A Few of My Favorite Things: September, 2017

How did it get to be September already?  And how is it possible I’m not quite ready for Fall (my favorite season) yet? Maybe it has something to do with the fact my back yard is at the peak of summer splendor right now and I just don’t want that to go away anytime soon. Backyard 2017

There are still plenty of tomatoes to harvest, basil to turn into pesto and more honey to extract. In other words: IT AIN’T OVER TILL IT’S OVER!

I’ve also been busy discovering a few *new favorite things lately and thought this would be a good time to share a few with you. They are all from Trader Joe’s so if you don’t happen to have one nearby, I apologize and promise next time I will review products that are more universally available.

But for now, let’s start with this completely amazing cheese that we cannot stop eating at our house.IMG_3484

TJ’s Unexpected Cheddar has apparently been around since 2011 so eh….guess I haven’t been paying a lot of attention to the cheese section in a while!  We’re more than making up for lost time, by going through large quantities of this rich and nutty cheese.  I’ve been putting it on burgers and into salads. But mostly just nibbling on it on a cracker or with some apple slices and a glass of red wine. At $3.99 for a  oz. block, it’s a MUST TRY!

And speaking of red wine, this Petit Reserve Meritage Blend is also a must try, especially at the low low price of just $7.99/bottle.  Two words: CASE WORTHY.  This red blends Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes into a full-bodied, versatile wine.  Fantastic balance of fruit, spice and oak all rolled into one.  Pair with some Unexpected Cheddar and your life will be complete.IMG_3488

Next up is Trader Joe’s Frozen Brown Rice. Rice = not exactly THE most exciting food topic but something I serve to the family at least a few times a week.  It took me years to convert the young ones over to brown rice (mom fail for starting them off on white rice and white bread :-/ )  But now that I’ve finally gotten to eat it, I try to serve as often as possible and TJ’s make this so easy with pre-cooked frozen rice that is actually good and way better than those pre-cooked rice in the bags at the store.

Trader Joe's Brown Rice

And now the best for last…Spatchcocked Lemon Rosemary Chicken. Total game changer, this one!

Trader Joe's Spatchcocked Chicken

For just $3.99/lb (price as of 09/2017), you get a whole, butterflied chicken marinated in a delightful blend of lemon, garlic and rosemary.  And the best part?  You just put in a pan and bake for an hour.  We’re talking ZERO EFFORT here.  The kind of meal that’s right up my alley after a long day at the office.  Two enthusiastic thumbs up from the teens (really now young adults) as well.

Until next time, be well, eat well, love lots.  Eat cheese and drink wine too!

Ann @ Dinner Is Served

A Few of My Favorite Things - Dinner Is Served

 

 

 

Grilled Shrimp with Basil and Prosciutto

 

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This one’s been on my list FOREVER to share with you as it’s one of my very favorite ways to serve shrimp. It’s very simple to make and…I just happen to have an ample supply of basil in my garden right now (yes, basil pesto has already been made!)Grilled Shrimp with Basil and Prosciutto Dinner Is Served4 Grilled shrimp make the perfect summertime patio meal, accompanied by a green salad, fresh ciabatta bread and a crisp white.  They also make a wonderful appetizer.  Versatility: it’s a good thing!

Start with a classic white wine/lemon marinade that’s spruced up with some fresh chopped basil and Dijon mustard: Grilled Shrimp with Basil and Prosciutto Dinner Is Served1

Then let your gorgeous shrimp marinate for a good three hours in the fridge. You can probably get away with two hours.  I wouldn’t go longer than four:Grilled Shrimp with Basil and Prosciutto Dinner Is Served2Grilled Shrimp with Basil and Prosciutto Dinner Is Served3

To assemble, just wrap a fresh basil leaf around each shrimp, followed by a strip of prosciutto and grill, basting with the reserved marinade. The result is juicy shrimp with just enough lemon and basil flavors, surrounded by smokey, crispy prosciutto.

We’re headed up to the great state of Wisconsin for a little R&R then back to harvest this year’s honey (you can see our hives in the photo below).   Looking forward to sharing that with you!  Until then…be well, eat well, love lots!  And may all your days be as beautiful as the one we had yesterday here in Chicago20170729_232905956_iOS

Grilled Shrimp with Basil and Prosciutto

  • 1# Jumbo – to Colossal size shrimp, peeled and deveined (See NOTE)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 TBS Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Fresh or coarsely ground black pepper
  • About 15 large fresh basil leaves (or 1 per shrimp)
  • About 15 thin slices of prosciutto (or 1 per shrimp)  For smaller shrimp you may get by with 1 slice of prosciutto for two shrimp
  • Two thick lemon wedges for grilling and garnishing (optional)
  • Toothpicks
  • Non-stick grill spray + basting brush

Combine the white wine, olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, chopped basil and pepper to taste in a bowl, whisking to combine.  Place shrimp in a shallow glass or non-reactive dish.  Pour marinade over, turning shrimp a few times to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours or up to 4.

Remove shrimp from marinade, reserving marinade for basting.  Wrap the middle of each shrimp with a basil leaf followed by a slice of prosciutto.  Secure with a toothpick and repeat with remaining shrimp.

Preheat grill and clean surface.  Spray with nonstick spray. Grill shrimp for several minutes on each side, basting with reserved marinade.  Make sure the shrimp is cooked through the prosciutto is just starting to crisp.  While shrimp is cooking, place lemon wedges on grate and cook until slightly charred.

Remove shrimp to a platter. Serve with fresh sprigs of basil and grilled lemon wedges

Serves: 3 as a main course; 8 as an appetizer

NOTE> Shrimp sizes and descriptions can be tricky which is why I usually end up just eyeballing it when I’m at the store.  For this recipe, I found some GORGEOUS pink Key West shrimp that were labeled “U12,” meaning under 12 shrimp per pound.  To me, that’s THE perfect size for grilling.  Technically these fall into the “colossal” category but they’re not really all that huge!  You can step it down to Jumbo shrimp, especially if you’re making this as an appetizer.  Just keep in mind they will cook in no time at all on the grill so be prepared with that spatula and platter.  ENJOY!

Grilled Shrimp with Basil and Prosciutto . Dinner Is Served

 

 

Chocolate Irish Stout Cupcakes with Mint

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Mint - DInner Is Served

What an odd weekend it’s been. We moved our clocks forward and the tulips are up yet at the same time, Chicago is preparing for a week of…snow!  My beloved Chicago Blackhawks had a morning game which has totally thrown me off kilter, watching hockey while drinking coffee. My no longer baby girl turned 21 last week and came home beaming with her first ever purchase of a 6-pack of beer.  There’s corned beef in the slow cooker and in the midst of it all, I am BAKING!20170312_173311856_iOSGuess I just felt like I really needed a chocolate cupcake in my life right now.  And with St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner why not add Irish Stout beer to the cake batter and chopped chocolate mint candies.  All topped with a minty white chocolate cream cheese frosting. I don’t bake often but when I do, there’s no holding back!20170311_205609733_iOSThese cupcakes and frosting are wicked easy to make and store well in the fridge so you can enjoy throughout the week, paired with a cold glass of milk or a little Jameson on the rocks 😉  I know I’m biased but in all seriousness, these are probably some of the best cupcakes I’ve had the pleasure of making and eating.

From my crazy kitchen to yours, be well, eat well and love lots!

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Chocolate Irish Stout Cupcakes with Mint

For the cupcakes:

  • 1 cup dark stout beer (I used Murphy’s stout)
  • 6 TBS salted butter
  • 4 ounces Ghiradelli® 70% Cacao Extra Bittersweet Chocolate
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 28-count box Andes® candies

For the frosting:

  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese at room temperature
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 ounces Ghiradelli® white chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 1/4 teaspoon mint extract
  • Green sprinkles (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two cupcake pans with 18 liners and set aside.

Combine the beer, butter and chocolate in a double boiler (or, a metal bowl set atop a pan of simmering water). Stir the mixture until the butter has melted and about 3/4 of the chocolate has melted. Remove from heat and slowly add the sugar, stirring constantly, until the granules melt and the mixture is smooth.

In a large bowl, combine the sour cream, eggs and vanilla. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat until combined. Slowly add the beer mixture and beat till smooth.  Add in the flour and baking soda and mix until smooth.   Chop enough of the Andes® candies to make 1/2 cup (reserve rest for garnish), and stir into the cake batter.

Pour batter into prepared cups and bake for about 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for about five minutes, then remove cupcakes and let cool at room temperature.

For frosting, beat cream cheese until fluffy.  Add softened butter and continue to beat until light and fluffy. Gradually add in the melted chocolate and mint extract and continue mixing until smooth.  Pipe or spread onto cupcakes and top with green sprinkles.  Garnish with a whole piece of Andes® candy.  Serve immediately or store cupcakes, covered, in the refrigerator.

Yield: About 18 cupcakes

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Spain-Inspired Dinner

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One of the casualties of my returning to work full time a few years back was having people over for dinner.  Mostly because my dining room table became ground zero for all “work in process”: unfolded laundry, unpaid bills, school books and bags of chips that no one had time to put away.  I couldn’t even begin to think about entertaining as the task of organizing the chaos was overwhelming.

Towards the end of last year, I was feeling especially disconnected from friends.  And I realized how much I missed those dinner parties. I also realized it was about time I got a handle on the disorganization that had taken over my house, so I spent a few weekends cleaning and purging and FINALLY seeing my dining room table for the first time!20170211_185110500_ios

Then the planets aligned with a few other couples whose sons wrestled in high school with our son and we got a date to gather and wine and dine!  I thought a sunny Spain-inspired menu would be the perfect way to break up the mid-winter monotony.  For starters I put together this platter of traditional Spanish cheeses and charcuterie: Cana de Cabra (tangy goat cheese), Campo de Montalban (a 100 day aged cheese is a blend of cow, sheep and goat’s milk from La Mancha), prosciutto, sausages and my favorite Marcona Almonds.20170212_001516606_ios

Olives too!  Oh my…these Castelvetrano Olives Marinated with Rosemary, Red Chili, Orange and Paprika were spectacular: 20170211_191404314_ios-1

There are so many versions of paella, it was difficult deciding which one to make!  I ended up with this Chicken and Seafood Paella from Jo Cooks since it offers a bit of everything.  A little tweaking was necessary as I omitted the clams, added some chopped roasted red peppers and about one cup of peas at the end.  16/20 shrimp is the perfect size and andouille sausage can easily be substituted if chorizo is not available.  With the right equipment and best quality ingredients (see Resources section below), this dish was a knock-out:20170212_023654293_ios-1

Because I love wine and especially Spanish wine, there was plenty of it to go around as well. For red, I chose a silky Tempranillo : 2014 Hito Cepa 21 available locally at Binny’s Beverage Depot for just $13.99/bottle.  Be sure to decant this one about an hour before serving so all of its complex fruit and smooth tannins are at their best.  For white, I didn’t want to veer too far into anything floral, so opted for a 2015 Naia Verdejo, which had just enough straw and citrus to compliment the seafood and work with the more assertive saffron/smoked paprika elements in the dish.  Available at Binny’s for just $10.00/bottle.  It’s a great value!

We ended the evening with chocolate covered strawberries, other sweets and of course more wine!

To me this is what cooking is all about and I can’t wait to gather friends together for another meal to share.  Whether I can keep my dining room table cleared until then remains to be seen 😉

Until next time, be well, eat well and love lots!

Ann

~RESOURCES~

PAELLA PAN – Do you HAVE to buy one to make paella?  Well yes and no.  The week before I gave the recipe a test run in a shallow Le Crueset pan and it was very good.   For my dinner party, I borrowed a more authentic paella pan from a friend and the paella was even better. The large surface area and dimpled carbon steel base allowed for even cooking and that wonderful authentic paella “crust” to form on the bottom.  Would also make a great pan for sauteeing vegetables and for other rice-based dishes.  At just $29.95 for a 15″ pan (large enough to make a paella for 8),  at Williams Sonoma, how can you resist!20170212_153824811_ios

SAFFRON – In addition to a paella pan, it’s worth investing in some good quality saffron for this dish, as it is truly the star flavor ingredient.  Unless you’re in a bind, I would not recommend supermarket saffron as it is typically grossly overpriced and has likely been sitting on the shelf for ever.  Instead, head to Amazon and purchase a bottle of this Mehr Premium All Red Saffron.  3 grams will run you around $20 and yes I know that is a lot of money but this is a generous quantity and will last you a long time.  And with this stunning silky gift box, think of it as a gift to yourself!20170208_000645233_ios

OLIVE DISH – Part of the fun of entertaining is digging through my shelves of serving plates, glassware, etc. It’s amazing how much I’ve accumulated over the years. This pretty ceramic olive bowl makes frequent appearances at parties. Mainly because I LOVE olives and serve them at almost every occasion.  One compartment for the olives, one for toothpicks and a third for pits.  And it just happens to have been made in Spain. Perfect!  Available online at La Tienda for $29.95 + shipping.20170212_151906702_ios

 

THE Three-Envelope Slow Cooker Pot Roast

three-envelope-slow-cooker-pot-roast-dinner-is-servedBehold the one and only slow cooker pot roast recipe that takes under one minute to prep and requires only a slow cooker and a pair of kitchen shears!

If it seems like I have quite a few slow cooker pot roast recipes on my blog, you would be correct. Four of them to be exact!  Do we really need another one?  Well yes of course we do!  Especially one that is hands down the most basic and simple and can be assembled in about a minute or less in the morning.  Intrigued?  Read on…

I first spotted this recipe a few years ago on Facebook. At that point I had already perfected my original Classic Slow Cooker Pot Roast with Garlic Thyme Gravy so this recipe, which uses just three packets of gravy/salad dressing mix and water seemed to be a step back.  Actually a few steps back.three-envelope-slow-cooker-pot-roast1

Pardon my food snobbery but this is not the way I cook!

As is often the case fate intervened one day. I found myself with a chuck roast that was near its expiration date and neither the time nor the ingredients to make my classic pot roast. But lo and behold, I did have on hand these three magical packets of seasoning so I decided to give it a go.20170127_133713550_ios-1

Much to my surprise/chagrin, the roast was delicious!  My fears that the gravy would be overpowering or salty or just plain weird, were totally unfounded. I mean I didn’t even brown the roast and it was STILL delicious.  How can that be?

I did make some minor modifications to the original recipe, diluting the seasoning mx a tad. And because I love carrots with pot roast  added them in along with about 1/2 of a large onion, sliced.  On the back end, you’ll want to strain and degrease the cooking liquid as well.

But for the most part that’s it.  Pure comfort food with the minimal amount of effort. I’ve added an Equipment Note below highlighting the key kitchen tool for this recipe: the best ever pair of kitchen shears.  No kitchen should be without one!

Until next time…be well, eat well and love lots!

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THE Three-Envelope Slow Cooker Pot Roast

  • 1 chuck roast, about 3 pounds
  • 1 (0.7 oz) packet dry Italian Salad Dressing Mix
  • 1 (1.0 oz) packet Ranch Dressing Mix
  • 1 (0.75 oz) packet Brown Gravy Mix
  • 2 cups water
  • 2-3 cups peeled carrots or parsnips (optional)
  • 1/2 large onion sliced (optional)
  • Chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Trim any large pieces of fat from roast and place in a slow cooker.  Combine the three packets of salad dressing and gravy mix with the 2 cups of water, whisking to combine.

Scatter carrots and onion (if using) over roast and pour only about 1 1/2 cups of the gravy mixture over all.  Note I do not use the full 2 cups as that is just slightly more liquid than you’ll need.  Discard remaining liquid.

Cook on low for between 8-9 hours.

Using a slotted spoon, remove roast and vegetables and transfer to a platter to keep warm. Strain liquid through a fine mesh metal strainer.  Using a spoon or a gravy separator, remove any excess fat from the gravy.

Pour over roast and vegetables, top with chopped parsley and serve.

Serves 4-6

***Equipment Note***

20170128_153814127_iosWhen you think of kitchen essentials, a pair of scissors probably does not come to mind and yet a solid pair of shears like these from Pampered Chef can multi task and become one of your most valuable tools.

From cutting up chickens, to snipping chives, trimming an artichoke, cutting up clusters of grapes and yes, opening packages of seasoning mix, a good pair of shears can do it all.  I especially love these from Pampered Chef as they are spring loaded and make even the toughest tasks, easy on the hands.

My only caveat would be: keep your kitchen shears IN THE KITCHEN!  You don’t want to use these for craft projects or cutting through cardboard boxes, etc.  Not only do you risk dulling the blade, but they’re likely to get lost (I speak from experience!).

No well stocked kitchen should be without them!

 

 

 

 

Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce

slow-cooker-bolognese-dinner-is-served-coverHard to imagine a dish more worthy of Sunday Supper than a bowl of tagliatelle served with a hearty Bolognese Sauce, warm Italian bread and a bottle of red. I grew up in a non-Italian household with the quick “Americanized” version of this sauce (browned ground beef and a jar of marinara)  and not ashamed to admit I still make that version for the family when I’m pressed for time.  Simply referred to as “spaghetti,” it may not be the real deal but we all enjoy it.

This year, I have decided to go back to my Sunday Supper roots and resurrect some of the classic recipes, made from scratch with no shortcuts.   I’ve made Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese Sauce many times, but wanted to give my new slow cooker (see Equipment Notes after the recipe) a try, so made some adaptations and came up with a sauce that will comfort one and all.

Start with the holy trinity of flavor bases: onion/carrots/celery.  First chopped then finely minced (note the personalized Dinner Is Served cutting board!)slow-cooker-bolognese-dinner-is-served-3

Add a few pinches of classic Italian herbs:slow-cooker-bolognese-sauce-dinner-is-served-1

And let us just pause for a moment to admire this freshly opened bottle of Savory Spice Shop’s California Basil:slow-cooker-bolognese-dinner-is-served-2

And some best quality tomato products:slow-cooker-bolognese-dinner-is-served-4

Along with a little vino (red instead of the traditional white wine), and balsamic vinegar.  Then just let your slow cooker do all the work!  A last minute addition of creamy mascarpone cheese or cream cheese provides that extra dose of richness.

I have to say, this sauce is MADE FOR the slow cooker. The meat is incredibly tender and the sauce develops such a unique complexity. I will still approve of the “quickie” version for a busy weeknight but weekends are made for slow, old-school kind of cooking.

Until next time…be well, eat well, love lots!slow-cooker-bolognese-dinner-is-served-cover2

Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce

  • 1 TBS olive oil
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/2 pound mild bulk Italian sausage
  • 1/2 cup EACH chopped onion, celery, carrots
  • 1 TBS chopped garlic
  • 1 can whole tomatoes (28 oz), preferable imported Italian San Marzano
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup low sodium beef broth
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 TBS balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seed
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone or cream cheese

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add beef and sausage and cook until no longer pink. Drain through a sieve and place on a paper lined plate; set aside.

Mince the onion, carrot, celery and garlic in a food processor and transfer to a 4-6 quart slow cooker. Pour the whole tomatoes along with their juices into the food processor and pulse a few times until chopped.  Add to the slow cooker.  Add all the additional ingredients except for the mascarpone cheese.  Stir.  Cover and cook on low for 4 hours.  Just before serving, stir in mascarpone or cream cheese.  Serve over pasta and garnish with shaved Parmesan cheese or slivered fresh basil.

Serves 6

EQUIPMENT NOTE

On Christmas Day, I was heating some cocktail meatballs and sausage in my slow cooker when my old faithful totally died.  Bummer!  I looked up my order history on Amazon and turns out the model was six years old.  Eh…not a super great lifespan, in my opinion.

I decided to go with another brand, Cuisinart, as a replacement and found this ultra cool model on Amazon.com. It not only slow cooks, it has a heating element to brown food and a steamer insert (perfect for steaming artichokes, corn, etc.).  I love the lighter weight interior and non stick surface.  So far I am totally in love with it and fingers crossed it will make it past 6 years!cuisinart-slow-cooker

 

 

 

 

Savory Shortbread Biscuits with Parmesan Cheese and Herbs

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Last weekend we spent a quiet evening with great friends and amazing food, ringing in 2017. I think for many, 2016 was a year of great challenges and I know that was certainly true in my case.  I thought about things I want to do more of this year (or less of!) and at the top of my list was sharing more recipes with you so…to start off 2017, I am presenting this recipe for savory appetizer shortbread biscuits that are so easy to make and a sheer delight to eat!

Also new to my blog: A “postscript” section after the recipe on “Equipment Notes” featuring a kitchen gadget or appliance that I have found particularly helpful in making the recipe 🙂

Now back to the biscuits.  As someone who has had their fair share of challenges with various pastry doughs, this short pastry thankfully is very forgiving and requires a handful of ingredients:

20161231_163051507_iosReally, just flour, butter, Parmesan cheese, some fresh herbs and not much else!  Combined into what at first may seem a crumbly mess but never fear!20161231_163940001_iosJust work in a little water, a little kneading and a cooling off period in the fridge and you’ve got a nice round of dense, flavorful dough which rolls out effortlessly.20161231_164335266_iosAlthough you may certainly roll the dough into a log and slice it into rounds, I much prefer using my little 1 1/2″ biscuit cutter, a souvenir of my culinary school days.biscuit-cuttersAnd one final prep tip that literally involves the tip…of your knife, to loosen each little circle of biscuit dough before placing on the sheet pan to bake. Works like a charm!20161231_175228849_ios-1Now just bake for about 23 minutes until golden. These melt in your mouth, buttery biscuits pair beautifully with any kind of wine or cocktail or along side a salad course.  They make a nice hostess gift, wrapped, and they keep well for days OR freeze for future use.

Here is to a happy healthy 2017, to good friends and memorable meals. I look forward to sharing many more recipes with you in the months to come ♥

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SAVORY SHORTBREAD BISCUITS WITH PARMESAN CHEESE & HERBS

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 ounces finely grated Parmesan Cheese (preferably freshly grated)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon water, or more as needed
  1. Place the butter in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and mix on medium-low until creamy.
  2. Add the Parmesan, salt, pepper, herbs and flour one at a time until evenly combined.
  3. Add 1 1/2 tablespoon of water and the dough will start to clump. Empty the contents of the bowl to a surface and knead lightly to form a ball, adding additional water, a few drops at a time, until the dough just comes together.
  4. Flatten the dough and wrap it in plastic wrap. Chill until firm, at least 30 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  6. Roll the dough to 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick. Use a cookie cutter to make small crackers, re-rolling the dough as needed.
  7. Place the crackers on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and bake for approximately 22-25 minutes. Let cool completely before storing in container. Biscuits may be stored in the freezer for up to a month.

Yields: About 40, 1 1/2″ biscuits

EQUIPMENT NOTE

My single blade, carbon steel Mezzaluna (literally “half moon” in Italian) has been a prized tool in my kitchen for over 20 years. It’s gentle rocking motion and super sharp blade, make mincing herbs a breeze. Also works great for mincing garlic, onions and just about any other vegetable.  They’re also very safe to use, making it a perfect tool to introduce an older child or teen to food prep.

Mezzaluna knives are available at many online retail outlets and vary in price from very inexpensive ($7.99 for this HIC 6.75-inch Chopper) to pricey ($69.95 for Wusthof’s 9-inch Knife).  My pick would be this wooden-handle, 10-inch SCI Mezzaluna, made in Italy and available on Amazon.com for just $18.27.  Happy chopping!20161231_163351825_ios-1

 

A Special Reason to be Thankful

This Thanksgiving is extra special but not because of the food.  Special because we’re able to celebrate the holiday with my dad, who turned 94 years old in September and has gone through many health challenges this year.  We are thankful he’s home with my mom and sister and close by to me and my family.

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My Thanksgiving wish to you is of course to enjoy good food, but more importantly, to take the time and realize the blessings in your life and enjoy the moment.   I know I will be doing just that.

Ann – Dinner Is Served

Thanksgiving 2016

Chilled Spanish Tomato Soup (Salmorejo)

Chilled Spanish Tomato Soup (Salmorejo) - Dinner Is Served1

I will never forget a summer a very long time ago when my husband I lived in the city in a third story walk-up condominium.  With no central air and a window unit that cooled it down to just barely above melting temperature.  We worked all day in stuffy suits and traveled to and from work in crowded buses.  Those were the days we found salvation in a neighborhood restaurant named Chardonnay.   A dark and sleek spot with marble table tops that were  cool to the touch. If felt like plunging into a swimming pool, washing away the heat and grit of the day.

The days of bus commutes, stifling suits, panty hose are long gone.  And there is no Chardonnay (the restaurant that is), but I do have this creamy chilled, no-cook soup to fulfill that need on the hottest of summer days.

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This creamy, chilled bread-thickened soup has is origins in the Southern region of Spain near Córdoba, where sun ripened tomatoes are blended with fruity olive oil, onions, garlic and day-old bread.  Traditionally topped with Spanish  Jamón and hard boiled eggs (note I took the liberty of substituting crispy pancetta for the Jamón). I also added a red bell pepper as recommended by a blogger from the region.

How much do I love this soup?  Well I recently entered it into a cooking contest at work and took second place among a group of other Spanish-themed soups.  The winner, ironically was a delicious goat meat stew which technically is African, not Spanish… But I was not about to quibble because it was truly wonderful

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Cannot think of a better way to cool off and enjoy the best summer has to offer. Enjoy!

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Chilled Spanish Tomato Soup (Salmorejo)

3 tbsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste

8 medium-sized, ripe tomatoes, cored, halved, and seeded

1 small red bell pepper, seeded, coarsely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 dense baguette (about 10 oz.), cut into large pieces (see Note>)

12 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped

¾-1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

2 tbsp. sherry vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

12 cups finely chopped pancetta, sautéed until crispy

Freshly chopped chives (optional)

Instructions:

Place salt, tomatoes, pepper, garlic, bread, and onion in a bowl, cover with boiling water, and let sit for 1 hour. Drain vegetables, reserving 1 cup soaking liquid; place in blender. Squeeze water from bread; place about ¾ of the bread in blender with reserved soaking liquid, oil, and vinegar. Purée until smooth. If soup seems to thin, add the extra bread. Add additional olive oil to enrich soup, if desired. Season with salt and pepper, and chill. Pour into chilled serving bowls; top with eggs, pancetta, chives and a drizzle of oil.

Serves 8

Note> Bread can be either fresh or a day old.  Just make sure it is a dense bread so that it can soak up the liquid without falling apart.

Chilled Spanish Tomato Soup (Salmorejo) - DInner Is Served3

 

Slow Cooker Short Ribs with Chipotle Rub & Dark Beer

Braised Short Ribs Dinner Is Served

I know, it’s grill season.  Trust me, we suffered through a winter-like spring here in the Midwest so yes, bring on summer!  Bring on the charcoal and smoking chips!  Put away that slow cooker!

Well….hold on just a minute.

As tempted as I am to stow away the slow cooker in favor of my Weber kettle, I think about this recipe and decide it’s not QUITE time to give the crock pot the summer off. After all, who doesn’t love tender, slow cooked beef on a tortilla with fresh guac and a slushy margarita. THAT…is summer to me.

This recipe was inspired by a not-so-ordinary gift from my son. After visiting a friend in the city, he arrived home with a 3# package of thinly sliced short ribs (the perks of having a friend whose parents own a grocery store)  These are the sort of gifts I love!  And I admit a bit of a challenge, this one.Flanken Short Ribs

Never before had I seen short ribs sliced in this manner. On to Google, and discovered this to be a “flanken” cut, often used in Korean cuisine.  Yep, a first for me.

Expert meat people instructed that this cut should be cooked quickly over high heat, but for some reason I chickened out on that whole approach.  I thought back to an Italian-inspired braised short rib ragu recipe I made a while back. So tender with  a concentrated beef flavor. This time, though, I was feeling more Southwest flavors. I had zero time to tend to braising, so into the slow cooker they went along with a smoky, spicy chipotle rub, some onions and a cup of dark Mexican beer.  Beer Braised Chipotle Short Ribs - DInner Is Served3.jpg

Now to tweak the original recipe.  The flanken ribs had great flavor but not enough meat for this purpose, so the first substitute was traditional English cut ribs.  The chipotle rub was amazing…no changes there.Beer Braised Chipotle Short Ribs - DInner Is Served4

If you don’t cook a lot, I understand the reluctance to keep this many spices on hand.  In that case, look for a good-quality chile/Southwestern seasoning blend like this Mesa Rosa Chipotle Seasoning blend from Urban Accents.  Otherwise, this recipe is incredibly simple. Just slice an onion, brown the seasoned ribs and throw it into the slow cooker with a cup of Negro Modelo.

Low and slow all day, the slow cooker is made for dishes like this.  Tender, with intense beef flavor and complex spices, this meat can go just about anywhere. My creation: served “burrito” style with a flour tortilla, yellow rice, a spoonful of Ann’s Essential Guacamole, sour cream, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime.

The possibilities are truly endless.  Use this amazing flavorful meat as the star of your nacho platter, or on tostada shells or even serve atop some creamy polenta and topped with stewed tomatoes for a comfort food kind of dinner. Check out other recipe notes and tips following the recipe and a bonus: my recipe for Ann’s Essential Guacamole.

Enjoy summer cooking low and slow my friends. This one’s a keeper!

PicMonkey Collage

~Slow Cooker Short Ribs with Chipotle Rub and Dark Beer~

3 1/2-4# Beef short ribs, English cut (see recipe notes)

Chipotle Rub

  • 1/2 tablespoon ground red chipotle powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoons paprika (smoked paprika if available)
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano (Mexican oregano if available)
  • 1/4 tsp teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups sliced white or yellow onion

1 cup dark beer, preferably Negro Modelo

Canola or vegetable oil for browning

For Serving

Combine Chipotle Rub ingredients together and store until ready to use.

Place ribs in a large bowl and combine with enough of the seasoning mix to coat, tossing well.  Let stand at room temperature approximately 30 minutes.

Heat a thin film of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add ribs and brown on all sides.  Remove to a platter.

Place sliced onions in the bottom of a slow cooker.  Top with browned ribs.  Pour beer over all.  Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours.

Using a slotted spoon, remove ribs and onions to a rimmed cutting board.  Shred meat using forks and place in a bowl.  Strain cooking liquid and skim fat from the top (a good quality fat separator is perfect for this!)

Add some of the degreased cooking liquid to the meat and toss.  Place a large spoonful of yellow rice on a tortilla.  Top with warm shredded beef, guacamole, then sour cream and cilantro.  Squeeze some fresh lime over all and serve.

Serves 6-8

RECIPE NOTES

  • If your grocery store does not carry beef short ribs, the next best thing would be a bone-in chuck roast.  In a pinch, a boneless chuck roast will do just fine!
  • If early morning browning of the meat is not feasible, you can skip this step but…I would recommend coating the meat in the seasoning mix the night before to kick up the flavor.
  • If you don’t have  these spices on hand, grab a good all-purpose seasoning like Urban Accent’s Mesa Rosa Chipotle Seasoning or any other Southwestern-inspired blend. Just keep an eye on salt contents of blends and adjust salt as necessary.