live love grill

The Ocean Grill…or Mesanje en un botella

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The weather in Louisiana is warming up now, but we have recently had record cold weather.  The temperatures dropped into the low twenties, and then there was the freezing rain.  The roads were not navigable.  I was content to stay at home and get some work done.  However, I couldn’t help but daydream about warmer weather.  My thoughts wandered to last summer when my sisters, our husbands and I traveled to Puerto Vallarta with my cousin and his wife.  It was my sister’s tenth anniversary and they quite generously wanted to share it with family.

Family fun

We had a great time

Before we left, I was told that we would be dining at the Ocean Grill during the trip.  My sister had been to the restaurant more than once and loved the food and the atmosphere.  One of the cool things about it, she said, was that we had to travel by boat to get there.  I have since learned from their faq that one can also hike there from Boca de Tomatlan.

My brother-in-law arranged for us to have a boat for the day, and we all were looking forward to being out on the water.   My sister had made a reservation which is required for one of their three seatings (11 am, 1pm and 3 pm).  We could have also taken the Ocean Grill’s boat taxi from the Boca de Tomatlan pier but we were planning on making a few other stops as well.  We met our boat at the marina and all piled in.

bar

Ocean grill bar

Although it had not happened to her before, my sister began feeling symptoms of motion sickness soon after we embarked on our journey.  She didn’t feel well at all when we arrived at our destination.  Luckily the perfect remedy awaited!

The original dock had been destroyed by a storm, so we had to make a beach landing.  There we were greeted by Wilson, the canine host.

wilson

Wilson is the perfect canine host

The Ocean Grill’s gracious human host, Alfonso offered to us upon our arrival the best margarita I have ever had.  An elixir including fresh lime juice, ginger and mint leaves, it was a refreshing start to a delicious meal.  When I returned home I had lots of fun attempting a re-creation of this cocktail.

While we were waiting for our drinks, Alfonso told us that he was from Mexico City and when we asked about his building project he explained that he was in the process of adding a spa and boutique hotel to his seaside restaurant.

refreshing margarita

Margarita with fresh lime, ginger and mint leaves

The perfect atmosphere on a good weather day, dining at the Ocean grill is outdoors and covered.  Even the bathroom has an ocean view.

loo view

View from the bathroom at the ocean grill

 

Grilled Clam appetizer

The hickory flavor added a smokey flavor to the warm butter and lime on the grilled clams.

We each ordered a variety of items from the menu so that we could share the experience.   If I close my eyes I can still taste the butter-lime hickory sauce that was covering the grilled clams.  The smoked marlin tostadas were delicious as well but I dream about those clams.  The fresh guacamole was quite appetizing and enough for us all to have a generous amount.

While we waited between courses I walked around the restaurant and absorbed the refreshing atmosphere.  Construction continues on the addition and Alfonso tells me that they hope to be finished in March of this year.

Construction

When we were at Ocean Grill in June, construction was in progress on an addition.

There were printed menus as well as a menu posted on a blackboard behind the bar — in Spanish.  The catch of the day is served with a choice of side and a choice of sauce.  A couple of us ordered the fish with different sauces and sides.  I think my favorite of the sauces was the lime butter sauce.  We were trying to place the smokey flavor and Alfonso solved our puzzle — hickory.

Red Snapper

The catch of the day was Red Snapper and was flaky and delicious.

 

smoked marlin tostadas

Smoked Marlin tostadas

Entrees were well presented.  Fresh red snapper, shrimp, Octopus and a hamburger (yes, a hamburger) were the items ordered.  In the photo to the left, one can just see the fried plantains that are peeking out from under the fish.  They were crispy and a great compliment to the lime butter sauce.

Fresh fish with the house sauce

I think this is the Sarandeado sauce on top of the Catch of the day with a side of black beans.

When it came time to pay the bill…we realized that not all of us knew that the restaurant is cash only.  There isn’t an ATM, so there was a tense moment while we all gathered our pesos.

Octopus with Kalamata Tapenada

The octopus was an adventurous choice and very tasty

As we were leaving with our bellies full,  we walked around the lagoon looking at the sand crabs.

sand crab

The beach was home to many sand crabs

 

Someone noticed a wine bottle that had washed up and joked about a message in a bottle.  It turned out that there was one!  Apparently the little boy who put the message in the bottle had released it into the water just the day before.

Our trip to the Ocean Grill was a memorable occasion and one that I hope to repeat.

Mesanje en un botella

As we were leaving we found a message in a bottle

Olive Oil Biscuits

Staying warm with Olive Oil Biscuits

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Last weekend I attended FoodBlogSouth 2014 with my friend, Helana Brigman of Clearly Delicious (also known as Dances with Lobsters.) One of the vendors who provided samples in our swag bags was California Olive Ranch.  California Olive Ranch also had a display table where they provided samples of their Gold Medal line.  In addition they were providing samples of Olive Oil Biscuits.  The recipe for the biscuits was provided by Season 1 Winner of Master Chef, Whitney Miller.  Although I had eaten a Southern Living biscuit that had been passed around at breakfast, I simply had to try one of the Olive Oil Biscuits with some fig jam.  As I was spreading the jam on top of my biscuit I noticed that recipe cards were provided so I grabbed one.  I knew that with the crusty outside and moist inside, I just had to have that biscuit again.

I returned home to a dismal weather forecast.  In case you aren’t paying attention, or reading this post long after I have set it loose on the Internet, Louisiana is currently having record cold weather.  Schools have been shut down in Baton Rouge for two days now and we were promised lots of sneaux.  We got feaux.  It sleeted most of the afternoon yesterday and the roads are covered with ice but I saw not one real snow flurry.

Several years ago my sister moved from Louisiana to Canada.  After her first Canadian winter experience she observed that Canada is better at heating structures than is Louisiana.  I can’t argue with her, as Louisiana just doesn’t have to deal with cold as much as Canada.

Regardless of the central heating situation in my house, I know that baking will warm my kitchen.  Since the kitchen is the center of the house, after it is warm, I don’t usually hear complaints.  When I awoke yesterday morning I knew immediately that Olive Oil Biscuits were the order.  The recipe card said that the recipe makes seven biscuits but I was able to make eight.  They’re baked in a cast iron skillet and that skillet holds seven biscuits so I had to bake one in a separate pan.  If you don’t have a 9-inch cast iron skillet, get one.  I use mine every day!

Not only were the biscuits easy to make, but the aroma of baking biscuits was strong enough to awaken my sixteen year-old daughter and beckon her to the kitchen from her warm bed.

The recipe may be found on Whitney Miller’s blog.  She has altered her grandmother’s biscuit recipe to include olive oil.  The recipe on her blog varies slightly from the recipe card.  On the card she directs the baker to press the dough into a circle and cut into 7 rounds.   She cautions that one should not overcook the biscuits and suggests that when the biscuits are done, if the tops are still pale the broiler should be used to brown the top of the biscuits.

This morning my daughter wanted more of the yummy biscuits we had yesterday.  I think this may become a habit.

GG

 

Chili, Chile, Chill…or Grill Caliente

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fried green chili peppers with dipping sauce

The fried green chiles were served with a chipotle ranch dressing.

I often say that I don’t want to move away from Louisiana because of the food.  Few states have a culinary heritage as rich and colorful as my home state.  New Mexico is one exception.  In my travels there, I have come to especially appreciate the chili sauce.  In fact, if you want to try it, El Pinto Restaurant in Albuquerque has some of the best chili sauce I have tried and you can order it and have it sent to your home!   The sauce is made on site and with a family recipe. Their web site also has some more information about the chile.

There seems to be some confusion about usage of the word and “chile” is often used interchangeably with the word, “chili.”  If you are traveling in New Mexico and are offered chili it is unlikely that your host is offering a stew with meat and beans.  Nine times out of ten when you hear that you will be served chili in New Mexico you will also hear the words, “red or green.”  If you can’t decide you should say, “Christmas,” which means that you will get both red and green chile sauce with your meal.  New Mexicans take pride in their chili and many have a family recipe…sort of like Louisianans take pride in their family gumbo recipes.

I found a site that has much more detail about New Mexico and chile.

When I was in New Mexico last December I had dinner at a warm and welcoming restaurant that I liked so much I ate there two nights in a row.  Ruidoso, New Mexico is a town in the mountains.  It is my habit when I travel to check my travel apps and consult the Internet for recommendations.  I checked in to my hotel and then proceeded to make a short list of candidates.  Then I went and asked the desk attendant.  I was so glad I did!  He told me that he eats often at Grill Caliente and so I decided to try it.

fried chilis with chipotle ranch

Grill Caliente is on 2800 Sudderth Drive in Ruidoso and was just a little over a block away from the Ruidoso Hotel.  I noticed that there are tables outside and imagine that outdoor seating must be popular in summer months.  However because it was cold outside when I walked in they offered me a table near the fireplace.

Karen Davis and her husband Phil were such gracious hosts that I almost felt like I was having dinner in their home.  I learned that they opened a different restaurant in Ruidoso and sold it years before.  They moved away but the mountains called them back and they returned to open Grill Caliente.

Grill Caliente offers a menu of southwestern themed food and the sacred chili is ever present on the menu.  Additionally their beer and wine menu offers a selection that should appeal to a variety of tastes and wines are offered by the glass and by the bottle.

As I mentioned I had dinner there two nights in a row and tried different menu items — all were well presented and delicious.  I think my two favorite items were the Veggie Poblano that I had the first night (grilled poblano pepper stuffed with grilled vegetables and topped with queso blanco and served with black beans.) and the Fried Green Chili Rings (green chili, poblano and jalapeno rings battered and fried, served with chipotle ranch dipping sauce) I had the second night.  However the tenderloin taco and mushroom taco I had the second night were delicious as well.  I can still taste the veggies in the stuffed poblano.  They were grilled just the way I like them — crunchy still, but a flame kissed flavor imparted by the grill enhanced the taste of the zucchini and squash inside the poblano.

I took the leftovers back to my hotel, thinking that I would be able to munch on them on my long drive back to Albuquerque.  Alas, the refrigerator in my room did not cool and I had to discard the box.  I may try to recreate the stuffed poblano at home, but something tells me that I will just have to return to Grill Caliente — if not for the fried chili peppers or the dessert that I was too full to try, for the warm and welcoming hosts who made me feel at home.

2 tacos -- one steak and one mushroom

2 tacos — one steak and one mushroom


Grill Caliente on Urbanspoon

Family Holidays and our Easter Sunday tradition

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two crawfish

Two crawfish

Ten years ago this month, my younger sister married a foreigner…sort of.  To be exact, she married a Canadian from Nova Scotia.  The reason I say, “sort of” is that we can trace at least one branch of our family tree back to the time when the French people who had settled in Nova Scotia, the Acadians,  were expelled from that country by the British.  A large group of them made their way down to Louisiana where they settled, and eventually were called, “Cajuns.”

My sister visits several times a year.  One of those visits is usually Easter.  She came home to Louisiana a few years ago for Easter to christen her first born daughter, and brought a group of Canadians (and a Brit) with her.  Since then, it has been an annual Easter tradition.  Every year we have a different group of visitors…sometimes we have repeat visitors, but almost always someone new joins the group.  Our friend Joe, who is British and in the navy once had to ask (and was granted) permission from the Queen to attend our festivities.

The group usually spends a couple of days in New Orleans before traveling down to Plaquemine, where my mother lives, for the weekend.  Saturday is usually a crawfish boil which is sometimes held on our cousin’s houseboat while traveling down the bayou.

boiled crawfish

Crawfish on the houseboat

 

This year was a special treat because my friend Helana Brigman of Clearly Delicious Food Blog and her friend attended the crawfish boil.  We had a great time teaching the children how to lull the crawfish to sleep!

DSC_0709

As an appetizer I made our favorite Essential Roasted Tomatillo Salsa from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Cookbook.  Everyone wanted the recipe so I have included a link to it.

little girl holding a crawfish

Addie and the crawfish

 

Crawfish and children

Introducing children to crawfish is always fun, especially when they’ve never seen one!

 

 

Easter Sunday always starts with Easter Sunday Mass at the Cathedral on the Bayou (St. John the Evangelist Church in Plaquemine) and then culminates in an Easter picnic and Easter Egg Hunt.

My Loup Garou usually cooks a great Louisiana dish as the main course.  The 2013 main course was Alligator Sauce Piquant.  A sauce piquant (also spelled piquante) is a spicy tomato based stew.    Some of you may know of the History Channel series, “Swamp People.”  The Canadians (and some of the Americans)  who visited were quite enamored with the idea of eating alligator because they had seen the television show.  I am told that the alligator we used was killed by Troy Landry himself!   Ever since Easter, we have had requests for the recipe.  Finally I am posting it!

This is a recipe that we perfected with chicken before we started using alligator, so if you do not have access to alligator, you may substitute boneless skinless chicken.

alligator sauce piquant

Alligator Sauce Piquant is a spicy Louisiana tradition

Alligator Sauce Piquant

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • 3-5 lbs alligator meat cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 6 ounce can tomato paste
  • 10 oz can of diced tomatoes and green chilies (such as Ro-Tel)
  • 1 16 ounce can of chopped whole tomatoes
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 2 Tablespoons of garlic
  • 1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions
  • 1/2 cup pureed carrots
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1/4 cup sherry

Instructions

  1. Season alligator with salt, black pepper and cayenne.
  2. In a heavy cast iron skillet heat oil over medium high heat.
  3. Brown the alligator meat in the oil until golden brown.
  4. Remove the browned alligator from the pot and set aside.
  5. Add flour to the oil carefully.
  6. Stir the flour and oil (roux) until the roux is brown.
  7. Add tomato paste and continue to stir, 5-6 minutes or until the sauce is a nice brown color
  8. Add onions, celery, bell pepper, carrots and garlic.
  9. Saute 3-5 minutes or until vegetables are wilted.
  10. Add all of the tomatoes and stir into the wilted vegetables.
  11. Add chicken stock and stir until the mixture is well blended.
  12. Bring to a boil.
  13. Reduce heat and simmer.
  14. Add alligator and blend into sauce
  15. Add oregano, bay leaves and Worcestershire.
  16. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes, then add lemon juice.
  17. Simmer for 45 minutes or until alligator is tender.
  18. Just before serving add sherry, shallots and parsley.
  19. Serve over rice in bowls.
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Easter Egg Hunt

The annual Easter Egg Hunt is a tradition in our family

 

Baking with Children

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“Just one question, Mom,” says my daughter, Sweet Thing Two to me as she opens the door.  “Does it really matter how this dessert tastes?  I mean, are these people going to taste it?”

Although the coffee and Kahlua complimented the chocolate pasta, the pasta didn't absorb the sauce well.

Although the coffee and Kahlua complimented the chocolate pasta, the pasta didn’t absorb the sauce well.

“Really?”  I thought it was obvious.  The point is that I have to develop a recipe involving the penne pasta that Marx Foods sent me.  This recipe will be shared, so if people will be eating it, it should taste good, right?

Earlier in the evening, we were using my kitchen at full capacity.  Sweet Thing Two had been asked to participate in a church bake-off and was testing the recipe that she would use in the cupcakes that she planned to bake on the forthcoming Saturday.

I was working on my Marx Food Challenge recipe.  The Cub was sitting at our island watching us cook.  “I never would have known that this is better than watching TV!  Hey…..can I make peanut butter cookies?”

I couldn’t believe my ears.  This was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.  He said once he stayed at his friend’s house and they used the recipe on the back of the peanut butter jar.  We had all of the necessary ingredients and even had some mini chocolate chips, which The Cub wanted to include in his cookies.

Sweet Thing Two and The Cub baking with me in the kitchen.

Sweet Thing Two and The Cub baking with me in the kitchen.

So then there were three of us in the kitchen.  It actually worked very well.  I was putting together the components of the pasta recipe in my head, while the other two gathered their ingredients.  I helped the Cub with the measurements for his cookies, and gave him pointers on how to use the hand mixer.

The cookies were delicious, the cupcakes were beautiful.  As for my penne recipe…although it looked delicious, we all decided that the dish as a whole was not going to work.

The peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips were a big hit!

The peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips were a big hit!

lavender cupcakes

Sweet Thing Two’s cupcakes were a lovely shade of lavender.

 

On to plan B.

 

My alarm rang at 6:00 AM.  “Oh no!”

The Loup Garoup sleeping beside me says, “What’s wrong?”

“Whew….never mind.  It isn’t Monday, is it?”

“No, baby, it’s Sunday.”

Sunday.  Today is the day.  The deadline.  D-Day.  I think I have the answer, but I am sure there is a reason they call this a challenge.

Dinner for Dessert!

Marx food sent me some chocolate penne pasta, and I am to create an original recipe that is a dessert but looks like an entrée.  This pasta looks like solid chocolate, which is a little deceiving.  It is is a dried pasta that includes as an ingredient, cocoa!  When I cooked the pasta, it was a novelty.  Everyone had to try it…well almost anyone.  The Loup Garou is not a fan of chocolate.  Although the sauces that I prepared to accompany the dish were delicious, I was told by my children and also tasted that the problem with my first attempt was, of all things, the main ingredient.  I realized that like any pasta dish, the sauces that were to accompany the pasta were supposed to compliment it.  I needed something to bring out the chocolate flavor — something that would coat the pasta just like a tomato sauce!

I decided the best way to emphasize the chocolate is to make a chocolate sauce.  A white chocolate custard sauce would provide balance, and a strawberry sauce on top should do the trick of making this dish look like an entrée.  I used mint, and grated white chocolate on top as garnishes.

This dish works best when the chocolate sauce is allowed some time to absorb the sauce.  Sweet thing two and I shared this dessert and enjoyed it.  However, Sweet Thing One wasn’t crazy with the texture of the pasta in the sauce after it had been chilled.  So I recommend serving at room temperature.

chocolate penne pasta

Dessert for dinner!

Dinner for Dessert: Tuxedo Penne

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Cocoa Penne (http://Marxfoods.com/Chocolate-Pasta-Penne)
  • 2 oz. chopped unsweetened chocolate
  • 2-1/2 cups milk
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 6 whole eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 3 oz. white chocolate
  • For the strawberry sauce:
  • 1 pint strawberries
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Instructions

  1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water (should taste like seawater) al dente.
  2. Drain the pasta in a colander. Put the pasta in a large bowl with a pat of butter (around a teaspoon) and toss until the pasta is coated. Put the bowl of pasta aside.
  3. Make the Chocolate Custard Sauce (Recipe from Irma Rombaurer's Joy of Cooking)
  4. Heat the unsweetened chocolate in a double boiler with 2 cups of milk, stirring constantly until the chocolate is melted.
  5. Remove from heat.
  6. In a large bowl, beat together 4 egg yolks 3/4 cup sugar and 1/8 teaspoon of salt.
  7. Slowly add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. When the ingredients are combined, put it back into the double boiler.
  8. Stir the chocolate sauce until thickened.
  9. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  10. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla.
  11. Make the white chocolate custard sauce:
  12. In a heavy saucepan add 1 cup of whipping cream, 1/2 cup milk. Heat until boiling. Remove from heat. Add 2 oz white chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted.
  13. Beat 2 egg yolks and two eggs. Stir the eggs into the white chocolate and cream mixture. Stir constantly until thickened. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  14. Make the strawberry sauce:
  15. In a saucepan add sugar. Heat until melting. Stir in strawberries.
  16. Stir in remaining ingredients.
  17. Cook until the strawberries have combined flavors with the other ingredients. Stir constantly.
  18. Cool
  19. Remove cinnamon stick and cloves
  20. Puree the sauce in a blender.
  21. This sauce is best when fresh and is a great accompaniment to ice cream!
  22. In a small dish add a spoonful of chocolate pasta. To the pasta add a spoonful of the chocolate sauce. Toss to coat.
  23. On top of the pasta add a layer of the white chocolate custard.
  24. Add another layer of the chocolate pasta and top it with some more chocolate custard sauce.
  25. Finish with a spoon full of strawberry sauce. Garnish with chopped mint. Grate the remaining white chocolate and sprinkle on top.
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Killer Poboys are a danger of the serial kind — I am compelled to return again and again…

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DSC_0156
It all started when after a day of Saints football and drinking in the French Quarter, my sisters, our husbands and I  were looking for a place to eat before we headed to watch Better Than Ezra play at Harrah’s Casino.   For some reason no one in our group had thought about the fact that few restaurants are open in the Quarter for dinner on Sunday.  We headed to Vacherie which was near our hotel.  We had eaten at Vacherie for breakfast a few times and just knew that dinner was going to be perfect!   I should have known when I walked into the dining room and saw no one, that something was not right.  “We are closed for dinner on Sunday,” was the reply when I asked for a table for eight.  After trying a couple of other places, we were quite frustrated.  We really didn’t want to go to an elegant restaurant where jackets are required.  Casual atmosphere was in order for the evening, but it goes without saying that it had to have flavor and atmosphere.  It was time to head to the Erin Rose…not to eat, because they don’t serve food.  For some reason the Erin Rose, a small Irish pub on Conti, became my brother-in-law’s favorite New Orleans Irish Pub the night we were kicked out of the place because he argued with a Texan in a ten-gallon hat about who had to buy the next round. For some reason we always run into the most interesting people there.

I digress.

The Erin Rose was the perfect environment to brainstorm over a pint. Little did we know what would happen next!

We headed to the back of the bar, because the front was full–the back is cozy and it soon filled up too. Once in the back, we discovered that we were wrong. The Erin Rose has food! Not only food, but Killer Poboys! This pleased me to no end, because I. Required. Food. NOW! I had to wait a bit though.  I was hesitant. These are not your every day run of the mill poboys. The sign said that they are, “Internationally inspired chef crafted poboys.”   I mean, it seemed a sacrilege of sorts to play with the traditional New Orleans sandwich.  I really had my mouth set on a shrimp poboy. Crisply fried shrimp on a loaf of French Bread and fully dressed (meaning that it has lettuce, tomatoes and mayo)– that is what I just HAD to have! I told my Loup Garou to order a Shrimp Poboy and a Tin Roof beer…and make it snappy! He brought me the menu and I paused…

Menu from Killer Poboys in the Erin Rose, New Orleans

Killer Poboys Menu

The Coriander Lime Gulf Shrimp Poboy has:

“Marinated Radish (radish is my favorite red vegetable!), Carrot, Cucumber, Herbs and Special Sauce (hmm…got to have the special sauce!).”

Be still my beating heart…that just makes my mouth water to read about it.

But on a poboy?  It sounded like something I would expect to find in an Asian restaurant served over noodles.

While he was ordering, my Loup Garou found out from the chef that they have not been at the Erin Rose very long. (We knew this because we were in the Erin Rose in April.) They take cash only, and they serve menu items until they run out of the ingredients. The first one they usually run out of is the, “Dark & Stormy Pork.” NOLA Rum braised pork with lime slaw and garlic aoli sounds decadent.  We weren’t able to have any because Goldilocks had been there right before us and it was ALL GONE!

When I saw the poboy that I ordered, I just knew that I had to take a picture of it, because I knew I was going to write about it.

Apparently, however, I did not take that photo.  I really thought I did, but I can’t find it!

I must have been so enraptured with my poboy that I just plain forgot!  It was the perfect blend of Asia and New Orleans.  The marinated shrimp was grilled and served with fresh cilantro, radish, carrot and cucumber, and was so amazing that I still remember the way it tasted a month later.  In fact, I swear I dreamed about it.

In fact, last weekend at Food Blog South, 2013, my friend, Helana Brigman of Clearly Delicious  and I were chatting with the keynote speaker, Kenji Lopez-Alt, Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats. He wanted to know the best place to get a poboy in New Orleans. I suddenly had a flashback to a memory of being in my grandmother’s black Cadillac, my grandmother, my mother, my sisters and I  piled in my grandmother’s car and headed to Deanie’s Seafood to get shrimp poboys.  My grandmother lived in New Orleans when I was growing up, and Deanies was her go-to place for a shrimp poboy.  I mentioned a couple of other  traditional New Orleans poboy restaurants such as Domalise’s… and then…

Suddenly I felt a flash of heat on my side!  I looked down at the bag on my shoulder and remembered that I still had the menu from Killer Poboys with me.

Of course, I ripped it out, (it was kind of crumpled by then from all of the times I took it out and read the ingredients again) and told him that he simply HAD to try the Coriander Lime Gulf Shrimp poboy at Killer Poboys, (of course with Zapps Cajun Crawtators on the side.)

He may take my word for it…or not.

However, just this morning, I saw a CBS story about the legendary poboy and its history. Mo Rocca interviewed the chef of Killer Poboys as part of his segment about: NOLA’s po boy: The story behind the iconic sandwich.

The caption underneath says, “A new CBS News poll shows 60 percent of Americans would like to try the famous new Orleans sandwich,..”

Coincidence? I think not.

Why don’t you try it and decide for yourself?

Killer Poboys on Urbanspoon

 

What are you…chicken?

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Oregano growing in a stone planter

An herb garden saves time

When I was growing up, a family favorite dinner was something that we called, “Mr. Frank’s chicken.”   Mr. Frank was a family friend who at some point shared his simple recipe with my parents.  It consisted of chicken breasts covered in Cajun seasoning and cooked in a baking dish with a little water so that the chicken didn’t dry out.  As simple as that chicken was, we always loved it.

Simple things are often beautiful, as I have discovered.

Recently I posted a photo of a roasted chicken on Facebook, and several people asked for the recipe.  Some said that they don’t have time to cook every night and I had to explain that this chicken is quite easy, as I will explain in detail!  The hardest part is the lemon zest.  Do invest in a microplane zester and use fresh lemons — it makes a difference.

John Besh recently published a cookbook entitled, My Family Table:  A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking.  In this book, Besh has recommendations for, “The Essential Pantry.”  He stresses, “…I don’t want you to not make the soup (or braise or stew) just because you only have packaged chicken broth in the house.  I think it is so important to keep sight of our goal: to put good, fresh, healthy food on the table for our families.  Period.”

Our media is full of information about processed and fast foods.  I won’t get up on that soapbox today.  What I will do is try to share some of the things I do to try and put fresh, healthy food on the table for my family.  Everyone must decide what that means for their own family and sometimes it takes a while to figure it out!  Start slowly and simply and build your own methods.

Baton Rouge traffic is horrible — I think most people will agree that a trip across Baton Rouge to the grocery store can take time out of our day that most of us do not have to waste.  Late afternoon traffic is the worst — people are heading home at 5:00.  For many of us, this is NOT the time to go home and attempt a complicated meal — especially when the trip home means a stop at the grocery store.  I work at home now, but that hasn’t always been the case.   When I worked in an outside office, I would sometimes pick up a rotisserie chicken (and still do) when I know that I just don’t have the energy.

I have found that keeping certain basic items close at hand saves time.  For instance, most grocery stores in this town do not have fresh herbs.  If someone wants to cook something with fresh herbs that are not in their kitchen, it means a trip across town.  I suspect that many people substitute dried herbs from a jar just to avoid a trip to the store.  An even better idea is to grow commonly used herbs at home.

If you do not have a rosemary plant, now is the perfect time to acquire one.  They’re often sold as small tabletop Christmas trees.  As long as you keep them watered and follow the instructions enclosed, these plants should survive the winter in your kitchen, with occasional trips outdoors.  Then, in the spring, you can plant the rosemary in the ground if you want.  Not only can rosemary be used in cooking, but I often pass the rosemary bush as I am getting out of the car and run my hand through the leaves — that woodsy fresh fragrance is instant aromatherapy!

Herbs such as parsley, thyme and mint can be grown in pots if you don’t have a place near your kitchen for a kitchen herb garden.  I have a raised bed very close to the kitchen in which I keep mint, basil, sage, oregano and rosemary.  This little herb garden helps me to keep my sanity!  The Baton Rouge Herb Society has information on how to grow herbs, which herbs grow best here and more.

A sprig of rosemary on a stone wall

Rosemary is instant aromatherapy

Susan Spicer’s, Crescent City Cooking is another of my favorite cookbooks and has some recommendations for items to keep in your pantry that can be used for many different recipes.

My roasted chicken, pictured above is one that has evolved over the years, beginning with my purchase of a clay baking dish.  A recipe in Cooking Light Magazine for Lemon-Herb Roasted Chicken (Cooking Light, November 2000, p. 3) caught my eye and when I found out how well that baking dish held in the chicken’s moisture, I used it often.  I collected the juices  from the cooked chicken and froze it for use in other dishes.  Now I have combined what I believe is the best of three recipes to produce the recipe that follows.  This recipe, which is now more my go-to chicken recipe is inspired by Susan Spicer’s Roasted Chicken with Olives, Lemon and Garlic, and John Besh’s Herb-Roasted Chicken.  In the recipe below I suggest that you use chopped onion.  I often place some onion in the cavity of the chicken with the lemon and garlic.  You may choose to follow Susan Spicer’s recipe which calls for the onion to be cut into 8 sections — I have tried each method and it is all a matter of preference.

roasted chicken

Roasted chicken with lemon, garlic and herbs

Roasted Chicken with herbs, lemon and garlic

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken (3 pounds)
  • 2 lemons, zested and quartered
  • Leaves from 1 sprig of rosemary, chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons regular olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of either chopped thyme or oregano (or a combination of the two)
  • Kosher Salt (or regular salt if you don't have Kosher)
  • Black pepper
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 head garlic, cut in half

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Put the chicken on a cutting board with trenches to catch the juices.
  3. Make sure to check the cavity of the chicken for organs or the neck, which are sometimes placed inside. Remove these items from the cavity if they are present and discard. (Some people use them for rice dressing, and you may do so if you are so inclined.)
  4. Using paper towels, pat the chicken dry inside and out.
  5. Squeeze one of the lemon quarters over the chicken skin and rub the lemon juice and some of the lemon zest all over the chicken.
  6. Remove the garlic from one of the pieces of halved garlic head
  7. Run your fingers under the skin of the chicken and place pieces of the garlic in different areas.
  8. Let the chicken sit for a few minutes (I use this time to chop my herbs.)
  9. Rub the entire outside of the chicken with the olive oil.
  10. Rub the salt all over the inside and outside of the chicken
  11. Rub the rest of the lemon zest and herbs all over the inside and outside of the chicken
  12. Season the outside of the chicken with the pepper and pepper flakes
  13. Stuff the cavity with one of the 1/2 garlic heads and two lemon quarters.
  14. The trick for roasting the chicken and making it the yummy brown color is all Susan Spicer's and rather than type her words, I will let her explain the res of it herself in her recipe, which is here:
  15. http://www.cookstr.com/recipes/roasted-chicken-with-olives-lemon-and-garlic
  16. The only difference is that where she says to add the olives, onion, remaining garlic, lemon quarters and zest, I add the carrot and celery as well. The added carrot and celery add extra flavor to the juices, which can be reserved to make a sauce.
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Chocolate Cannoli and the Italian Birthday Feast

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Last weekend I attended the wedding of a childhood friend.  It was wonderful to catch up with the, “old gang” and find out what everyone had been doing in the years after high school.  Some of us moved away and others stayed close to home.  One amusing subject that came up was how we all tell strangers we meet that we are from Baton Rouge.  The fact is that we are from a small town across the river from Baton Rouge, but I have learned that for most people from other states, New Orleans is the only town, “on the map” in Louisiana.  Even so, Baton Rouge is the capitol, and we expect people to have heard of it even if they don’t know where it is.

Almost any woman from Baton Rouge whose mother cooked anything at least had a copy of River Road Recipes.  It is a cookbook published by the Junior League of Baton Rouge and although there have been four different River Road cook books, the first one, published in 1959 is a classic.

Until recently, I always used the River Road lasagna recipe, because that one was the recipe that my mother used.  It’s the one I remember bringing to the Girl Scout potluck suppers when I was growing up.  When I became a mother and started using that recipe, I always doubled the meat sauce, and it was always a hit – especially with the guys.  It was also guaranteed to feed the multitudes.

I mentioned in a recent post that it is a tradition in our family for the, “Birthday Girl/Boy” to choose their birthday meal.  In June, my oldest, “Sweet Thing One”  turned 17 and wanted to invite friends to her birthday dinner.  At first she requested pan sautéed fish.  When I learned that she was inviting six of her friends in addition to the eight family members I’d already invited, I suggested lasagna.  Her response was, “Only if it’s really yummy.”

Always a fan of Italian cuisine, I have recently been watching and learning from the many wonderful Italian chefs on the Food Network and the Cooking Channel.  I realized that the recipe that I had been using was not traditional, and remembered that my mother-in-law recently gave me an Italian cookbook that she found at the Pottery Barn.  The title is, The Italian Country Table: Simple Recipes for Trattoria Classics, by Maxine Clark.  Although I have not ever heard of Maxine Clark, I decided to try her recipe for, “Oven-baked lasagna” instead of my old tried and true.  I was glad I did.

I remembered that one of  my Sweet Thing One’s favorite Italian desserts is chocolate cannoli.  In fact, we once walked all over Little Italy in New York on a quest for chocolate cannoli and she had to settle for one that had a chocolate dipped cannoli shell and a regular ricotta filling.  A friend of mine who had once made chocolate cannoli shared a recipe with me some time ago, and I thought that this might be a good time to try it.  I gave my daughter a choice – cake or cannoli.  She said, “Can you do both?”  Since the cake she wanted was Italian Cream Cake, I said, “Sure, why not?!”  (Am I a glutton for punishment or what?)  I have used the same recipe for Italian Cream Cake for years, so I knew I could handle it.  Cotton Country Collection, a publication of the Junior League of Monroe, Louisiana has a recipe for Italian Cream Cake that turns out very moist, and has a pecan and coconut cream cheese icing that has me licking the bowl, the spoon and the beaters!

My daughter’s 17th birthday turned out to be a memorable one!  I did adjust the lasagna recipe a bit, as I felt that for the crowd I had, I needed more meat and tomato.  The cannoli was a hit, although my daughter’s friend thought they were eggrolls when she first saw those chocolate ricotta filled tubes of deliciousness.  The friend quickly learned what cannoli was.  I used the recipe my friend gave me and combined it with others.  The dough for the shells proved to be the biggest challenge.  I realized as I was working with the dough that it is really a basic pastry dough, such as a pie crust.  A little cold water went a long way in helping me to roll out the dough.  The recipe I have posted is a combination of a recipe given to me by  Matthew Mechana and this one at Cooks.com.

I learned a great deal from that  birthday dinner.  Tradition is important, but the most important thing about tradition is not necessarily doing exactly the same thing over and over again.  It’s about re-creating the feeling that you associate with that warm memory of what happened and that you want to create over and over again!

Chocolate and ricotta filled cannoli

These cannoli tubes filled with chocolate and ricotta fillings were delicious!

Cannoli Shells

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour, plus more for kneading
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
  • 4 Tablespoons of butter, cut into small pieces
  • 5 Tablespoons white wine or Marsala wine
  • 2 eggs beaten lightly
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Cannoli molds -- may be purchased at a kitchen store, or you may make them from wooden dowels.

Instructions

  1. Preheat vegetable oil to 375 degrees. (Or, if you do not want to fry them, you may bake these in the oven at 375 for 10 minutes.)
  2. Put flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl and stir to combine.
  3. Add butter and work with fingers until mixture resembles fine meal.
  4. Add wine and 1 egg.
  5. Mix with a fork until dough can be formed into a ball.
  6. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until elastic and silky.
  7. Wrap the dough in wax paper and let rest in a cool place for 2 hours.
  8. Divide dough into 8 balls.
  9. When you are working with this dough, remember it is pastry dough. Keep a glass of ice water handy as the dough will dry out. It helps to cover the dough with a damp cloth when you are not working with it. It helps to work in batches, frying around four at a time.
  10. Run 1 dough ball through a pasta roller on its widest setting, then repeat several times, gradually moving to narrower settings, until it can be run through at the narrowest setting.
  11. Or, if you do not have a pasta machine, roll each dough with a rolling pin until it is as thin as you can get it and still work with it.
  12. Cut the dough into 3.5" by 3.5" squares.
  13. Wrap each square around a cannoli form and seal the edges. Fry until golden brown.
  14. Allow to cool before sliding off of the mold. (The metal molds especially can get very hot. Be careful when you're removing the shell from the mold. You may want to use a butter knife to carefully slide the shell from the mold. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.
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Cannoli Filling

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of ricotta (I'm told sheep's milk ricotta works well if you can find it)
  • 1 2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

Instructions

  1. Beat ricotta with a mixer at high speed until smooth.
  2. Add sugar.
  3. Add vanilla.
  4. In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream until thick.
  5. Fold the whipped cream into the ricotta/sugar mixture.
  6. If you want to have both chocolate and vanilla cream filled cannoli, then divide the filling into two bowls. Add cocoa to one of the bowls of filling.
  7. Chill the fillings for 1 hour before filling the shells.
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To assemble the cannoli, spoon a little of each filling into separate pastry bags.  Pipe the filling into each of the shells.  For a garnish, you may dip the tips of the filled shells into shaved chocolate, mini chocolate chips, crushed pistachios or chopped candied citrus peel.

Chill 30 minutes before serving.

Red velvet cake

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Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake. It’s a home tradition.

One of my favorite birthday traditions practiced by my mother that I have carried on with my children is the birthday dinner request.  Usually this means that the person having a birthday may choose their favorite meal on their birthday.  Some years I requested crabmeat casserole.  Other years it was homemade fried chicken or chicken tetrazzini.  No matter what the meal was, I could count on a Doberge cake from Gambinos or a homemade red velvet cake.  In fact, one year my mother was in the hospital for my birthday and could not bake a cake for me.  She asked my aunt to bake it for me.  Imagine my reaction when my aunt asked me if I cared if it was green velvet cake or red velvet cake because she had green food coloring but no red!

This red, chocolate concoction has been served at my house for as long as I can remember, but most of my friends were strangers to it until they ate it at my house. Red velvet cake was so unknown that I once served it at a dinner and someone asked if it was peppermint.  When I explained that it was chocolate, the man did not believe me…until he saw everyone else enjoying it.  When everyone else was almost finished, he decided to try it.  He exclaimed, “This is chocolate!” as if it were some eureka moment.  Yes, this cake is chocolate.  So what if it’s red?

This cake has recently been blogged about quite a bit…and it seems that some are a little tired of the hype.    Stella Parks, of Gilt Taste suggests that her experience with red velvet cake has been less than positive.  So, she invented her own version.  I want to  try it but its such a family favorite that it would seem a sacrilege.  Instead of red food coloring she uses red wine to add color to her cake.  Now, that is one change I might be willing to try.  Given my family’s affinity for red wine, they might even go for it.

I suspect that the groom’s cake from the film Steel Magnolias may have contributed to its identification with, “all things southern.”  There are tons of posts all over the Internet with recipes for a, “bleeding armadillo” cake.  I am in no way tempted to follow that yellow brick road.

The red velvet cake I grew up with did not have a cream cheese frosting like many of the recent red velvet cakes I have encountered.  It had a cooked milk icing that was so buttery and sweet that I can still sometimes taste it when I think about it.  To this day, I prefer the recipe that my mom has always made, although I will eat one with the cream cheese icing if it is offered.

Red velvet cake was such a tradition in our house that it became a part of the bedtime stories our father would spin for us.  When I saw The Wizard of Oz for the first time I would not go to bed for fear of the Wicked Witch of the West.  So that I would go to sleep, my father told me a story to give me some courage.  The story was so good that I, and later, my sisters would often request a, “Mean Old Witch” story before bed.  As you might expect, the story ALWAYS began with:

“Once upon a time, there was a meeean oooold WITCH, and she lived in the deeeep, dark forest.  One time, (insert name of listener here) was on her way to visit her Memere (our grandmother) in New Orleans and….”

The mean old witch would always try to get us and we would always foil her plan with red velvet cake and silver bells (Hershey’s kisses.)

So, at risk of contributing to the southern cliche,  I feel that I must share this recipe because it has saved my life enumerable times and has been a part of my home life.  After all, there is no place like home.

Red velvet cake

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 oz red food coloring
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups flour sifted twice before measuring
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 Tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Butter and flour two 8-inch baking pans.
  3. In a medium bowl, cream together shortening and sugar with a mixer.
  4. Add eggs to batter.
  5. Put aside the above mixture.
  6. In a small bowl add the cocoa. Stir in the food coloring to make a paste.
  7. Add the cocoa/food coloring paste to the shortening mixture.
  8. In a separate bowl sift together flour and salt.
  9. Alternatively with the cup of buttermilk, add flour and salt mixture in small amounts to the red shortening/ egg mixture until the batter is thoroughly mixed.
  10. Dissolve 1 Tablespoon of baking soda with 1 Tablespoon of vinegar and fold in to batter. Make sure that the ingredients are well combined.
  11. Divide the batter between the two cake pans.
  12. Bake until done. (Around 35 minutes.)
  13. Allow the layers to cool before removing them from the cake pan. Spread frosting -- recipe to follow.
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Red velvet cake frosting

Ingredients

  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. In the top of a double boiler add the flour.
  2. Whisk the milk into the flour.
  3. Cook the mixture over a double boiler until it thickens.
  4. Allow the milk/flour mixture to cool, being careful to stir it often so that it doesn't develop a film on top.
  5. In a medium bowl cream together the butter and sugar with a mixer until fluffy.
  6. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla
  7. Add the cooled flour/milk mixture.
  8. Mix until of spreading consistency.
  9. Spread the icing on red velvet cake!
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2012…Finally a new year!

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Welcome to 2012…yes, I know it is February.  I think it took me a month to get over 2011.  As many do, the Loup Garou and I considered our list of resolutions, and while it isn’t exactly an official New Year’s resolution, we’ve each made an active decision to pay attention to our health.  This means acquiring better eating habits and exercise habits.    BORRRRING, right?  I think it might be the most common resolution made and broken.

We chose the South Beach diet because it is very aligned with our lifestyle and we could adjust the meals that we already eat to accommodate the diet.  Because I didn’t need to lose any weight, I have really just gone along for the ride.  I’m following some of the rules but didn’t have to start out with Stage One.   My Loup Garou husband has lost more than 10 pounds in 2 ½ weeks, and he’s excited that his clothes are fitting better.

For those of you who are not familiar with the South Beach Diet, it was developed by a cardiologist in Miami and is based on the Mediterranean diet.  Stage One cuts out processed sugars and starches – he could eat lean meats and most vegetables but had to stay away from fruits and starchy foods like bread.  Now he’s on Stage Two, which adds some grains and fruits.  He will stay on Stage Two until he reaches his goal.  In order for this to work well, he needs to exercise more, but we’re working on that.  We’ve had our bikes inspected and tuned up, and we’re going to re-join the Y.  In the meantime it’s walks with the pup and sit-ups and pushups!  No, we have not exactly followed it to the letter, but have followed it in spirit and it’s paid off!

Although we have used recipes from the South Beach Diet book and cookbook, I have discovered that some of my favorite cookbooks have recipes that fit in well with our current eating schedule.  For example, my sister gave me John Besh’s latest cookbook, My Family Table (at my request) for Christmas.  There are several recipes in there that fit right in — the tomato soup recipe is delicious!  One of my favorite parts of the cookbook is Chef Besh’s list of staples that you should keep always. I thought about this as I chatted with a close friend.  In his most accusing tone he spoke of us eating meals that sound like they came from a restaurant. (Like it’s a bad thing.)  He said it can’t be diet food.  Can it?  His idea is that some of the ingredients we use in our cooking are things that most people don’t keep in their pantry.  This is true, and I believe it’s why some people won’t try new recipes.  So one of my resolutions this year is to continue to collect new flavors in the kitchen.  It’s flavor in our food that we enjoy, and we do not have to gain ten pounds to get that flavor.

I remember my mother’s spice cabinet.  I believe it was a wedding gift to my parents.  The spices were in a rack and were in little glass jars labeled with the name of the spice.  The rack hung on the wall in the kitchen.  I have fond memories of  opening each little glass jar and smelling the contents.  Curry I remember well.  My mother didn’t like curry so she never cooked with it.   Some spices I liked more than others… and some stayed the same level for years.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were still some of those spice jars (the rack is long gone) lurking in her spice cabinet.  Just to give you an idea, if my father had lived, my parents would have had their 44th anniversary last December.  Life is short.  Embrace the spices in your life!

One visit to the Red Stick Spice Company and you may re-think buying spices in the grocery store.  Olive oils fresh from the olive growers — when you run out, you just bring your bottle back to them and they’ll refill it!  Fresh spices and teas and salts, oh my!  Why buy those bottles of spices in the grocery store when you can buy them by the ounce — fresh, and only in amounts you think you will use soon so that they don’t go bad.   Just walk in there.  I dare you!

My resolution for 2012 is to not only cook with more variety of flavors, but to write about them.  There is no excuse for boring food!

Grilled eggplant, peppers and onions

Delicious grilled veggies

Last Friday we grilled a flank steak and some veggies.  Loup Garou and I had the sliced flank steak and veggies while our Cub and his friends made fajitas with the flank steak and warm tortillas.  The grilled flank steak with ancho rub recipe may be found in the South Beach Diet cookbook, or here.  We found that the flank steak needed just a little more time to cook than the recipe suggests — 6 minutes on each side should do it, but I think it depends on how hot your grill is!

The grilled veggies are quick and easy and always delicious!

2012…Finally a new year!

Ingredients

  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • portabello mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • juice and zest of 2 lemons
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pepper, to taste
  • granulated garlic or 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 Tablespoon of chopped fresh basil

Instructions

  1. Wash and dry your vegetables thoroughly.
  2. If you are using an indoor grill, turn it on. Or light your outdoor grill.
  3. Slice your vegetables thinly and put them into a large bowl.
  4. Add the dressing ingredients to the bowl and toss well. (I use my hands for this)
  5. Allow the vegetables time to marinade (minimum of 15 minutes -- allow the grill to heat up to medium high)
  6. Arrange the sliced vegetables on the hot grill. They may not all fit at one time -- depending on how many veggies your are cooking. As each set is done, remove them to the marinade.
  7. Allow the veggies to cook around 5 minutes on each side -- watch them for doneness. Depending on the vegetable, they will each have a different amount of cooking time.
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a blog about Louisiana food and more