Easy Chicken Souvlaki

My first taste of Greek food came when I was in my early 20s, shortly after I arrived in Winston-Salem, N.C. Unlike the places I’d lived before—upstate N.Y. and a few places in Colorado—this southern city is home to a large community of Greek-Americans. One of my first jobs here was waiting tables at a Greek-owned casual seafood restaurant, where our most popular (though not inherently “Greek”) menu items included breaded and deep-fried flounder and crunchy little seafood nuggets known as “popcorn shrimp.”

It didn’t take long though before I discovered some of the other Greek-owned eateries in town that offered an authentic, mouthwatering specialty called souvlaki, a lemon and herb-seasoned marinated meat, grilled on skewers and served with any number of authentic sides. Depending on the time of day, you might be served souvlaki with seasoned rice or lemon-herb potatoes, or with Greek feta salad and pita. But always on the side with souvlaki is tzatziki, a Greek yogurt-based condiment with shredded cucumber, garlic and dill.

Some of the new words associated with these delectable foods were hard for me to say at first, but it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the incredible flavors of Greek food. This fall, perhaps when our new kitchen is completed, I look forward to making a classic pastitsio or moussaka, both of which are baked comfort to the nth degree, rich with warm spices and creamy béchamel.

But today, I’m focused on the food to work best with summer grilling, and that is souvlaki. Traditionally, souvlaki would be made with chunks of lean pork, but there are just as many restaurants around here that put the same flavors and treatment on pieces of chicken breast, and it is positively delicious. Feel free to cut boneless chicken breasts into chunks for your souvlaki—that would be the more traditional way, after all—or you can take the easy way, as I have, and marinate whole chicken tenders, skip the skewers and toss the tenders right onto the grill.

Souvlaki is delicious with warm, soft pita breads and zesty tzatziki sauce, which is easy to make while you wait for the marinade magic to happen. You might also serve your souvlaki up with a batch of the cool tzatziki potato salad I shared a few days ago. Before long, you’ll join me in shouting the traditional Greek celebration exclamation—OPA!


Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds chicken tenders

1 whole organic lemon, juiced (plus the zest)

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

About 4 cloves garlic, finely minced

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. Kosher salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

About 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil


Instructions

  1. Pat the chicken tenders dry, but do not rinse them. Lightly sprinkle with kosher salt and toss to coat.
  2. In a large glass (or other non-reactive) bowl, combine lemon juice, zest, vinegar, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. Take note of the volume this mixture has in the bowl. Whisk the marinade mixture while streaming in enough olive oil to roughly double the volume of the marinade.
  3. Add the chicken tenders to the marinade and use tongs to thoroughly toss and coat them. As much as possible, press the tenders to be fully submerged in the marinade. Cover the bowl and refrigerate at least six hours.
  4. When you are ready to cook the tenders, simply remove them from the marinade and place them directly onto the pre-heated grill. There is no need to rinse them or even to scrape the marinade from the tenders.

Tzatziki

1 Persian cucumber (or 1/2 medium slicing cucumber), peeled, seeded and finely chopped or grated

A couple pinches of kosher salt

1 cup plain Greek yogurt (or substitute sour cream if you must)

2 cloves garlic, crushed and finely chopped

1 Tbsp. fresh dill leaves, finely chopped (or 1/2 tsp. dried dill)

Line a small custard cup with a paper towel. Add the chopped or grated cucumber and stir with salt. Wrap the paper towel over the cucumbers and allow this to sit in the fridge 30 minutes to release and absorb excess moisture.

Combine cucumbers with yogurt, garlic and dill. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.




Baby Back Ribs with Root Beer BBQ Glaze

A few weeks ago, my husband, Les, and I had the unfortunate experience of being forced to empty and clean out what we call our “downstairs” fridge. The term is a misnomer, for sure, given that our home is built on a slab, and we have no downstairs—unless you consider the main level as “downstairs,” and that would only make sense if you were standing in the loft. No, our extra refrigerator lives in the garage, just through the laundry room, about six steps from the kitchen. The confusion is built on Les’s occasional reference to the spaces of a home he once owned in Connecticut, where he apparently did have a downstairs fridge. He also sometimes mistakenly tells me he was listening to “K-ROQ” on the drive home, which was his favorite radio station when he lived in Southern California (which, by the way, was only 28 years ago), but I digress.

What happened that night recently was a flat-out mess, as a forgotten glass bottle of “nitro” cold brew coffee was shoved into one of the uneven cold spots in the back of the extra refrigerator, and the darn thing exploded all over everything. There was broken glass and sticky cold coffee on the shelves and walls of the fridge and spattered on several food and drink containers that were sitting beneath the mishap. It was not exactly the way we intended to “clean out” the fridge, but it did force us to dump some things and gave us a chance to properly inventory the ridiculous quantity of stuff that has piled up in the overflow fridge, which we frankly would not need if it were not for my impulse purchases, especially, it seems, the beverages.

What can I say? I don’t want anyone to be thirsty!

One such impulse buy stood out as a bucket list item for me, and the forced fridge cleanup gave me a push on my culinary intention of making a root beer-based barbecue sauce. I will admit that neither Les nor I are fans of carbonated soda. I have not had a Coca-Cola or 7-Up or anything like them in years (maybe decades), and I don’t miss them. My aversion is based partly on the fact that they are carbonated and leave me feeling bloated and uncomfortable, but more on the fact that nearly every soda on the market is made with high-fructose corn syrup. And that, my friends, is a total deal breaker for me. Diet sodas are no better, because I cannot abide the aftertaste of alternative sweeteners, including the plant-based stevia.

But when I had spotted this small-batch, handcrafted root beer a few months ago, I thought again about my desire to make a root beer sauce or maybe root beer-braised pulled pork. This specialty root beer is sweetened with cane sugar, and on its own, it is sweet. Like, melt-your-teeth sweet. When I reduced it down, however, and simmered it with ketchup and spices and onions, it was exactly right for dressing up baby back ribs on the grill. As with most rib recipes, I started with a brine to give the meat a jump start toward tenderness and flavor, and I got some good advice from chef Bobby Flay about what to put in the brine—cinnamon, star anise and molasses were a giant echo for the root beer flavor that would be slathered on the ribs near the end of cooking. There are a couple of things Les and I agreed we would do differently next time, and I’ll explain that at the end. But overall, this was a successful adventure!

It was a southern BBQ feast, with spicy collards and homemade mac and cheese.

Another bucket list item has been moved to the “done” column, and because I discovered that I also really like the essence of root beer, I used two more bottles of it from the “downstairs fridge” to make syrup for bourbon cocktail experiments. Alas, my friends, that will be a post for another day.


Inspired by  BBQ Ribs with Root Beer BBQ Sauce Recipe | Bobby Flay | Food Network

Ingredients – the ribs

1 large rack baby back ribs (ours were pasture-raised from the local farmers’ market)

1/2 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup molasses

2 whole cinnamon sticks

2 star anise

1 Tbsp. oak-smoked black peppercorns* (see notes)

1/4 cup sweet onion juice, optional*

Enough ice and water to make 8 cups of brine liquid


*Notes

The smoked peppercorns are made by McCormick and sold in a tall jar with a built-in grinder top. I am thoroughly addicted to their flavor and have used them in various food and cocktail recipes whenever I want to add a smoky flavor.

I made these ribs the same weekend as the tangy apple cole slaw that I shared a few days ago, and the onion juice was the discard from the shredded onions in the slaw. Waste nothing, right? 😉


Prepping the ribs

  1. Prepare the brine by combining kosher salt, molasses, cinnamon, star anise and black pepper in a large glass pitcher bowl. Add two cups of boiling water and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar. Add ice cubes and enough cold water to make 8 cups total.
  2. Remove the tough membrane from the back side of the ribs. Begin by slipping a sharp paring knife under the membrane on the smaller end of the rack. Separate enough of it to grab onto with a dry paper towel, and then slowly but steadily lift it up and away from the ribs.
  3. Use kitchen shears or a sharp knife to separate the ribs into portions. Transfer the rib portions to a 2-gallon zip top freezer bag, placed in a container large enough to contain the brine if the bag should happen to leak. Pour the cold brine over the ribs, squeeze out as much air as possible and send them to the fridge to marinate at least overnight, and up to 24 hours.
  4. When the brine is complete, remove the ribs and pat them dry. Place them on a rack over a baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, for a few hours. This prepares the surface of the meat for more flavorful grilling.

Root Beer BBQ Glaze

2 Tbsp. canola oil

1/2 sweet onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

Zest of a fresh lemon

2 pieces crystallized ginger, finely minced

3 Tbsp. light brown sugar

1 cup tomato ketchup

12 oz. bottle naturally sweetened root beer

1 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika

Kosher salt and oak-smoked black pepper


Make the glaze

  1. Empty root beer into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, and simmer over medium-low heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1/2 cup. Transfer to a measuring cup.
  2.  In the same saucepan, heat canola oil and sauté onions about two minutes, until slightly softened. Add minced garlic and crystallized ginger and cook one to two minutes more.
  3. Add smoked paprika to the pan and cook just until the paprika becomes fragrant. Add root beer reduction and simmer on low heat several minutes until the mixture is syrupy.
  4. Add the ketchup and brown sugar, stirring to combine. Add lemon zest and smoked black pepper. Simmer on low heat until just bubbly at the edges. Adjust salt, pepper and sweetness to taste. I wanted it a little bit sweeter, so I added a splash of additional root beer.

Time to grill the ribs!

My hubby, the grill master, questioned the instructions I handed him from the Bobby Flay recipe, and I darn sure should have listened. We followed the gist of the original recipe, grilling the ribs naked over indirect heat at about 250° F for two hours, then glazing them with the root beer BBQ glaze for the last 20 minutes or so. Granted, we do not have a “kamado-style” charcoal grill, but I had hoped

This was enough time to cook them, but not enough to make them fall-off-the-bone tender, which is what my root beer-loving heart desired. We had also soaked some hickory chunks in cold water and root beer, and tried out the small smoker box we had purchased for the grill. Friends, let me just say, “don’t bother,” because we did not get even a hint of smoke on the ribs. It would have been terrific, though, on a regular smoker. Overall, The meat was tasty (I think the brine did wonders) and the sauce was just as I imagined—root beer was present but not too sweet.

We have had more tender ribs without following a recipe, and next time we make these, I will hand the reins over to Les to grill or smoke the ribs however he chooses. We also agreed that low and slow roasting in the oven would probably have resulted in more tender ribs, and I sure would not mind the aroma in the house!

The flavorful brine and the root beer glaze were the real winners for this recipe!



Compound Butters for Grilled Corn

Summer, meet your new best friend at the grill.

No matter what you’re into grilling during the warm weather months, you’ll find countless ways to use compound butter, and I do hope you’ll try it on my favorite—freshly grilled summer sweet corn.

Oooh, look at that beautiful char!

In the days of my youth, I ate more sweet corn than I can recall. My small, upstate New York town was one of those idyllic, rolling green hills kind of places you read about. The landscape was dotted with dairy farms, and sweet corn was so prolific, it was not unusual at all to see freshly picked ears of it piled high against trees at the side of the road with a sign that said, “for the love of God, please take this corn already.” The grocery store didn’t even order corn in the summer because everyone already had more than they needed.

The down-side of living in one of these pastoral places was that we didn’t have much to do. Many a summer night in my young-adult years, I would gather for a backyard bonfire and corn roast with my cousin, Annie, and a friend, Julie. It was just the three of us most times, and we were not exactly living large. We would fill up two big, galvanized steel buckets—one with cans of cheap beer and a bag of ice, and the other with cold water and as many ears of free corn as we could fit—and we’d spend the night lamenting our town’s lack of interesting options (for anything). The corn was still dressed in its husks, silk and all, and after a good soaking, we would toss it directly onto the bonfire to roast and steam it to perfection. We peeled the charred husks back and used them like a handle as we finished off ear after ear. Little flakes of black, burned-up husks and silk would end up all over us, but do you think we cared? There is nothing that compares to that roast-y flavor and it never occurred to us that we should dress up our fresh summer feast with butter or anything else.

A couple of years later, Annie and I had both moved away from our little town, rarely to return. Julie got married and stayed in town, and the last time I saw her, she was happily raising a family. I don’t miss our small town much (except perhaps in mid-October, when I know the maple trees are turning brilliant shades of rust and red), but I do miss the abundance of sweet corn in the summer. Come to think of it, I equally miss the piles of free zucchini squash, but that will be another post.

Today, when I want to enjoy summer corn (which is always), we “roast” it on the grill. There’s no soaking involved and no charred corn husk getting all over everything, and the flavor of grilled corn, though not quite as intense as the bonfire-roasted corn of those olden days, is still far superior to that of boiled corn. And because I’m all grown up now, I do enjoy putting a flavor spin on my grilled corn, and that’s where the compound butter comes in.

Grilled corn with pesto compound butter

This is a simple way to add a little pizzazz to corn, or whatever else you might be pulling off the grill—fish, shrimp, chicken, steak, burgers or other vegetables. Not grilling? No problem, because compound butter also comes in handy when you need to give a boost of flavor to something you make on the stove. Use it to sauté shrimp or vegetables, liven up a baked potato, melt over cooked pasta or drizzle onto your popcorn. What I love about compound butters is that you can make them in advance, they keep a good long time in the fridge (or freezer), and they afford multiple flavor options when you are serving guests.

Compound butter may sound complicated, but it could not be simpler—soften up a stick of salted butter and stir in the flavors that suit your fancy. Mix in a swirl of olive oil for extra depth of flavor and extended “spreadability.” I will offer up a few compound butter combos, using simple ingredients I already had in my fridge. Mix and match them any way you like. And, by all means, please share your ideas for compound butter flavors and uses, too.


Pesto Compound Butter

1 stick salted butter, slightly softened

2 cloves fresh garlic, very finely minced

Small handful fresh basil leaves, finely snipped or cut into ribbons

1/3 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese (or parm-romano blend)

A few twists freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


Sun-dried Tomato & Feta Compound Butter

1 stick salted butter, slightly softened

2 to 3 Tbsp. sun-dried tomatoes, cut or snipped into very small bits* (see notes)

2 oz. whole milk feta cheese, crumbled and pressed dry

A few twists freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

*Notes – If the sun-dried tomatoes are packed dry, rehydrate them for a few minutes in boiling water, then drain and press out the excess moisture. If they are packed in oil, chop them fine and stir them in as the final ingredient, omitting olive oil.


Vegan Tahini-Soy Compound “Butter”

1 stick dairy-free butter substitute

2 Tbsp. tahini paste

1 tsp. soy or tamari sauce

1/2 tsp. Trader Joe’s Umami seasoning (powdered blend of garlic, mushroom, salt and red pepper)


Chili & Lime Compound Butter

1 stick salted butter, slightly softened

Zest of 1 small organic lime

1/2 tsp. ground chili powder (your favorite, check the sodium)

1/4 tsp. ground cumin

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


Steakhouse Bleu Cheese Compound Butter

1 stick salted butter, slightly softened

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup crumbled bleu cheese

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


Instructions

Press and stir the butter down into a smooth, creamy spread. Add the other ingredients, beginning with those that can be stirred into the butter, and ending with any ingredients that need to be folded in. If you want to keep a few distinguishable bits, such as crumbled cheeses, fold them in at the end.

If you are adding ingredients that are inherently salty, such as hard cheeses or pre-mixed spice blends, you might opt to use unsalted butter to keep the sodium at the right level.

Keep compound butters in tightly sealed bowls in the fridge, or wrap them tightly in two layers of plastic wrap for freezing. Bring to cool room temperature to soften before serving.


Instructions for prepping easy grilled corn:

Remove husks and silks from fresh sweet corn. Use a sharp knife to make fresh, flat cuts on the ends of the corn ears. This will make it easier to hold them with corn handles. Tear off a square piece of aluminum foil for each ear. Melt salted butter in the microwave or on the stove top. Use a pastry brush to thoroughly but lightly coat each ear with melted butter. Season with salt and pepper. With the corn ear centered on the foil square, fold up one long end of foil all the way over the corn. Then, roll it up and twist or fold the ends to seal.

A bit of friendly, been-there-tried-that advice: resist the temptation to put the compound butter on the corn before grilling, especially if it has any type of cheese in it. In my experience, the add-ins will burn or gunk up or stick to the foil, rather than the corn. It does not seem to make a difference what type of foil you use, either, as I’ve had the same trouble using the expensive “non-stick” foil. It’s best to keep it simple for grilling, and add your flavored butter component at serving time. Besides, it’s fun to watch the butter ooze over the hot ears of corn! 🙂


The cooking instruction is a bit more nebulous because, as my husband, Les, says, grilling is an inexact science. How long you cook the corn depends on the type of grill you use, the temperature you are using for whatever else you’re grilling and placement of the corn on the grill, whether direct or indirect heat. When I pressed Les for a “ballpark” estimate on time, he quickly answered, “40 minutes.” The best thing to do is put it on the grill early, turn it periodically and check it a few times until it is done to your liking. We love it with a little bit of char on some of the kernels. And Les says if you turn up the temperature sometime to sear meat or another food, move the corn onto the upper warming rack.


Happy Summer!



Maple Bourbon Cedar-Wrapped Salmon

If you were to scroll through your collection of recipes, I wonder which ones are most overlooked, and I wonder why. We all have recipe cards that hang out in the back of the box—either because they no longer suit our taste (which makes them ripe for a makeover), or they are specific to a season or holiday, or the ingredients are too pricy or difficult to find. Sometimes, though, I believe recipes get passed over because they seem complicated or intimidating.

My own “bucket list” of culinary challenges includes items from all those categories, but after recent conversation with various friends and acquaintances, I have noticed one standout category of food that seems to hold an air of mystery to a lot of people: seafood. It seems that most people enjoy seafood, but many are reluctant to make it at home. It’s no wonder seafood restaurant prices are what they are, and that’s a darn shame when some of those dishes are perfectly manageable for a home cook.

Every week or so, I peek at the activity insights offered by WordPress, where Comfort du Jour is hosted, and this helps guide me in deciding what to make next, and what to share with my foodie friends. I can see at-a-glance the number of views and downloads each page has had to date, and overwhelmingly, the recipe with the highest numbers of both is this one:

Really? Mahi Hemingway is the most popular recipe on Comfort du Jour.

It surprises me to see that Mahi Hemingway is so interesting to others, because it happens to be one of the simplest recipes to make, both from an ingredient standpoint and one of skill level. I developed my own version of that recipe because I couldn’t make sense of the $30 price tag on a similar dish in a local restaurant, which I expect points to another reason home cooks shy away from making their own seafood. If it’s so expensive in restaurants, it must be expensive and hard to make, right? Wrong!  😉

Most seafood is surprisingly easy to make, and I’m about to prove it again with this easy-and-done recipe that is cooked on the grill. The salmon fillet portions, which are easily found in most larger supermarkets, take an afternoon bath in a simple marinade of real maple syrup, bourbon and Dijon mustard. The marinade infuses flavor into the fish during this phase, and becomes a flavorful glaze later, when the fish is grilled. If you prefer, you can also make this in the oven, and the cedar wrap is entirely optional, but I believe it is worth the extra expense. I found these in the grilling section of the supermarket , but you might also check your hardware store, Walmart or Target. Cedar wraps impart an aromatic smokiness to the fish, without the extra time and fuss of cedar planks. The wraps are also less expensive than planks (only $10 for eight of them), and they don’t take up much storage space.

I have garnished the salmon with chopped soy-wasabi almonds, which is a great complement to the maple and bourbon flavors, and the wasabi echoes the horseradish that spikes the easy buttermilk mashed potatoes underneath, the same potatoes I made at St. Patrick’s Day for the Bangers & Mash.

You can begin prep for this meal a few hours ahead, and cooking time is less than half an hour, including the mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus. This meal is beautiful, tasty, quick and easy—collectively giving it a good chance at moving to the front of the recipe box.

I’ll bet this plate would be at least $24 in a seafood restaurant.

Two servings, easy to double.

Ingredients

I cut two portions from this whole fillet of salmon for this recipe. A larger chunk went on the smoker when we made our pastrami, and the rest went to the freezer.

2 Atlantic salmon fillets, about 6 oz. each* (see notes)

3 Tbsp. real maple syrup, preferably dark*

3 Tbsp. bourbon

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/8 tsp. Boyajian maple extract*

2 cedar wraps, soaked at least 5 minutes* (optional, see notes)

Small handful of wasabi & soy sauce almonds*

*Notes

The salmon fillets may be skinless or skin-on; it doesn’t matter because the skin will remain on the cedar wrap after grilling, which makes plating this dish super simple. If your seafood market has steelhead trout or arctic char, they would also be delicious in this recipe, but adjust your grilling time. Both are usually thinner and would cook more quickly.

For the love of good taste, please do not use a fake “maple-ish” syrup from the grocery store. Real maple is the best, and totally worth the expense. There are plenty of resources for good quality maple products; I order mine online from Big Tree Maple in Lakewood, N.Y. Why? Because I grew up under the shade of those lovely trees and they know me.

The maple extract, which is optional, amplifies the flavor of the syrup without adding sweetness. Look for it in gourmet specialty stores, or online at King Arthur Baking Company.  Another product I like for this purpose is maple-infused balsamic vinegar, which is easy to find in one of the specialty balsamic shops that have popped up all over the U.S. If you substitute with the balsamic, use about 1/2 teaspoon.

Cedar wood, when soaked and grilled, lends a phenomenal flavor to salmon. If you choose planks, be certain they are designed for culinary use. Cedar grilling planks should be submerged fully underwater for at least an hour, but I like the wraps because they only require soaking a few minutes. You could probably also use soaked cedar chips in a smoker box, alongside the salmon on your grill.

The wasabi & soy sauce almonds are a Blue Diamond product, and you’ll find them in the small cans in the snack aisle of your supermarket, alongside cans of peanuts and mixed nuts. I’m crazy about the horseradish-y flavor, and it is remarkably good against the sweetness of maple and bourbon.

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

1 lb. potatoes (I used a combination of russet and golds)

2 Tbsp. salted butter (extra if you’d like)

1/4 cup thick buttermilk

1 tsp. prepared horseradish

Salt and pepper

Asparagus

1 average bundle fresh asparagus

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Zest of 1/2 fresh lemon (optional)

Instructions

You will want to marinate the salmon fillets a couple of hours, so plan this quick prep for mid-afternoon. I’ll run through the easy steps for the salmon here. For visual direction on the buttermilk mashed potatoes, check out my recent post for Bangers & Mash; it is the same recipe, though ingredient amounts are adjusted here for this dish.

  1. Season the salmon fillets with kosher salt and black pepper. Place them, skin side down, in a glass baking dish.
  2. Combine the maple syrup, bourbon and Dijon mustard in a measuring cup with a pour spout, Whisk in olive oil and maple extract (if using). Pour most of the marinade evenly over the salmon fillets, reserving about a tablespoon of it to drizzle over at serving. Turn the fillets over, so that the fleshy side rests in the marinade, and wiggle them around to be sure the marinade coats the exposed sides of the fish. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour, preferably about two hours.
  3. Peel and cut up the potatoes. Boil gently until they are easily pierced with a fork, then drain over a colander.
  4. Add butter and buttermilk to the cooking pot and stir until butter is melted. Transfer drained potatoes back to the pot and mash to desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in horseradish and more butter, if desired. Keep potatoes warm until serving time.
  5. While the potatoes cook, prepare your grill, with temperature at 350° F. Soak cedar wraps and tying twine for at least five minutes.
  6. Remove salmon fillets from marinade. Center them, skin side-down, on the soaked wraps and fold up the sides to enclose them, tying snugly with twine.
  7. Place the cedar-wrapped salmon onto a grilling rack, and cook over direct heat for about 12 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with the twist of a fork. You may need to peel back a piece of the cedar wrap to test the flakiness.
  8. Cut the twine to unwrap the cedar and serve the fish atop a mound of the buttermilk-horseradish potatoes alongside your favorite vegetable. Chop the soy-wasabi almonds into crumb-sized pieces. Drizzle salmon with reserved marinade and sprinkle with almonds.

Make the asparagus concurrently with the potatoes and salmon

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Prep the asparagus by snapping off the trimmed ends. Rinse under running water and roll them around on a paper towel to dry them.
  2. Arrange the asparagus in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and roll them to coat evenly. Season with salt and pepper and roast for about 15 minutes. Finish with a sprinkle of lemon zest. If you slide the asparagus into the oven just before the salmon goes on the grill, it will be done right on time!

Want to make this easy salmon recipe?

One more thing…

You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the brands and products I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or merchandise for my recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can count on me to give an honest opinion. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, you can still count on me to be honest in my recommendations, as I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀

Terrie

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…

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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.


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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!


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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.

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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!

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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!

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