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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Lemon Mushroom Chicken

Three favorite key ingredients, plus onions, garlic, butter and a splash of white wine—it sounds simple, because it is. This is a delicious entrée I like to call a “Sunday Supper” because there are a few extra steps that make it special without making it complicated. A recipe that takes a little more time is what I love, in part because it feels relaxing to prepare food slowly with more intention, but mostly because as the meal develops and the house becomes increasingly filled with savory aromas, it creates a tension and anticipation that isn’t often present with a quickly cooked weeknight meal.

The result of the extra care and patience required for this dish is well worth the time and effort—tender, juicy bites of chicken with a rich, onion-y mushroom gravy-like coating. It’s satisfying and comforting, in a way that only a home-cooked meal can be. You can taste the love in this kind of food. The mushrooms contribute an earthiness that is not overwhelming, and the freshly squeezed lemon, thyme and white wine give the impression of something far more gourmet than the simple instructions I’m about to describe.

I prefer to make this recipe on the stove in a skillet because it’s usually just me and my husband at the dinner table, and I like to keep my counter space open. But if you are doubling the recipe and happen to have a large electric skillet, that would be a terrific option—provided it has a cover, which is an important part of finishing the recipe. I’ll walk you through preparation of the dish, but if you’re ready to dive straight into it, you can scroll to the bottom to download a printed copy of the recipe. But then, of course, you’d miss the pictures. 🙂

A quick twist of the fork is enough to grab a bite of this lemon mushroom chicken. How scrumptious and tender is that?

Here’s how to make it.

First, the chicken breasts are sliced and pounded thin to ensure tender, uniform pieces. I do this myself at home because it’s an easy way to save the extra cost of pre-sliced cutlets. It’s OK if you don’t have a meat tenderizer; you can use the bottom of a small pot to do the same. Next, season the pieces with salt and pepper and a couple of pinches of dried thyme. It’s important to do this first, because you want the seasoning in the chicken—not just on the coating. Then drag the cutlets through some seasoned flour and let them rest while chopping a sweet onion and a couple cloves of garlic.


Clean and slice a full package of fresh mushrooms. It may seem overkill for a four-serving recipe, but they cook down considerably and they are a key component of the dish. My favorite type is cremini (sometimes called baby portabella, though technically they are not), but white button mushrooms or shiitake would work fine as well. Are you on the fence about the right way to clean mushrooms? I used to be afraid that rinsing them would make them soggy, but I learned a few years ago that mushrooms don’t absorb much water unless you soak them (thank you for that, Alton Brown!), so go ahead with a thorough cold water rinse then use a clean paper towel to dry them and wipe away any remaining debris. Finish the prep by trimming the stems and slicing them into 3/8” thick, perfectly uniform slices. Say what? Here’s how to do the slicing part in less than one minute:


My egg slicer is made of metal, with cutting wires that are sturdy enough to tackle slicing mushrooms and strawberries, and I love that I get clean, uniform slices with minimal effort. Maybe someday I’ll use this thing to slice eggs. If you don’t have an egg slicer, use your best sharp knife, and don’t sweat over the thickness—just slice them as evenly as you can, but not paper thin.

The onions go into a heated skillet with olive oil, but you’ll notice in the photos that I don’t take them very far toward caramelization. You want them to be nice and soft, so keep the heat in the medium-low range and cook just until they soften and begin to look translucent. Add the mushrooms in batches and cook them without crowding the pan. These guys give off a lot of moisture when they cook, and if you have too many at once, they will steam rather than brown. Take your time, and when the first handful of mushrooms reaches that “lightly browned” stage, move them aside and add another handful. When the whole batch is finished, add the chopped garlic and sauté briefly, then transfer the mixture to a bowl.


Give the cutlets another quick dip through the seasoned flour while you melt butter in the same skillet. It’s not unusual for the flour to absorb moisture from the chicken during the initial rest, and they should be completely (but lightly) coated before they hit the hot butter. This will create a roux-like coating on the chicken, and the broth you add later will break that down into delicious gravy as it simmers.

When the butter is melted and bubbly, carefully arrange the cutlets into the pan in a single layer, again taking care not to crowd the pan. Depending on how many pieces you have, this may need to be done in batches as well. Turn the cutlets over when they are a nice golden brown on the underside, and stack them on top of each other when both sides are done, to make room in the pan for any remaining cutlets.

Remove the browned cutlets and rest them on top of the reserved mushroom-onion mixture. This will make room for you to de-glaze the skillet, bringing all the beautiful browned bits back into the dish. Reduce the heat to low, then working quickly, pour in the white wine and use a whisk or other utensil to scrape up those flavorful remnants. Squeeze in the lemon juice and swirl the pan to combine. Place the chicken cutlets back into the skillet and pile the mushrooms and onions on top. Carefully pour in chicken broth, but only enough to slightly cover the chicken. Give the skillet a gentle shake to help the broth get under and around the chicken, then cover the skillet and walk away.


The chicken will simmer at this low temperature for 35 to 40 minutes. It will be fully cooked well before this time, but the long simmer will result in the tenderness and richness I described at the beginning. What’s great about a recipe like this is that while the magic is quietly happening in the skillet, I have time to tidy up the prep dishes, set the table and enjoy a glass of wine with my husband. This is also a good time to prep whatever vegetable or salad I plan to serve. When the main dish is more involved, as this one is, I usually opt for a simple vegetable side. The lemon mushroom chicken deserves center stage.

I love how the sauce becomes part of the chicken, rather than being poured over it. This dinner will melt in your mouth.

For this meal, I roasted fresh asparagus. If you are cooking asparagus some other way, I will be so bold as to declare you have been missing out! Try roasting once and you’ll see what I mean. Rinse and trim the stalks, arrange them on a parchment lined baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and roll them around to coat. Give them a little salt and pepper to taste, and pop them into a 400° F oven for 15 minutes. They should be slightly tender and retain a bright green color. Easy, yet so elegant.


And there you have it—this “Sunday Supper” dish takes a little more time than an average weeknight meal, but the payoff for your patience is a tender portion of delicate chicken, covered in savory mushrooms and fully enveloped in a rich, gravy-like coating. We like this on its own with a fresh roasted vegetable or salad, but it would also be beautiful on top of your favorite mashed potatoes, rice or linguine.

Ingredients

1.5 lb. package skinless, boneless chicken breast (or same weight of prepared thin cutlets, if you prefer)

Salt, pepper and 1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Extra virgin olive oil

1 medium sweet onion, sliced into crescent shapes

8 oz. package fresh cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

2 or 3 cloves of fresh garlic, finely chopped

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter (cold from the fridge is fine)

1/3 cup dry white wine (I use pinot grigio, or sometimes dry vermouth as substitute)

1 fresh lemon 

1/2 to 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth (use enough to just cover the browned cutlets)


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If you make this lemon mushroom chicken, please let me know in the comments how it turned out for you.


Easy Hash Brown Waffles

As with art, music and just about everything else in life, appreciation of food is subjective. When I learned recently that September is “Better Breakfast Month,” I wasn’t sure what to make of it. “Better” can mean any number of things—qualitative and quantitative. At our house, we are always aiming for our version of a better breakfast in that we actually sit down and eat the meal. Together. At the table. It’s a terrific concept, and we’re committed to keeping that going!

We have a few favorite breakfasts in regular rotation, the most common of them being what we lovingly refer to as “Jewish Boy Breakfast,” or JBB, as I like to call it on my menu planning spreadsheet (yes, I’m really that nerdy). This morning meal is the namesake of my darling husband, Les, who is Jewish and raised in New York, the best city in the world for Jewish food. A typical JBB at our house looks like this:

You can’t take the NYC out of the boy. Les loves his bagels!

It’s a whole wheat everything bagel, topped with spreadable scallion cream cheese, thin slices of red onion, capers (on mine, anyway) and lox. We are lucky to have a reliable source of fresh-daily bagels in our city, otherwise I would have to bake them myself (which I’ve done exactly twice, and wow, what a project). The cream cheese is a homemade schmear that’s super easy to make yourself (check out that link above), and we are forever on the lookout for a sale on lox, because this salty cold-smoked salmon can get pricey.

In case you’re wondering, there is in fact a side of bacon on the plate—which clearly is not part of a balanced Jewish breakfast. I never said he was devout.

JBB has a special role in our love story as well. During our courtship, I straddled the fence about getting serious with Les, following too much drama and heartbreak in my own past. About eight months in, we had a huge snowstorm (in North Carolina, that means more than two inches of snow at once), and though he had been willing to run a bunch of random errands in such conditions, he declined my invitation to dinner. Better to “play it safe,” he said, given the weather and all. In response, I decided to play it safe by being hurt, and I went to bed feeling sorry for myself. Next morning, I was awakened by a text from Les—“why aren’t you answering your door?” I hadn’t heard him knocking, but there he stood—in the middle of a blizzard, people!—sporting a hat with flaps that covered his ears, and holding a bag of fresh bagels plus all the proper accoutrements. The man had risked his very life to be with me. OK, not exactly—but he had shown me (again) that he was different and dependable, so I married him. ❤ And I do love a JBB.

Anyway, when the weekend comes, we like to go big on breakfast. And by big, I mean with preparation of things that are too fussy for a busy out-the-door weekday morning. One of our go-to “better breakfast” menu items? These ultra-crispy, fun and flavorful hash brown waffles. Let’s just savor this image for a moment. Lean in to your screen and try to smell them.

I love those little bits of pepper and onion glistening under the crispy, cheesy potato shreds.

They emerge from the waffle iron crackling crisp on the outside, hot and soft on the inside, and they’re perfectly customizable, based on our craving du jour. This is how we use up all assortments of leftover cheese, onion and pepper scraps, and they come together in short order because I take a rare shortcut in the form of this:

You won’t often see me tout a ready-made grocery product like this one, but these are such a time saver, I can’t help myself.

I hope you aren’t disappointed to learn that I don’t actually make every single thing from scratch. Though I’ve considered shredding fresh potatoes myself for these, I’ve learned that once in a while is often enough to make an exception. These pre-shredded potatoes are such a worthy exception, and they can be found in any well-stocked supermarket. I only wish someone would explain to me why they are always in the dairy section. (hmm)

Here’s how they happen, and obviously, you will need a waffle iron to try them at home. I recommend a standard square or round waffle maker rather than Belgian style, but if you try it in a Belgian maker, please do let me know how it comes out for you, OK?

As the photo conveys, we lean toward the crispy side of things at our house, but you could certainly cut the time a bit shorter and remove them when they are just golden and lightly crisp. You’re the boss of your own kitchen. I’m enjoying the heck out of them in this crunchy state because we’ve recently decided to give up potato chips, our latest bad habit that was wrecking our waistlines. Enjoy them any way you’d normally serve breakfast potatoes, or make them the main dish as we do, topped with a runny egg!

I love the contrast of crispy edges with the soft potato inside. Now, THIS is a better breakfast!

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, they are also a terrific menu option the next time you’re in the mood for “breakfast for dinner.”

Go on, make them. 🙂


Ingredients

Extra virgin olive oil

1/2 bag Simply Potatoes shredded hash browns

1/2 cup (give or take) diced onion

1/2 bell pepper (or poblano or jalapeno, you decide)

1/4 cup diced and cooked leftover ham, sausage, bacon (optional)

Approximately 3/4 cup shredded melting cheese (cheddar, swiss, Monterey jack, gouda, etc.)

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 tsp. ground cumin (this is excellent with any fried potatoes)


Instructions

  1. Preheat waffle iron to 400° F.
  2. Place a small skillet over medium heat. Add a generous swirl of olive oil to the pan, and sauté the onions and peppers until they are softened and lightly browned. If you are adding breakfast meat that is not yet cooked, go ahead and toss that into the pan as well. Season to taste, stir in cumin and remove from heat.
  3. Combine shredded hash browns, onion mixture and shredded cheese and stir well to evenly blend the ingredients.
  4. Drizzle in about 1 tablespoon of additional olive oil and stir to combine. I’ve learned from all my experimentation with this recipe that the extra oil goes above and beyond to deliver my hash brown waffles with the crispiest possible exterior. Thank goodness olive oil is a “healthy” fat!
  5. When waffle maker is preheated, pile the hash brown mixture evenly over the plate and press to close the iron lid. Leave it alone for about 10 minutes, and carefully raise the lid to check their doneness. I’ve learned that if the waffle iron doesn’t release right away, whatever I’m waffling needs more time. The food will release when it’s ready, and for my Cuisinart waffle maker, 13 is the lucky number.
  6. Carefully remove the waffle sheet, in one piece, to a platter or cutting board and cut into serving pieces.
  7. Serve as desired, but may I recommend again the runny egg? It’s so, so good. 🙂

A little Frank’s red hot sauce for kick. And I might have broken off a crispy piece for dipping into the egg yolk. Yes, I believe I did.

This recipe will make five waffles, each about 4 x 6 inches. We make four at once for breakfast, then we fight over the fifth during kitchen cleanup. I love our life!

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Basil Gin Gimlet

As summer winds down, I am finding myself eager to put behind me the near-disaster that was “Garden 2020.” I described in mid-May my reluctant optimism in planting anything, given the history I’ve had with the neighborhood deer (bless their hearts). Then, in early July, a glimmer of hope when I discovered all those lovely squash blooms. Little did I know (and I didn’t even bother to report to you) that it would be my final harvest of the season, as only days after the post about the ricotta stuffed squash blossoms, I was shocked back to reality with the total decimation of my raised bed plot. The deer ate everything—the blossoms, the growing fruit, the leaves, and even the tops of the hot pepper plants.

CAUTION: Graphic images ahead may be disturbing to some readers.

All of it, gone. Except, of course, the basil. Lord have mercy, do I have basil.

All that pruning was worth it for this amazing basil harvest.

The saying goes that if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. In keeping with such age-old wisdom, I shall make basil cocktails! I’m still on my kick of inventing infused simple syrups for martinis, Manhattans and other libations. Might as well make the best of this excessive herbal situation—and as luck would have it, these petite little drinks are flat-out yummy.

It’s cold and refreshing, and tastes like summer!

I had opportunity to share them this week with my friend, Tina, who lives at the top of our neighborhood and is just about the biggest arts and crafts fanatic I’ve met (it takes one to know one). She had casually mentioned recently that she had entered several projects in a local art competition, which perked up my ears, big time. Kind of the way our dog, Nilla, perks up when we mention “cookies.”

Did you say cookies??

“Oh? What kind of art?” I asked.

Turns out, Tina has quite a number of art techniques in her repertoire, including mixed media composition and acrylic pour painting (which absolutely mesmerizes me), and jewelry design. And then she quipped that she believes she is more creative while enjoying an adult beverage. What a coincidence—me too! Naturally, I made a motion for a neighborly get-together, during which we might accomplish both. Tina seconded the motion, and it turned out to be quite an afternoon. She provided the craft supplies (and expert guidance) to make these sweet snowflake earrings.

“We’re going to make these,” she said casually. Say WHAT?

And I provided the craft cocktail supplies to make these basil gin gimlets. If you also have a late harvest of basil coming out your ears, I hope you’ll give them a try.

Gin comes in several different types, and I’ve made this cocktail with a few brands, my favorite being Hendrick’s from Scotland, which is distilled with cucumber and rose—so botanically speaking, it’s a friendly playmate for the basil from my garden.


To make the cocktail, you’ll first need to create the simple syrup from equal parts filtered water and cane sugar, plus a good handful of cleaned fresh basil leaves. Do this at least a few hours in advance, to allow time for chilling the syrup.

Chill your cocktail glasses, either by filling with ice or placing in the freezer.

Measure the gin and basil syrup, add a squeeze of lime and shake it with ice. Some cocktail purists would argue that you should only stir a cocktail in a mixing glass, and that shaking serves to bruise the gin. I say phooey—shake the shake out of it, because I prefer my cocktails to be icy and refreshing. Choose as you wish, as long as you give it plenty of time to mingle with the ice to be cold and refreshing.

Strain the cocktail into your chilled glasses and savor the sweet flavor of late summer, with or without a jewelry party.


Ingredients & Instructions

Makes 2 cocktails

3 oz. Hendrick’s (or gin of your choice)

1 oz. basil simple syrup (details below)

Juice of 1/2 fresh lime


Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake 20 seconds until the outside of the shaker is frosty. Strain into small, chilled cocktail glasses.


Basil Simple Syrup

In a small saucepan, combine equal parts filtered water and cane sugar (I used 1/2 cup each). Heat over medium only until sugar is dissolved and syrup begins to bubble at the edges. Add in a handful of fresh basil leaves (rinse, shake off excess water, and trim thick stems first). Stir and simmer 1 minute, then turn off heat and allow mixture to cool completely. Use a slotted spoon to remove the basil leaves, and transfer to a jar. Syrup will keep in the fridge for up to a month.

Dear followers, as of this morning, I have discovered that my remaining basil (all those bushy leaves) is completely covered in black spots. For the love of summer, I’m so over it. 🙂


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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Fresh Broccoli-Apple Salad

The word “salad” can mean a lot of things, depending on the generation during which the recipe was introduced. For example, in the 1960s or ’70s, a “salad” could have been anything from an iceberg lettuce-based dish served ahead of dinner to a molded concoction of sweetened gelatin, cottage cheese, marshmallow or who knows what.


Blame our parents, if you need to, for those atrocities. But this salad is a real salad—vegetables, fruit, dressing—everything you want to complement what you’re serving for dinner in these modern times, especially if what you’re serving is coming off the grill.

Broccoli comes to us from the brassica family of vegetables, kin to brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale, to name a few. Some of these veggies carry a slightly bitter flavor, but here’s a tip to knock it down: give it a quick swim in boiling water (only for a few seconds), then shock it cold again in an ice water bath. Not only will you strip away some of that bitter flavor, you’ll also see the broccoli transform to a much brighter green color. Be sure to drain it well before proceeding with the salad, so the dressing doesn’t get watery.

We love salads at our house, but my husband, Les, isn’t wild about broccoli by itself. A salad that features broccoli along with other flavors and textures is a great compromise, and he liked it. His son, Alex, has been with us for meals at least once a week since his return home from Europe at the start of the pandemic, and he announced at dinner that this dish has “all my favorite things in it.” I’m counting that a double success!

This dish is crunchy, cold, fresh and—despite the slight sweetness—still packed with nutrition. Approximately 6 servings.


Ingredients

2 broccoli crowns, washed (about 4 cups worth)

2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded

1/2 cup red onion, chopped

1/2 cup golden raisin-dried cranberry blend, soaked briefly in hot water to plump

1 granny smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped

Juice of 1/2 lemon

3 slices thin bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled (this is optional)


If the dressing seems familiar, you might be remembering my creamy cole slaw a few months ago. It’s pretty much the same, repurposed for a different type of salad.

This dressing works for all kinds of summer salads!

Dressing Ingredients

1/4 cup light mayo

2 Tbsp. whole milk

2 Tbsp. buttermilk

2 Tbsp. lemon white balsamic* (or white wine vinegar or lemon juice, but double the sugar)

1 Tbsp. cane sugar

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/8 tsp. white pepper

Freshly ground black pepper


Instructions

  1. Dip the broccoli crowns very briefly into gently boiling water, then shock them in ice water and drain. This helps remove any bitter taste, and also brightens the color. You can skip this step if you don’t mind the slight bitterness of broccoli.
  2. Trim leaves from broccoli crowns and cut up into small bites. You can chop the broccoli if you’re in a hurry, but I like to have cut off whole pieces rather than “crumbs” of broccoli. My general rule of thumb for bite size is this: If a piece is large enough to completely cover a quarter, it’s too big, so I’ll cut it in half.
  3. Combine broccoli pieces with onions, plumped raisins, carrot shreds. Toss the apple pieces in the lemon juice to prevent browning. Add them to the salad.
  4. Combine all dressing ingredients and whisk until smooth. Pour over salad and toss to evenly coat. Refrigerate a few hours to allow flavors to mingle.
  5. Scatter crispy bacon (if using) over salad just before serving.
The crispy bacon adds a nice touch of salty and smoky on this hearty summer side.

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Just Collards.

As much as I love vegetables and know that dark, leafy greens are incredibly rich in nutrients, I’d actually been mystified and intimidated by collards for decades. They seemed foreign to me, even off-limits to a degree because of their cultural origin. So I kept to myself and didn’t bother with them until one day two years ago, when I worked up enough gumption to put a fresh bunch of collards into my cart at Food Lion. At checkout, I humbly confessed that I was nervous because I’d never cooked them before. From behind me in the line a friendly Black woman spoke up: “What are you planning to do with them?” I shrugged and said I figured I’d be boiling them or maybe putting them in the slow cooker because I assumed they took a very long time to cook.

She quickly gave me an alternative. —

“No, honey, fry them!” And right there at register 3, she gave me a crash course in her way of making collards, the food that so many take for granted is a native “southern thing,” though food historians say they came to this country for the first time in the 1600s—from Africa. And in Africa, cooks have learned from their grandmothers for generations that frying collards in oil, then simmering them is the best cooking method.

Ever since, I’ve prepared them precisely as she instructed, because it wasn’t just a recipe that kind woman shared with me that day—it was part of her culture, her tradition, her story, her life. She was happy to share it with me, and I’m honored to share it with you.

These have a terrific flavor and have become a staple in our meal rotation. I don’t know why I wasted so much time feeling intimidated by this simple food. After all, as the woman told me—”they’re just collards.”

The humble collard, in all its beautiful green glory.

Ingredients

2 slices bacon, cut into one-inch pieces

1 medium onion, chopped

Cooking oil (I use extra virgin olive oil)

2 lbs. fresh collard greens, cleaned and chopped

A few shakes crushed red pepper

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 cup water or broth (I used vegetable broth)


Instructions

If you’re a visual learner like me, you won’t need to read the instructions below. That’s how easy it is.


  1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, cook bacon pieces and chopped onions together until the fat renders and bacon begins to crisp. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Add collard greens, a few handfuls at a time, and stir them around so they soften and wilt. When there’s room in the pan for more, add more. Add cooking oil to the middle of the pan as needed for cooking the remaining collards.
  3. When all the greens are wilted, move them to the outside edges of the pan. Pour vinegar into the center of the pan, and stir with a wooden utensil to de-glaze any burned bits from the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add water or broth and reduce heat to low, then cover and simmer the greens for about an hour until tender.
Collards are packed with nutrients and antioxidants.
They are considered by nutrition experts to be a “superfood.”

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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!!!