As a result, this week and next I’ll be focusing on some go-to recipes, along with new twists and some experiments, for using up those peppers. Along with some (hopefully) great dishes, I’ll show you a few of the tips I’ve learned for working with them, especially from my time in the catering kitchen, where every minute counted.

But first, a lesson, and forgive me if you’ve already seen this on Pinterest:

Who knew?

Did you know about the idea that bell peppers with three lobes on the bottom are males, best for cooking, while peppers with four lobes are females, chock-full of seeds, but sweeter and better for eating raw? This is fascinating to me.

As luck would have it, I have one of each—a yellow “male” and a bright red “female.” We’ll test this claim, but more importantly, here comes my first tip. To avoid getting seeds everywhere when you cut open a pepper, turn it upside down and use a sharp paring knife to just barely cut through the skin, along the natural lines of the pepper. Then, pull the individual sections of pepper out and down toward the stem, like you’re peeling an orange. Keep going until the section snaps at the stem end, leaving the seed pod behind. Repeat with the other sections until all you have left is the stem and seeds.

Almost all the seeds remained with the stem piece, which means less time you’ll spend wiping them off your knife blade or sweeping them away from the cutting board. I did the same with the “male” pepper, and you can see the two compared. The yellow pepper definitely cut apart cleaner, which is more about how I cut it than anything else—no messy seed cleanup. But how about that claim that the “female” pepper is sweeter and has more seeds?

OK, the red pepper probably is sweeter, but not because it’s female. It’s because of the color. All deeply colored fruits and vegetables are more flavorful than their paler counterparts because they are more ripe. Without standing here and counting the seeds, I can honestly say I don’t see much of a difference between the two stems I’m holding.

As cool as it would have been to get the skinny on the whole male vs. female pepper thing, the truth is it’s a bogus claim. And although the rumor continues to spread faster than kudzu all over the internet, botanical experts everywhere have declared it has no merit, so let’s just move along because it’s almost dinner time and I think we can all agree we’re getting hungry just staring at all these fresh peppers, especially now that I’ve thrown in a zucchini.

We are getting about six servings of vegetables in this one meal!

This first “spotlight on peppers” recipe is super simple, perfect for outdoor cooking and an easy way to max out our daily servings of vegetables. It doesn’t hurt that we also won’t have a lot of cleanup, because we’re moving this party outside—to the grill!

You’ll need some grilling skewers for threading the vegetables and shrimp, or, even easier, one of those cool stainless steel grilling baskets.


Ingredients

1 red bell pepper  (any gender is fine) 🙂

1 yellow bell pepper

1 medium onion, cut into large chunks

1 medium zucchini, cut into large chunks

8 oz. package fresh cremini mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed

Marinade*

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

Garlic pepper or lemon pepper seasoning

1/2 tsp. dried herb leaves (oregano, basil, whatever you like)

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


About 1 lb. fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon, plus a little of the zest

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

*Notes

Much of the time, I don’t even bother marinating veggies before grilling, because a little olive oil and plain old sea salt and pepper brings out enough of their flavor. But on this occasion, I discovered an almost-empty bottle of Dijon mustard in the fridge, so it seems like a good time to offer one of my favorite tricks for using every last little bit. I use Dijon anyway to aid in blending a vinaigrette-style dressing or marinade, and when I can’t squeeze any more out of the bottle, I just add the other ingredients to it and shake it up to use what’s left. As a bonus, it further reduces the dirty dishes, because I can discard or recycle the bottle when I’m done with the marinade.

I realize the odds are low that your own Dijon is also down to the dregs, so I’ve offered approximate amounts, but keep this idea in mind the next time you’re at the bottom of a bottle (of mustard, that is).

Instructions

Combine the marinade ingredients, then toss the peppers, zucchini and mushrooms and let them rest while you prep the rest of the recipe. I’ve gently tossed the onions chunks in a different bowl, so they don’t separate too much before I thread everything onto skewers.

Combine the garlic, lemon juice and olive oil and toss the shrimp to coat. They don’t need to be dripping in the marinade—just a light coating is fine.

Preheat the grill to medium heat, and thread the veggies onto the skewers however you’d like—if you want to keep all peppers together, separate from skewers full of mushrooms or zucchini, that’s cool. I usually mix them up, but I always keep the shrimp separate because they don’t require as much time.

Here’s a quick tip I’ve found on the skewering, to prevent spearing yourself when you thread them—especially if they’re a little slippery from the marinade. Put the veggies flat on the cutting board and then stab the skewer down into them. It keeps your hands out of the line of fire. No sense turning an easy dinner into an all-night adventure at urgent care.

Move the skewered veggies to the grill and cook over low to medium heat until tender and lightly charred. The shrimp cook quickly, so add them to the mix when everything else is nearly done.

Light, fresh and healthy. Les and I love this simple kind of meal just as it is, but it would also be great over a bed of herbed rice or polenta.

Want to print this recipe?

Bonus tip:

For the record, sometimes I do recommend peeking at the bottom of peppers and selecting the ones with four lobes instead of three—not because of any weird gender claim, but simply because they stand up better when they’re stuffed with meat or rice if they are even and balanced on the bottom. Let’s revisit that when we make some Caribbean stuffed peppers next week.


Pork Chops & Applesauce

Thanks to the classic Brady Bunch episode in which young Peter tries to imitate Humphrey Bogart, I can hardly imagine eating pork chops without applesauce. My husband, Les, and I recently had an online happy hour with some friends in Raleigh and we were shocked to learn they had no recollection of the episode. Just in case you missed it as well, this should help provide a little context, and, in honor of Father’s Day, some good advice from one of America’s favorite TV dads about the importance of being yourself.

With or without the pop culture reference, there’s no question that pork chops and applesauce make a great combination. They were a frequent menu item at my grandmother’s house for Sunday supper. The applesauce was always homemade, as my grandparents had a small tree in the side yard that was prolific with small, greenish apples during the late summer. She’d send me and one of my cousins out there to pick up apples that had fallen, and she’d wash them and cut out any bad spots, then throw them into a pot—peels, cores, seeds and all. When they were cooked and tender, she’d scoop them into her Foley food mill and call in the kids to crank the handle. The food mill had a spiral blade that pressed the cooked apples through a mesh strainer, while keeping all the unwanted peels and parts behind. We’d sweeten it to taste and flavor it up with cinnamon, and it was just about the best thing ever. To this day, my cousin, Brad, and I are convinced that these adventures laid the groundwork for our passion for food.

I found this image on Etsy, and its very similar to the Foley food mill my Gram used to make her applesauce.

As much as I’d love to have Gram’s Foley food mill, I must admit that Les has found another really easy way to make homemade applesauce from scratch, and I’m grateful that he’s willing to make it several times a year on request. We always have some on our Thanksgiving table, and if we time it right, enough leftover to enjoy on latkes during Hanukkah. All you need is a slow cooker and a potato masher, and of course, fresh apples.

Gram usually did her pork chops in a cast iron skillet with a simple gravy, but I’m elevating them today with a quick and easy brine. We want to enjoy them on the grill, and the brine ensures the meat will stay moist and flavorful. I’ll top the chops with the easiest chutney you’ve ever heard of, and it really pulls the whole meal together.

Doesn’t this look schwell? 🙂

Ingredients – the pork chops

4 bone-in loin end pork chops

1 cup coarse kosher salt (do not use iodized table salt)

1 cup brown sugar

1 Tbsp. black peppercorns

1 Tbsp. dry mustard powder

2 cups apple cider vinegar

3 cups ice cubes

For chutney:

1 medium onion, halved and sliced lengthwise into crescent shapes

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

3 Tbsp. homemade applesauce

1 tsp. apple cider vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

The brine recipe has been my go-to since I first saw Alton Brown make it on Food Network. Brown sugar and dry mustard bring a terrific balance of sweet and savory. If you wanted to echo the apple flavor, you could swap in some apple juice or cider in place of some of the ice, but I usually use it exactly as ordered. Don’t brine your chops longer than two hours, or they will be too salty.

Instructions for brining

Heat the cider vinegar in a small sauce pan until hot.

In a large glass bowl, combine the salt, sugar, peppercorns and mustard powder. Pour in the vinegar and stir to dissolve the other ingredients. Give it 10 minutes to mingle the flavors, then add ice cubes and stir until they are melted. If brine isn’t completely cool, refrigerate before proceeding.

We ordered extra thick chops from our favorite local butcher, so we only used two. Use a heavy plate to help keep the chops submerged in the brine.

Place the pork chops in a gallon size zip top bag and pour the brine over them to cover completely. Squeeze out as much air as possible, seal the bag and refrigerate for two hours. I usually place the zip bag inside a container large enough to hold the brine, just in case the bag springs a leak (which is always possible when using bone-in meats). Turn the bag over halfway through brining time for more even flavoring.

Ingredients – the applesauce

9 large apples*, peeled, cored and cut into chunks

1/2 cup brown sugar (either light or dark)

Juice of 1/2 large lemon*

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

*Notes

Consider mixing together a few different varieties of apple, for more interesting flavor. Choose apples with a firm texture, such as Granny Smith, honeycrisp or fuji. Varieties with a “mealy” texture, such as red or golden delicious or McIntosh, are not the best for applesauce.

The lemon juice helps to prevent browning of the apples as they begin to cook and soften, and the acidity gives a nice tart balance to the sweetness of the applesauce. In a pinch, a couple teaspoons of bottled lemon juice can be substituted here, but fresh is always better because it’s pure and doesn’t contain weird preservatives.

Instructions

You’re going to love how easy this is!

Place all apple chunks into the slow cooker, toss chunks in the lemon juice and sprinkle the brown sugar and cinnamon. Give it a good stir to mix everything up and cook on low setting for about 8 hours or overnight.

In the morning, use a potato masher to break up any pieces still large enough to stand out. We enjoy having a few chunks, but that’s just how we roll. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate.

Instructions – the pork chops and chutney

Remove chops from brine mixture, rinse under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.

A quick sear on both sides helps seal in the juices, then nice and slow to finish them.

Grill the chops. Les seared them for 30 seconds on both sides, then reduced the grill temperature to low, cooking to medium well (about 150° F). I know we’ve all been told that pork must be cooked all the way to well done, but this is OK because they will continue to cook during a 5-minute rest inside.

Make the simple chutney. I sautéed the onions in olive oil until they were softened and lightly caramelized on the edges. A quick seasoning of salt and pepper, and at the last second, I opted for a quick shake of dried thyme leaves. Then, stir in applesauce and cider vinegar. Mix until heated through.

I sauteed the onions until they were tender with a bit of char on some of the edges.
Some of Les’s applesauce and a splash of cider vinegar makes it seem like this topping was cooking all afternoon.

This chutney will connect the dots between the savory pork chops and the sweet applesauce—an easy little Comfort du Jour twist to a classic “pork chopsh and appleshaucsh.”

I’m loving those perfect grill marks. The quick “chutney” pulls everything together to elevate our simple Sunday supper!

Want to print this recipe?

So delischioush!!!

Chicken Caesar Salad (on the grill)

We must be headed into summer, because I can hardly tear myself away from grilled food ideas. I’m dreaming about classic summer favorites, but I’m also having fun imagining new ways to enjoy fruit, vegetables, pizza and who knows what else on the grill. One thing you can expect from me in the coming weeks is a grilled watermelon gazpacho. True story, I woke up thinking about it the other day. After a bunch of rainy days and weekends, we’ve finally eased into some nicer days, and cooking outside is the best part of that!

Most of the time, mentions of grilling conjures images of burgers and ribs and heavy smoky things. But I’ve definitely been feeling it more for freshness lately, and craving lighter foods that will help me feel less sluggish after so many weeks of “comfort food,” Zoom happy hours and going absolutely nowhere.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be planning an expansion of our patio and some other embellishments to help make it even more inviting. And hopefully one day soon (or at least not too far off), we will be able to share the space with friends more than current circumstances allow.

Our sweet little patio is our safe haven right now.

For now, we’re thankful to have comfy patio chairs, a private backyard, and a great Char-Broil gas grill, and tonight we’re cooking up a grilled chicken Caesar. Not just grilled chicken on the Caesar, mind you—more than that, the Caesar will be grilled as well. If you have not yet enjoyed grilled romaine, it’s such a treat, and yet so, so simple. It’s basically a poster child for Comfort du Jour—a familiar comfortable food, but with a fun and simple twist to elevate your happy. Let’s get cooking!

Recipe serves 2.

Ingredients

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (preferably free range)

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

Juice of half a lemon

1 tsp. prepared Dijon mustard

1 tsp. garlic pepper seasoning*

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 romaine heart (the tender inside part of romaine lettuce)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 Tbsp. bottled Caesar dressing (the simpler, the better)

4 anchovy fillets

Freshly shaved parmesan or pecorino romano cheese for serving

*Notes

Check your brand of garlic pepper seasoning for salt content, and adjust your marinade ingredients to taste. We have McCormick brand, and the salt is just right. If yours is salt-free, you’ll probably want to add about 1/4 tsp. salt along with it, or season the chicken with salt before you add the marinade.

In our house, we’re careful to avoid a lot of highly processed ingredients, such as high-fructose corn syrup and just about any version of soybean oil (it has no nutritional value and is usually genetically modified). We like the brand pictured in this post (Marzetti’s “Simply Dressed”) because it’s made with real ingredients and nothing that makes us cringe. Find it refrigerated in the produce section of your market.

Anchovies have gotten a bad rap, in my opinion. For a long time, I assumed I didn’t like anchovies because other people didn’t like them. But in small amounts, and paired with the right things, they add a fantastic savory pop to a dish. If you haven’t tried them lately, give them a shot in this recipe!

Instructions

Pat the chicken breasts dry with paper towels and set aside while you prepare the simple grilling marinade.

In a small bowl, combine red wine vinegar, lemon juice, Dijon and garlic pepper seasoning. Drizzle in olive oil in a slow and steady stream, whisking constantly to incorporate and emulsify. Pour the marinade over the chicken breasts in a covered glass dish or a zip top plastic bag. Put in the fridge until about 30 minutes before grilling.

Next, prep the romaine for grilling by trimming the end and any loose leaves, and cut in half lengthwise. Rinse under cold water, ruffling the leaves to let the water get inside the layers. Shake off excess water and place romaine halves, cut-side down, on a plate lined with a double layer of paper towels. Lay a damp paper towel over the top and put the plate in the fridge for several hours. The water will continue to drain from the cut leaves, and the romaine will get nice and crunchy during its chill time.

I always rinse with cold running water, and I “fluff” the leaves to let the water work all the way through.

Preheat your grill or grilling pan to about 450° F. The chicken should rest at room temperature about 30 minutes. This isn’t absolutely necessary, but it helps the chicken cook more evenly. Reduce the temperature to about 350° and grill the chicken until it’s nicely charred on the outside and the juices run clear. At this point in the recipe, I usually bid adieu to my husband, Les, who handles most of our outdoor cooking. He’ll tend the chicken while he sips on a cold one and catches up with his Facebook feed. I have my own business to tend—the dressing.

Straight honest truth, if you’ve ever had authentic, scratch-made Caesar dressing, you know that there simply is no equal. The lemon, egg, anchovy and garlic create a perfect harmony that literally is the Caesar salad. Without it, you have basically a pile of romaine. But on a busy weeknight, who has time to coddle eggs? Me neither. What we can do instead is elevate a store bought “Caesar” dressing (I’ve yet to find one that has all the right stuff) with the addition of a couple of simple ingredients.

Homemade Caesar dressing is the absolute bomb.
But this is my simple “cheat” to add pizzazz to a store-bought dressing.

Don’t start making faces now. Anchovies are surprisingly delicious if you don’t overdo it, and we definitely won’t here. I’m only using a few fillets of these salty little fishes, and they will add a whole new layer of flavor to my otherwise “OK” dressing.

Chop them into small pieces (so you don’t get too much in any single bite), then stir or whisk them into the Caesar dressing. If the dressing seems a little thick, also pour in a little of the oil packed with the anchovies. Give it a quick taste—if it’s too salty, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to tone it down. Grind some fresh black pepper into it for a little more bite. This is your salad, so make it work for your taste.

Pull the romaine from the fridge and move it to the next step by drizzling good quality extra virgin olive oil over the cut side. Allow the oil to trickle down between the leaves a little, but don’t drench it. Season the halves with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, then take it out to the grill.

When the chicken is nearly finished, place the romaine halves directly on the grill, cut side down. And leave it. The first time I made grilled romaine, this felt so strange—putting delicate lettuce on the grill? But it’s really an incredible difference it makes in the salad, and I look forward to grilling season for things just like this. Obviously, we can eat salad all year, but in our winter months, it isn’t always practical to fire up the grill. For sure, my hubby isn’t gonna stand out there in 20° weather. Especially in the dark (which is usually is at dinner time during winter). It is, of course, possible to do this on an indoor grill pan, but there’s something more special about it when it’s cooked outside.

When the romaine has a nice amount of caramelization on the cut side (you decide when it reaches that point), turn over the halves and allow the other side to grill for a minute or two.

To serve, rest the chicken breasts then slice into crosswise strips. Serve alongside the romaine half, drizzling both with the jazzed-up Caesar dressing and a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese. If you prefer, chop the grilled romaine as well, and toss it together with the chicken and dressing, then divide on two plates and top with shredded cheese.

Enjoy!

A good drizzle of our “spiked” Caesar dressing, and freshly grated parm. Dinner is served!

Want to print this recipe?


Spanish Onion Sauce

For just about everyone, the term “comfort food” applies specifically to the foods we learned to love during childhood. For me, that’s the made-from-scratch foods I learned in my grandma’s kitchen, including applesauce, soft molasses cookies and bread pudding. For my husband, Les, it’s pretty much all the foods you can only find in a Jewish deli and on the streets of New York. I’ve grown to love many of these foods myself—the bagels, the knishes, the in-house pastrami from Katz’s deli and of course, the pizza (am I the only one hearing angels sing right now?).

Any true New Yorker will admonish you for assuming you could just pick up a bag of Lender’s and call it “close enough.” The best bagels are apparently made with NYC water, but we are thankful to have a very good option for them in our home city. Then there’s the matter of pizza, but let’s not even start on that, though I’m proud to report we’ve finally perfected our at-home pies to nearly the level of Les’s high standards. And although hot dogs (even the Kosher, all-beef kind) are readily available in every corner of these United States, there’s no match for a good, old-fashioned New York hot dog. And for one main reason. The Spanish onion sauce.

Honestly, no other condiments are needed.

This stuff is simple enough, just sliced onions cooked in a thin, lightly spiced tomato sauce. But like any food that’s part of the very fabric of your life, it’s the memory of it that means something. You want it to taste the way you remember it. When I finished this batch of onion sauce, I cautiously asked Les to give it a taste and tell me what it needed. Last time, it was “pretty close,” so imagine my relief (and utter joy) when he licked the spoon and said, “Yep, that’s it!” Pardon me while I do the h-a-p-p-y dance. And though I’m only from “upstate” (not the same as New York, he reminds me, ad nauseum), and I don’t have my own early memories of this onion sauce, I have to say, it’s pretty darn tasty, and super easy to make. If this is all it takes to elevate his happy, I’m golden.

Ingredients

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 medium Spanish onion (about the size of a tennis ball)

3 Tbsp. tomato ketchup (preferably one made with real sugar)

2 pinches chili powder* (see notes)

Pinch of dried, crushed red pepper*

Pinch of ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 cup water

*Chili powder is an ingredient that is wildly inconsistent, because different brands have different formulas and sometimes high amounts of salt. Use the most “neutral” chili powder you have, or substitute whatever makes you happy. For my most recent batch of onion sauce, I swapped out both noted spices for about 1 tsp. of the oil poured off a jar of Trader Joe’s “Chili Onion Crunch.” This earned an enthusiastic thumbs up from my New York-born taste tester. Don’t be shy about experimenting with the stuff in your cabinet—it’s how I’ve found all my best recipes.

Instructions

Cut the onion in half lengthwise. With flat side down, slice the onion into 1/4” crescent-shaped slices. For this recipe, I find it better to have similar-sized pieces of onion, rather than ring slices.

Heat a medium-size skillet over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil, then add onion slices and saute for about 8 minutes until softened and slightly translucent. Mix together the ketchup, spices, salt and water, and add to the onions. Stir to combine and bring to a slight boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. Much of the liquid will evaporate, and you’ll be left with silky onions glistening in a light, tomato-y glaze.

Quite simply—it’s real Nu Yawk daawg sauce.

We served our Spanish onion sauce on uncured all-beef dogs and homemade potato buns. Delish!

Want to print this recipe?


Chili for Hot Dogs

As I was jotting down the ingredients I used in this chili, I almost felt that I should put an asterisk next to every spice ingredient. Taste is subjective, and it seems no culinary divide is greater than the one created by spicy heat. Some people love it (hear, hear), some can’t tolerate it at all and others want a little kick as long as they don’t feel too much burn.

If you make some version of this chili, use the level of heat that makes sense for you and whomever else you’re feeding. My husband and I are so much on the same page when it comes to heat, and we are quick to admit, we want a little burn. We might pay a price for it tomorrow, but that’s a consequence we will be willing to accept. Every. Single. Time. If you’re shaking your head “no,” you might find some of the spice notes helpful for adjusting the amounts to your personal taste, while still enjoying plenty of flavor.

There’s no need to spend extra for packaged “chili powder.” Mix and match spices you already have and come up with a winner.

Chipotle

Made of dried and smoked jalapeno chiles, this is a smoky-style, medium heat spice. I usually don’t even think of this spice as being “hot,” because I’m mainly captivated by the smoke. But it does bring some heat, so if you’re squeamish, skip this one and look at ancho or cumin instead.

Cumin

This spice is made from seeds, not chile peppers, and it’s common to various Latin cuisines as well as some Indian and Northern African cooking. The flavor is warm and gently smoky. “Comforting” is a good word for this spice. I adore it in fried breakfast potatoes, and it finds its way into every kind of chili I make. Cumin doesn’t have heat, but it plays so nicely with hot spices, it’s never far off in recipes with chile spices.

Cayenne

No doubt, this is a speecy-spicy one! Cayenne is a long, skinny red pepper, the variety used widely in Cajun cuisine, and the main ingredient in popular bottled hot sauces, including Tabasco and Frank’s original “red hot” sauce, as well as Texas Pete, which doesn’t hail from Texas, but Winston-Salem, NC (go figure). It’s not as hot as habanero or ghost peppers (not even close on the Scoville heat scale), but it’s fair warning to say that if you can’t stand the heat, you should get the heck out of cayenne’s kitchen.

Ancho

Made of dried and smoked poblano chiles, this one has a little heat, but is mainly smoky and fruity, especially if the seeds are removed before grinding it into powder. Ancho chiles are a favorite of celebrity chef Bobby Flay, who puts it in nearly everything. It’s a very balanced chile flavor, and though it isn’t listed as an ingredient in my chili for hot dogs, you might find it a good substitute for the chipotle if you like smokiness and peppers with a little less kick.

Paprika

This is an overly general name for a spice that varies a great deal from bottle to bottle. Some paprika is smoked, some is sweet, some is hot—it’s just all over the place. If you do an online search for “what pepper is used for paprika,” you’ll find everything from red bell pepper to cayenne, so it’s clearly a bit of a gamble. The variety I used in this recipe is specifically labeled “sweet Spanish paprika,” and I appreciate that because it helps me know what to expect. It is light and kind of fruity, with the tiniest amount of smoke (probably on the red bell pepper end of the paprika spectrum), and it adds bright color and a pleasant sweet pepper flavor without bringing heat. A bottle labeled “hot Hungarian paprika” would turn this chili into something totally different, so take notice of the differences.

Wait, what about plain old “chili powder?”

Frankly, my dear, there is no such thing. “Chili powder” is a generic term used by every spice company out there, and what’s in it is anyone’s guess. Sure, you could look at the label ingredients, but they are usually suspiciously vague—a blend of “red chile powder” (okay, but which chile?), herbs and spices (again, which ones?), plus a whole lotta salt and usually some other unnecessary ingredients with long, unpronounceable names. Personally, I don’t touch the stuff because it presumes to know what my flavor and sodium levels should be. I’ll decide what goes into my chili, thank you very much, and hopefully this quick little chili tutorial will empower you to do the same.

Ingredients

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 lb. lean ground meat*

1/2 cup yellow onion, finely chopped

2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar

1/4 cup water*

8 oz. can tomato sauce

Kosher or sea salt to taste

Spices

1/2 tsp. each ground black pepper, ground chipotle, cumin, sweet paprika, garlic powder, onion powder

1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper, if you’re living on the edge

*Notes

For this batch of chili, I used 90% lean ground bison. Beef is an easy go-to, and it would also be just fine with ground turkey.

Feel free to substitute beer for the water, if you wish, as my husband does with his famous Super Bowl chili. (I hope that wasn’t a secret, Babe!)

Instructions

Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil, then add ground meat, onions, vinegar and water all together. Cooking the meat in the water rather than browning it first will result in the fine texture that’s perfect for topping a hot dog. Stir the meat mixture frequently as it cooks, until the water has completely evaporated. Season with salt and pepper, then add tomato sauce and spices. Cook and stir several more minutes, until liquid reduces and chili thickens to your liking. I like this kind of chili to be on the thicker side, so it stays on the dog without making the bun soggy.

The chili is good on its own, but I throw on more onion just because.

Want to print this recipe?


Soft Pita Breads

(and a BONUS recipe!)

This recipe has become one of my go-to breads. It’s simple to make and doesn’t require use of the oven, which is great when the weather is warm. This is an adaptation of a recipe from King Arthur Flour. Theirs is great, but I always substitute a portion of whole wheat flour into the recipe, and I add milled flax seed and onion flavor to this one as well. It’s an unusual style of recipe, which begins with “cooking” some of the flour with boiling water. This unique method, and the addition of potato flakes, results in a very soft, bendable pita bread—perfect for gyros or souvlaki wraps, but you can also cut them into wedges and drag through a bowl of fresh hummus. Yum!

Ingredients

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided* (see notes)

1 cup whole wheat flour* (I use KAF’s white whole wheat)

1 1/4 cups boiling water

1/2 cup dried potato flakes*

1 tsp. milled flax seed (optional)

1 1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. instant yeast*

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

*Notes

Accurately measure the flour by fluffing it, spooning it into measuring cup, and leveling off.

Look for potato flakes without added ingredients (Whole Foods has them). Or use real cooked potato and only 3/4 cup water in the recipe, and use the potato cooking water.

Instant yeast does not behave in the same way as active dry yeast, which needs to be “proved” first. Dissolve active dry yeast for five minutes in a few tablespoons of warm water, and reduce the overall water in the recipe by the same amount. If your yeast doesn’t become foamy during this step, it’s dead (I’m so sorry for your loss). Next time, keep it in the freezer.

Instructions

Add 1 cup all-purpose flour and the whole wheat flour into a mixing bowl, and pour the boiling water over it. Mix with a heavy spoon (or use a stand mixer) until combined and smooth. This is going to feel a little bit like paste, but trust me, they will turn out great. Cover and allow mixture to rest 30 minutes.

Combine the remaining all-purpose flour with rest of the dry ingredients and add to the cooked flour paste. Mix until fully incorporated, then add olive oil to the mixing bowl and knead several minutes until dough is smooth and supple. Shape dough into a ball and allow it to rise, covered, in a lightly oiled bowl about 1 hour until it is puffy. If it doesn’t bounce back when you poke it, you’re ready to proceed. If it giggles, well…

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, gently deflate, and cut into eight pieces. Shape the pieces into balls, then cover with a clean towel and allow them to rest 15 minutes. This gives the gluten time to relax so the dough is easier to roll.

Heat a griddle or dry skillet over medium-low heat (about 325° F). While surface is heating, roll out one dough ball at a time (on floured surface) into a thin circle, about 8 inches across. Cook about 1 minute on the first side or until you see toasty flecks on the bottom. Carefully turn to cook the other side 1 minute. The pita breads will puff up quite a bit on the griddle while the second side is cooking. Remove them to a wire rack.

These are best enjoyed right away, but you can also cool them completely and store in a tightly sealed bag at room temperature for about 4 days. King Arthur says you can freeze them, but I’ve never tried it because we always devour them within a day or two. Leftovers (if you have them) are great as scrambled egg wraps.

But wait, there’s MORE!

Souvlaki Bonus Recipe

There’s so much flavor in these tasty little bites, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to make them. They’re mouthwateringly lemony, packed with Mediterranean herbal flavor, and versatile. Serve them on soft pita breads with tzatziki or on top of a Greek salad. They’re also not bad eaten cold, straight from the fridge. Or, so I’ve heard. Give the marinade plenty of time to work its magic—the results are definitely worth the wait!

Ingredients

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast*

Juice of 1 large lemon

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

3 or 4 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped

2 tsp. dried Mediterranean oregano

1 tsp. dried thyme leaves

1/2 tsp. each kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

*This marinade is also delicious on pork. Cut up 1 pound of lean pork loin and proceed as for chicken. It would be tasty on shrimp also, but reduce the marinating time to 1 hour and shorten cooking time as well.

Instructions

Cut chicken breast into bite-size chunks and add them to a large glass (or other non-reactive) bowl. In a measuring cup with a pour spout, combine lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. Drizzle the olive oil into the mixture, whisking constantly, until it’s combined. Pour marinade over the chicken pieces and toss to coat, then cover and refrigerate several hours to overnight.

Preheat gas grill to 400° F. Thread chicken pieces onto skewers or use a grilling pan. Discard remaining marinade. Cook chicken 12 to 14 minutes, turning to cook all sides, until edges are lightly charred and crispy, and juices run clear. Enjoy on a Greek salad or soft pita breads.

Want to print these recipes?