grilled vegetable sandwiches

Summer is ending.  Fall is arriving…slowly, but arriving.  We had a couple of evenings recently where we sat on the patio and enjoyed what had the makings of a cool breeze.  I think we’ve survived another desert summer!  Which is good and bad, because that means summer veggies are going by the wayside.  But it also means fall root veggies, key to many comfort foods and soups, will be in abundant supply.

While flipping through a cookbook looking for something entirely different, I came across these grilled veggie sandwiches which sounded (and looked) delicious.  My usual cooking routine includes incorporating a meatless meal or two each week.  And, since no one has put up too much of a fight, I’m not rocking that boat.  These veggie sandwiches were the perfect meatless meal, and made for a tiny celebration of the end of the season by using the last of the summer veggies.  For those of you in colder climates, the benefits will be two-fold: enjoying the last of summer vegetables and lighting up the grill one more time – before the lid is frozen shut!  Enjoy!!

Grilled Vegetable Sandwiches (recipe courtesy Cooking Light Superfast Suppers, Oxmoor House Publishing)

dressing©zouptonuts

sliced©zouptonuts

marinade©zouptonuts

grillbasket©zouptonuts

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp light mayo
  • 1 Tbsp fresh chopped basil
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into eighths
  • 1 (1 lb) eggplant, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 sweet onion, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices
  • Cooking spray
  • 4 ciabatta rolls, sliced in half
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced

Directions:

  • Prepare grill.
  • Combine mayo and minced basil; cover and chill.
  • Combine oil and next 3 ingredients in a large bowl.  Add bell pepper, eggplant, onion, and zucchini to dressing mixture;; toss vegetables to coat.
  • Place bell pepper and eggplant on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill about 6 minutes.  Add onion and zucchini; grill 5 minutes.  Turn vegetables often, baste with dressing, and cook just until tender.  Remove from grill and keep warm.
  • Place bread on grill, cut side down, and grill 2 minutes.  Turn bread, cut side up, and place half of cheese slices on bottom half of bread.  Grill 1 minute or until cheese begins to melt.
  • Spread mayo mixture over top half of bread.  Top bottom half with vegetables, remaining cheese slices, and top half of bread.
  • Serve immediately.

sandwich©zouptonuts***Cook’s Notes:  I used a grill basket for the veggies, which made worries about losing vegetables through the grill grates a non-issue.  Choose a nice, hearty roll.  The ciabattas are great because they hold up well to the moisture from the dressing, grilled veggies, and melted cheese.  Also, I came across this little gem while working on the post; the website for the book Simply in Season, which offers a fruit and vegetable guide for tips on how to choose, store, prepare, and use selected fruits and vegetables.  Good stuff!

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grilled cod with lemon, mint, and basil

If I’m going to be committed to tracking and sharing the recipes I thought were great…or, even good, a couple recent efforts left me with the niggling idea I should also track and share recipes I thought had potential…even if they didn’t live up to my expectations when I made them.  After all, cooking and photographing takes a bit of effort.  It’s time I sometimes don’t even have (ask my husband, who has sat patiently waiting to eat while I shoot one, last picture of the plated meal before the light gets bad).

In the current case, I didn’t shoot any prep shots because it was one of those days we were running behind and I just really needed to get dinner moving.  But I had time to plate and shoot.  Then came the eating and the point at which I thought, thank goodness I didn’t spend a bunch of time shooting the prep for this average recipe.

Because that’s what I thought it was:  average.  Not because I don’t like fish.  I do.  And, not because I don’t like lemon and basil and olive oil.  I do, I do, I do.  What I discovered upon eating this dish is how much I dislike mint.  Or, at the very least, how much I dislike mint in this quantity.

That’s where I started thinking I should share it with this caveat:   Too.  Much.  Dang.  Mint!   Three tablespoons of mint was simply overpowering.  Granted, cod is a relatively bland, yet buttery-textured fish.  It has great potential for any preparation, whether grilled, poached, or pan-seared.  And this recipe could have been great had it not been for the mint.

With that said, this is what I’d do differently next time:  leave out the mint entirely and substitute chives, for instance, or flip-flop the proportions by using three tablespoons of basil, which I adore, and only one tablespoon of mint.  Either way, the overwhelming taste and smell of mint needs to be eliminated.  Unless, of course, you love mint, which might find you preparing this fish exactly as the recipe suggests.  It’s a blank canvas.  Have at it and enjoy!

Grilled Cod with Lemon, Mint, and Basil (recipe courtesy Healthy 100 @ Florida Hospital)

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp. chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh basil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 4 (4-oz.) cod fillets

Directions:

1. Preheat grill to medium.  In a small bowl whisk together oil, lemon juice, mint, basil and garlic, reserving half for sauce.  Brush one side of each fillet with lemon and herb mixture.

2. Place fillets on grill. Grill 4 minutes per side or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Transfer fillets to a serving platter, drizzle with remaining lemon and herb sauce, and serve.

grilledcod©zouptonuts

hoisin-grilled chicken with soba noodles

If my kid had to choose one thing to use as a dipping sauce…because, well, meat can’t be eaten in our house unless dipped in something, she’d choose barbecue.  Her sauce of choice is Sweet Baby Ray’s Sweet & Tangy.  She’ll put it on everything, but particularly her least favorite meat of all time: chicken.

Isn’t chicken supposed to be every kid’s favorite meat?  I mean, it’s generally tender, virtually devoid of any offensive flavor (or, flavor of any sort unless dredged in Sweet Baby Ray’s)?  Well, not my kid, I guess, resulting in this recipe being a sort of double whammy – she detests chicken and the sauce is NOT Sweet Baby Ray’s.  The sauce is better, in my opinion, but I don’t have the culinary sensitivities of an eight year old.

I love hoisin sauce.  I love Asian-inspired dishes.  I won’t go so far as to say I love chicken because handling raw chicken is enough to make me contemplate full-time vegetarianism.  But once it’s cooked, I’m OK with it.  Fortunately or unfortunately, chicken is flavorless unless you do something good to it.  In this case, the sauce.  The hoisin adds sweetness and the chili-garlic the heat.  I love the savory warmth of dark sesame oil, too.  But the really interesting flavor comes from the Chinese 5-spice blend.

You can make your own at home; it’s a combination of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel seeds, and Szechuan peppercorns, but 5-spice blend is readily available in the spice aisle at your local grocery store.  The spice adds a deeper warmth to an already savory combination of flavors.  Overall, this Asian-inspired barbecue sauce was quite good.  Don’t worry, Sweet Baby Ray’s.  A certain eight year old will  make sure my pantry remains well stocked with your products.  Nice change of pace, though.  Enjoy!

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Hoisin-Grilled Chicken w/Soba Noodles (recipe adapted from Cooking Light, July 2013)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
  • 3 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • Cooking spray
  • 6 ounces uncooked soba noodles (or pasta of your choice)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar snap peas, trimmed and halved diagonally
  • 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp dark sesame oil
  • 2 tsp lower-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sambal oelek (ground fresh chile paste), or 1 tsp chili-garlic sauce
  • 2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced

Directions:

  1. Combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Add chicken; toss to coat. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add chicken; cook 10 minutes or until done, turning after 5 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes. Thinly slice across the grain,
  2. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add noodles; cook 2 minutes. Add peas; cook 1 minute or until noodles are tender. Drain. Combine rice vinegar and next 3 ingredients in a bowl. Add noodle mixture; toss to coat. Arrange about 1 cup noodle mixture in each of 4 shallow bowls. Top each serving with about 3 1/2 ounces chicken. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and onions.

hoison_grilledchicken©zouptonuts***Cook’s Note:  Per the picture, I was convinced I had Soba noodles in my pantry when I didn’t.  Substituting any pasta will serve you well, however.

chicken on the grill – easy marinade

Grilling and salads.  That’s what I’m doing, lately.  This was a last minute marinade that came together with stock pantry items and had nice flavor.  It’s nothing wild or over-the-top, so it’s pretty kid friendly, but had nice flavor which I attribute to my substitution of fresh, minced garlic instead of garlic salt.  The fresh garlic gives a bigger flavor punch while also reducing sodium in the finished product.

I served this with Harvest Grains Blend by Trader Joe’s and a green salad for a light, tasty dinner that didn’t involve heating up my kitchen in this desert heat.  If you’re bored with chicken (I completely understand that), I think this marinade would work nicely with pork, shrimp, or fish, as well.  Enjoy!

marinade©zouptonuts

Chicken on the Grill (recipe adapted from Grilling: Food Writers’ Favorites)

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c vegetable oil
  • 1/4 c orange juice
  • 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1 tsp garlic salt (I used 1 Tbsp fresh garlic, minced, to reduce sodium)
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes

Directions:

In a large resealable bag, combine oil, orange juice, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, and garlic salt.  Add chicken cubes.  Seal plastic bag and turn to coat all chicken pieces evenly.  Refrigerate at least 30 to 45 minutes, turning once or twice.

Remove chicken from marinade and discard remaining liquid.  Thread chicken cubes on metal skewers.  Place skewers on gas grill over medium-high heat.   Cook about 10 minutes, turning occasionally, or until chicken is done.

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Cook’s Notes:  Give this marinade a kick with some red pepper flakes or a splash of hot sauce.  Instead of a side salad, skewer some veggies and cook those on the grill with the chicken.

chopped steak salad

It’s rare I would actually grill a steak for the sake of making a salad.  But, one of my favorite things to do with leftover grilled steak (or any meat, for that matter) is toss it in a salad the next night for a change of pace.  I’d eat salad every night of the week if I could get away with it, and this is a nice way to incorporate a protein with your veggies.  Age-old, time-tested, tried-and-true way to use up leftovers.  And it probably reassures my husband he’s still eating something manly.

This recipe adds cannelloni beans, which bumps up the protein significantly.  They also add great texture.  Honestly, who really needs a recipe for salad, right?  It’s truly one of those meals open to limitless creative inspiration.  I like the sweet, mellow flavor of the roasted red peppers, but for a little heat maybe add some chopped peperoncini.  Just a thought!  Follow the recipe or throw in some of your own unique preferences.  Enjoy!

Chopped Steak Salad

Ingredients:

  • 3/4  pound flank steak, freshly grilled or leftover from previous meal
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 head romaine, chopped
  • 1/4 small head red cabbage, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1  15.5-ounce can white beans, rinsed
  • 1/2  cup  chopped roasted peppers
  • 1/4  cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup dressing of your choice  (I’m a big fan of Annie’s Naturals and used their Lite Raspberry Vinaigrette)

Directions

  1. Heat broiler. Season steak with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper and place on a broilerproof rimmed baking sheet.
  2. Broil the steak, 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium-rare. Let rest for 5 minutes, then cut into ½-inch pieces.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the romaine, cabbage, beans, peppers, and parsley. Add the steak and dressing and toss to combine.

Cook’s Tip: The salad can be prepped (without the dressing) and refrigerated for up to 1 day. Toss with the dressing just before serving.

meat-of-choice teriyaki

This recipe came from one of my many, many Pinterest pins (can you say, “Get a life?”).  Actually, it’s so easy to pin from anywhere now that killing time at gymnastics or swim lessons or waiting for school to let out is a lot more productive.  (You can follow my pins here, if you’d like).  And Pinterest is absolutely overflowing with amazing recipes I can save for later, or a rainy day, or the day my husband comes home from the doc and tells me his cholesterol is too high.  Huh??  Ok, that’s just genetic, but to the extent I can make my already healthy cooking healthier?  Yeah, I’m in.  I kinda want to keep him around for a while.

The original recipe was for Teriyaki Turkey Tenderloins (say that three times fast), but my butcher was out of turkey tenderloins.  And, hey, it’s teriyaki.  Doesn’t that pretty much go with everything?  So, while I ended up using chicken breasts, any meat will do: chicken, turkey, pork, your choice.  It was also a little different from my standard teriyaki with the addition of sesame oil and chili-garlic paste.  The chili-garlic gave this version a nice kick and a little heat, but not overpowering.  I’ll definitely use it again – maybe on the last of the shrimp in the freezer now that my healthy cooking just got healthier.  Enjoy!

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Teriyaki Chicken

Ingredients:

  • turkey breast tenderloins, chicken breasts, or pork tenderloin (meat-of-choice), approx 1 – 1 1/2 lbs
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbps fresh ginger, grated
  • ½ c  low-sodium soy sauce
  • ½ c orange juice
  • ½ Tbps sesame oil
  • 2 Tbps rice vinegar
  • Juice of one lemon
  • ½ Tbps chili garlic paste (optional, or cut back quantity to taste)
 Instructions:
  1. Place meat-of-choice in a resealable plastic bag and set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients and pour in to resealable bag containing your meat-of-choice.
  3. Marinate at least 30 minutes or overnight.
  4. Pre-heat grill to medium high heat.
  5. Place your meat-of-choice on the grill and cook to recommended temp (have a meat thermometer handy).
  6. Let rest at least 5 minutes before slicing.

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flank steak with pepita relish

I’ve made this recipe so many times but the timing and preparations have never really coincided with an opportunity to shoot some pics, as well.  See, I don’t cook to photograph.  I cook to eat.  If I manage to squeeze in a few shots of the process….well, then, a blog post is born.  But for the most part, I plan dinner and photograph depending on the octave of the “I’m hungry” chorus.  If tummies seem content, I take pics.  If tummies seem on the verge of mutiny, I don’t.

For whatever reason, this meal is not one I’ve ever been able to photograph.  Until now.

I love these for a lot of reasons; they’re easy to throw together (the relish is a quick prep), the cilantro and lime give them a decidedly southwestern flavor (add hot sauce, sour cream, etc., if you’re so inclined), and if I have any leftover flank steak, it makes for the perfect cold steak salad the next night.  Also, I have a well documented obsession with wrapping food in other food.  This recipe satisfies the desire.  Weird.  I know!

The recipe originated at Real Simple and calls for skirt steak; the flank steak is just a little leaner.  The leftovers, if you have any, are nice if you can’t get out of the office for lunch and are just as yummy cold.  Enjoy!

Flank Steak with Pepita Relish (recipe adapted from Real Simple)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lb flank steak
  • kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 8 6-in flour tortillas
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 c fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 c pepitas
  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice

Directions:

Bring steak to room temperature for even grilling.  Season the steak with salt and pepper and place on pre-heated grill, grilling until desired doneness (about 5 minutes per side for a nice, medium-rare steak).  Remove from heat and let rest for about 5 minutes before slicing.

Warm the tortillas according to the package directions.

In a medium bowl combine the onion, cilantro, pepitas, oil, lime juice, and salt and pepper, to taste.  Mix well and serve over warm tortillas.  Add sour cream, optional.

Cook’s Note: Flank steak is a fickle cut of meat.  It can be quickly overcooked and become tough and unappetizing.  Pay close attention to the grill.  Also, you should always slice flank steak against the grain or the steak will be too chewy.  If you pick up the steak with some tongs, the grain will be obvious.

pesto-rubbed pork tenderloin

Pork tenderloin is one of the most versatile meats around.  I probably serve it once a week; grilled, roasted, pan seared in a variety of rubs or marinades.  It’s one of a handful of meats which instantly pleases my picky eater’s palate, and I don’t have to resort to finger-drumming on the kitchen table waiting for her to finish.  Teriyaki is a favorite around these parts, but this one scored pretty high with The Mister.  The homemade pesto is spectacular (I add lots of extra garlic), and the tenderloin takes up the flavor beautifully.  The original recipe called for a 3 to 4 pound top loin roast which would be great if you’re feeding a crowd.  But with just the three of us, I don’t necessarily want all that left over.  The original pesto recipe was based on a larger roast, so I cut it in half for a 1 1/2 pound tenderloin.  Enjoy!

Pesto-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2  lb pork tenderloin
  • 1/4 c pine nuts
  • 4 or 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 c fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 1/2 c mixed fresh herbs or your choice (mint, basil, dill, oregano and/or thyme)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesean cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 to 1/2 c extra-virgin olive oil (to your desired consistency)

Directions:

In processor combine pine nuts, garlic, parsley, herbs, cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.  Pulse a few times to chop and combine.  With processor running, slowly pour oil through opening.  Process until well blended.  Coat pork with about 1/4 cup pesto.  Let stand for 15 minutes.  Grill tenderloin to desired temperature, about 145°F, and remove from grill.  Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.  Slice pork.  Serve with grilled fruit and/or side salad.  Pass remaining mixed-herb pesto for use at the table.

grilled tilapia marinade

I like to incorporate fish in to my recipe rotation as a good source of low-fat protein.  Since I no longer have access to a bevy of fresh freshwater fish – white fish, walleye, perch, etc., I’ve adopted tilapia as my go-to fish because of its mild (some say flavorless) flavor.  What I like about tilapia is it’s a bit of a blank slate in terms of marinades and rubs.  While the fish itself is so mild as to seem flavorless to some, I think it takes to and holds the flavors and seasonings of a marinade or rub really, really well.

A few years back there was a big discussion in the health/food industry about whether tilapia, with a high content of omega-6 fatty acids (as well as omega 3s), was really considered “healthy.”  The down and dirty at an article I read from the Mayo Clinic was this:  eat tilapia, eat salmon, eat tuna, eat mackerel.  The health benefits outweigh the higher levels of omega-6 when eaten as part of a well-planned, nutritionally balanced diet.

This is one of my favorite marinades and, of course, you don’t have to limit its use to tilapia.  I think it would probably work just as well on a flank steak as fish.  If you like your marinade to have a little more kick, splash in a little extra hot sauce or red pepper flakes.  Enjoy!

Grilled Tilapia

Ingredients:

3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 to 5 dashes hot sauce
2 to 3 fresh Tilapia fillets

Procedure:
Combine all ingredients in non-reactive container, preferably with lid. Marinate fillets for at least 30 minutes to an hour. Place fillets on well-oiled, heated grill, approximately 4 to 5 inches from the fire. Grill roughly 5 minutes per 1/2 inch of fillet (measuring from thickest part of the fillet). Flip once halfway through the grilling time. Be very careful not to overcook.

the perfect steak

We’re meat eaters in these parts, and, because our weather is suitable for grilling nine months a year (twelve if you’re a real diehard), we throw meat on the grill A LOT!  To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t always a griller.  Some of that was probably by virtue of the fact I spent the vast majority of my life in a climate where the grilling season was much, much, much shorter.  The other part was probably pure intimidation: the fear of not really knowing when the meat was done, or worse, the fear of cooking a nice piece of meat until it was mostly inedible shoe leather.

Over time, I’ve put aside those fears and do a lot of my cooking outside on the grill.  Thankfully, I’ve yet to produce anything remotely like shoe leather.  But I’ve always wondered if there was a better way to do steaks in order to retain even more of their natural moisture, yet still get beautiful grill marks that turn edible in to art!

If you’re from The Valley (Phoenix and beyond), or you’re planning to visit Phoenix, there’s a place you need to put on your “must eat” list: Tarbell’s Restaurant at 32nd and Camelback.  Mark Tarbell is an amazing chef and the food is spectacular.  As well as running the restaurant that bears his name, Mark also puts out the occasional video in a series called Kitchen Conversations.  They’re generally short (5 minutes or so) tutorials on various dining topics, from grilling and searing, to wine storage.  The video embedded below is one Mark posted back in September and will forever change how you prepare steak on the grill.  Take a few minutes and watch, if you can, then fire up the grill and your oven to cook steaks to perfection.  Enjoy!