Marinades

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Marinades are a wonderful way to flavor meat. They can be simple or involved, depending on your desires, but they’re also a great way to use up ingredients. Have some leftover parsley? Make a marinade. Tomatoes? Make a marinade. An orange? You get the idea.

Generally, a marinade is composed of three parts: the oil, the acid, and the flavoring. The oil is simply the carrier. It can be a neutral oil like grape seed, an extra-virgin olive oil, or an infused oil.

The acidic option depends on what food you’re preparing. If I’m marinating beef for fajitas, I’d choose lime juice as my acid. If I’m marinating chicken for a stir fry, I’d choose sake or mirin. But there are other options as well. Orange juice? Pineapple juice? A ripe tomato? Sure! They all work.

The third part of creating a marinade is the most fun, because you can get really creative. Garlic is always important to me. There’s not one cuisine I can think of that doesn’t utilize this wonderfully pungent allium, be it Indian, Asian, Mexican, and so forth. Ginger is also perfect in Asian- and Indian -inspired marinades.

The next option for me would be fresh herbs, like cilantro, basil, or parsley. They provide beautiful color and freshness to a marinade.

Chile peppers puréed in a marinade provide wonderful heat as well as flavor. Just remove the stem of fresh jalapeños, for example, and pop them into the blender with the other ingredients. Alternatively, use roasted peppers or chile pepper purée, of which there are many varieties.

Here are some spice options for marinades: Cumin, chili powder, smoky or sweet paprika, coriander, Chinese 5-spice powder, curry powder, cayenne, chipotle, ancho chile pepper.

Other ingredients to flavor marinades include pesto, miso, ketchup, soy sauce, fish sauce, hoisin sauce, berbere, harissa, romesco, mustard, honey, maple syrup, roasted red bell peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce… the list is literally endless.

The following marinade is basically a red wine-based vinaigrette, seasoned with garlic, dried herbs, and cayenne pepper flakes.

Here is a marinade made with olive oil, lime juice, garlic and parsley puréed together for chicken breasts. The combination makes a wonderful green marinade, which colors the chicken beautifully after grilling.

For a beef tri-tip, I created an Asian-inspired marinade. I used soy sauce, sake, sesame seed oil, chile paste (Sambal oelek), ginger and garlic. After 24 hours I seared the thin slices of beef in peanut oil for a quick dinner. It’s that simple.

Yogurt can also be used as the “carrier oil,” which you learn about quickly when you indulge yourself in Indian cuisines. So for my final example of a marinated meat, I’m using a mixture of yogurt and harissa.

For a more involved Indian-inspired marinade, I would include garlic, ginger, and curry powder, but I wanted to show how easy it is to create a flavorful and unique marinade. It took10 seconds to prepare and you don’t even need to use a blender.

I’m simply smothering a pork tenderloin with the marinade, waiting a few hours, and then roasting it in the oven.

Marinating requires very little work. It’s just about planning. Try different variations and see what magic you can come up with!

White Bean and Tomato Salad

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Beans, beans, beans. The more I eat, the more I’m addicted! I really love making beans from scratch, because still love the idea of creating meals for pennies. And a pot of beans can be turned into multiple meals.

But I’ve also touted my loved of canned beans on this blog – especially canned Great Northern beans for making my white bean dips. And I love canned black beans, because they make fabulous black bean salads, or a quick black bean dip. So I keep canned beans on hand always.

Today I’m going to show you how simple and easy it is to make a bean salad – this time using Navy Beans, priced at $1.19 per can.

But what’s even better than canned beans being inexpensive, is that they’re extremely healthy, and can be dressed up however you want! Black beans lend themselves beautifully to Mexican and Southwestern dishes, but for me, personally, I keep my white beans for Mediterranean-inspired salads.

They can be a healthy and hearty side dish, or make a whole meal. And, they’re good year ’round, depending on the ingredients.

So today I’m making a navy bean salad with tomatoes, and topping it with capers, shallots, and chives, because chives have returned to my garden. You can add oregano or basil, or anything you want to this salad. That’s the fun of playing with bean salads! Enjoy!


Navy Bean Salad

2 – 16 ounce cans navy beans, well drained
1 container cherry tomatoes
1-2 shallots, diced
Capers, drained
Chives, chopped, or parsley if you prefer
Olive oil and vinegar, or a basic vinaigrette*

Place the drained beans in a medium-sized bowl.
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Slice the cherry tomatoes in half lengthwise and let them hang out on a paper towel to drain a bit.
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Add the amount of vinaigrette you want to the beans and give them a toss. Right before serving add the tomatoes and stir them in gently.
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Place the beans in individual serving bowls; 2 cans should make 4 servings unless this salad will be a whole meal.


Sprinkle the bean salad with shallots, capers, and the chives. Feta cheese would also be a wonderful topping, but I kept this salad cheese-less today!

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Alternatively, you could add all of the ingredients together in the salad. I was looking for a more purely bean and tomato salad, with some toppings.


Taste for seasoning, especially salt and black pepper.

Serve at room temperature.

* My home-made vinaigrettes tend to be about half vinegar and half olive oil. I often add fresh garlic, and maybe some Dijon mustard, plus I always add salt. That’s it. I love vinegar with bean salads, and tend to use lemon or lime juice-based dressings with grain salads for some reason. But you could certainly substitute lemon juice for vinegar in this case. Use what you love!

note: If money is an issue for you, keep your eye on bean prices. Where I live, Cannelini beans cost twice as much as Great Northerns, and Frijoles Negros cost twice as much as black beans. They’re just considered and treated more “gourmet” with the foreign names!

Pickled Salmon

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I adore salmon, in just about every way. Hot smoked, cold smoked, raw, grilled – you name it. And I’ve always wanted to make my own gravlax. But then I came across this recipe for pickled salmon recently, and I knew I had to make it first.

It’s from one of my favorite series of cookbooks that I still refer to – the Foods of the World series by Time Life. This recipe is from American Cooking: The Northwest. Sorry for the blurriness.

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Now, this recipe can’t replace gravlax, which is cured salmon. This recipe is pickled salmon, so I’m still promising myself to still make gravlax soon.

I’m typing up the recipe as it is in the recipe book, and I did pretty much follow the recipe. However, instead of a large side of salmon, I used a smaller, frozen filet (thawed first) that was barely over a pound, and crudely adjusted the other ingredients accordingly. I mean, what’s 2 bay leaves divided by 5?

This salmon is super easy to make, and can be enjoyed within one week when it’s stored in the refrigerator, which it must be. I served mine with crackers, quite simply. If you love anything that’s pickled, you’ll love this pickled salmon!

Pickled Salmon
To serve 12 as a first course

2 cups white distilled vinegar
2 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
2 small onions, peeled, sliced into 1/4-inch thick rings
2 medium-sized bay leaves, crumbled
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons whole cloves
2 teaspoon whole white peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
5 pounds fresh salmon, boned, skinned and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon salt

Combine the vinegar, water, olive oil, onions, bay leaves, mustard seeds, cloves, and white and black peppercorns in a 2-3 quart enameled saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, and simmer partially covered for 45 minutes.
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Meanwhile, spread the salmon pieces in one layer on a strip of wax paper. Sprinkle the fish evenly with the salt and let it rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
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Then drop the salmon into a colander and run cold water over it to rinse off the excess salt.
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Pat the fish dry with paper towels and pack the pieces tightly into a glass jar.


Pour the hot vinegar-and-spice mixture over the salmon, a little at a time, allowing the liquid to seep down slowly to the bottom of the jar before adding more.
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Cool to room temperature, tightly cover with foil or plastic wrap, and refrigerate the salmon for at least 24 hours before serving. Tightly covered, it can be safely kept in the refrigerator for about a week.

Before serving, I poured off the liquid. I didn’t want the salmon to be watery.

I added a little marscapone to the crackers before topping them with the salmon, and it was really nice. The marscapone toned down the vinegary flavor, but the salmon was good.

note: I kept the salmon in one piece to do the salting part, rinsed it and dried it, and then sliced it up. Way easier. I also decided to include a few of the pickled onion rings along with the salmon.

Strawberry Vinegar

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There is one thing that makes me crazy at restaurants, and that is non-seasonal menus. It makes me want to go yell at everyone involved with the food and menu. And I’m not a yelling kind of person. Just ask my kids. Or maybe don’t.

One menu item that infuriates me is a green salad topped with strawberries. In January. And it’s snowing outside.

Why? And where are you getting these strawberries? And what are they costing you? Because they’re certainly not locally harvested in January. Not in the northern hemisphere.

Strawberries are all about spring. Spring. Time. Add roasted butternut squash and warm lentils to your winter salad, maybe with some goat cheese. But save the strawberries for strawberry season.

Speaking of strawberry season, the featured photo is of some of my just-picked strawberries from last year. I especially love the smaller, wild strawberries because of their sweetness and almost perfume-like quality. But you won’t find me putting any of my garden-ripened berries in vinegar or vodka. I like them just picked, warm from the sun, even if there’s still a little dirt on them.

Store-bought berries are good for infusing vinegars and vodkas. As long as you can taste them and you know they’re sweet. A strong aroma is usually a good indication of their ripeness as well.

And just as an aside, the sweet strawberry vodka from last spring is my most favorite infused vodka I’ve ever made. Check it out if you’re interested; there’s still time.

But back to vinegar, I have actually never flavored my own vinegars. I typically add the flavorings when I make vinaigrettes. But in the spring, along with some fresh strawberries on a salad, I decided the layered effect of having a strawberry-infused vinegar was a must this year. Especially when just seasoning a simple salad with only oil and vinegar. No garlic, or mustard or other strong flavors to impede the deliciousness of strawberry.

I bought a quart of good strawberries, gave them a slight rinse, then let them drip dry on a towel. I thought about mashing or even blending the strawberries to a pulp, but since I wanted the resulting vinegar to be clear, I decided to simply slice them.

I placed the slices in a clean bottle with a wide neck, and added no more than 1 teaspoon of white sugar. Then, using a funnel, I poured white balsamic vinegar into the jar. I used 2 – 8.5 ounce bottles for the quart of strawberries.

After giving the closed jar a gentle shake, I placed the jar in my pantry, and decided that one week should be sufficient, but I’ll give the vinegar a taste to see if a week is a substantial amount of time first. Stay tuned if you’re interested!


Just in case you’re wondering, I chose a white balsamic instead of the traditional dark-brown color. I am a huge fan of balsamic vinegar – the aged and the less aged both. But they are brown. And this is just my personal opinion, but I have never liked the look of, for example, a pasta salad tossed with balsamic vinegar. It’s just not pretty. Since I wanted to use the strawberry vinegar for more than just my one salad in this post, I wanted it pink instead of brown.

If you don’t love the sweetness of a white balsamic vinegar, simply use an apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, or a sherry vinegar.

A Seafood Salad

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There’s one thing that I really dislike after a vacation, and that’s having to go to the grocery store. Of course, no one else goes for me, so inevitably I drag myself out of the house to stock up on fruits, vegetables, and whatever I need for my planned meals.

But it’s especially nice to not have to go, especially the first day back. Especially if there’s some jet lag involved. Usually there’s unpacking, laundry, organizing, re-visiting lists, checking plants, and reuniting with the dogs that take precedence.

We have a pet sitter who will place frozen cuts of meat into the refrigerator on the day I ask her to, which is helpful. But my husband tends to eat heartier and meatier meals than I do. If you’ve ever seen me eat, you might be laughing at this. But seriously, I’d rather have a salad than a steak. Except that there’s no fresh lettuce and other veggies in the fridge after being gone for two weeks.

So enter my solution for having a nice meal on your first day back, without having to go to the store. It’s a salad of warm potatoes and canned seafood. It’s actually good when you have food in the house. The key, of course, is having good quality seafood on hand. The only think you have to plan ahead is to have some potatoes stored in the refrigerator before you leave town.
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So here’s what I did in order to procrastinate going to the grocery store for another day.

Potato and Seafood Salad

2-3 medium red-skinned potatoes, unpeeled
Canned tuna in oil
Canned octopus in oil
Other canned tuna, if necessary
Lettuce leaves, optional
Olive oil
Vinegar of choice
Capers
Salt
Pepper

Begin with the potatoes. Chop them up in equal pieces.
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Place them in boiling water. When they are tender, drain them in a colander.

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Add all of the seafood canned in oil to another colander over a small bowl and let it drain. Save the oil.
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Place the potatoes in a bowl, and add most all of the saved oil from the canned seafood, or to your taste preference. If you feel that the oil is too “fishy,” simply add olive oil to the still-warm potatoes. But this is an important step because the oil keeps the potatoes moist. Add some salt and toss gently.
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On a serving platter, place the lettuce leaves decoratively.
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Add the still warm potatoes.
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Add the seafood to the salad.
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Sprinkle the salad with a little more olive oil, if needed. I do.

Then sprinkle some vinegar over the salad. Today I used sherry vinegar, but any vinegar except balsamic would work well.
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If you prefer, make a vinaigrette using oil, vinegar, and some Dijon mustard first and pour that over the top of the salad.

Then add capers, a little salt, and a generous amount of pepper. Serve immediately.
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You could always include chopped shallots or chives, if they’re available.
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As I mentioned above, other ingredients can be added to this salad, like fresh tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and olives, but on a day when you have a limited supply of food, it’s a delightful and healthy salad to make and enjoy.
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note: If you don’t have potatoes, the same ingredients can be added to cooked pasta. I would suggest warming some minced garlic in a generous amount of olive oil first, then adding the pasta and seafood. If everything is dry, a little chicken broth can be added. Heat everything through over low heat, with a lid on the skillet, to maximize absorption of the liquid. Canned seafood is a staple in my pantry!

Chimichurri

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I’ve made chimichurri a few times over the years when I’ve prepared South American*-inspired meals for company. For one meal, I grilled skirt steaks and served both green and red chimichurri sauces. I preferred the green.

But other than that I haven’t paid much attention to chimichurri, which originated in Argentina. I only see it associated with meat, which is so quintessentially South American. Grilled meat. Lots of meat.

I decided to make chimichurri again and really focus on its goodness and, of course, I decided to use it on steaks. I don’t want to rock the South American boat here.

So what exactly is chimichurri? It’s basically like an oil and vinegar mixture that includes chopped green herbs and garlic.

So I’m not being very creative here using chimichurri, but it doesn’t really matter. Once you’ve made it, you don’t care if you ever have it any other way other than schmeared on a steak. It’s that good.

But I can definitely see it on shrimp as well. Or poultry. Or toast. For breakfast.

Chimichurri

1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
Few grindings black pepper

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Combine all of these in a small bowl, then add:

1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

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Then stir in:

1/2 chopped parsley, loosely packed
1/3 cup chopped cilantro, loosely packed

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Mix everything together well.

Today I wanted to use the chimichurri for a marinade as well as a “finishing” sauce so to speak, so I placed two filets on a plate, and covered them with a generous amount of chimichurri.

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After about 30 minutes, I turned the steaks over and added more chimichurri.

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Before cooking the steaks, I wiped off the chimichurri sauce. The tops and bottoms of the steaks were oily, so I didn’t have to pat them dry. But I did add a little oil to the skillet first before searing the steaks.

After cooking to medium rare and letting them rest, I sliced the steaks, and placed them on a bed of sauteed spinach with tomatoes and onions.
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Then I drizzled some of the chimichurri sauce over the steaks.
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The freshness of the chimichurri sauce, from the cilantro and parsley, plus the garlic, is a perfect foil against the mellow, sweet steak. It’s a marriage made in food heaven!
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* I know, South American inspiration for a meal is a bit all-consuming since it’s a continent, but there are aspects to South America that stand out from a culinary perspective. And those typically are more Argentinian and Brazilian in origin. The meals revolve around meat, but there are also beans and grains and lots of green. If you’ve never delved into the cuisines of South america, I suggest you look into them. I’ve just barely broken the surface…

note: This recipe is perfect to me. I love the addition of the dried oregano and crushed red pepper. If you want a thicker sauce, whether for use as a marinade or for serving, purée it. I know that goes against the tradition of the fresh herbs and garlic in the oil and vinegar mixture, but then at least the parsley and cilantro leaves don’t get stuck in your teeth. I think it’s a reasonable option. You can also cut back on the volume of vinegar as well. It’s personal choice, as long as you don’t change what the chimichurri is all about.

Pear Vinaigrette

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You may find this fact hard to believe, but I’ve never purchased a bottled salad dressing or vinaigrette! I honestly don’t understand why anyone would. Don’t take this the wrong way if you happen to like them, but to me, they’re a real waste of money. And that’s besides the fact that you are also investing in chemicals and preservatives, in most cases.

But for me, even without the financial aspect, what’s more important is making my own vinaigrettes depending on my mood, what kind of salad I want to make, and the season. I’ve actually taught vinaigrette making in classes before. They’re so easy to make, and they’re way healthier because you control the ingredients. There are an infinite number of creative ways to make vinaigrettes.

When I cooked for a family for so many years, I never made the same dressing twice. So trust me, there are potentially multitudes of vinaigrettes.

There are two basic components to a vinaigrette – the vinegar and the oil. Think about all of the vinegar choices these days! There’s apple cider, red wine, rice wine, white balsamic, and the list goes on. It’s also important to consider the color of the vinegar when you’re choosing one, as well as the flavor you want.

If you’re not too fond of vinegar, try using rice wine vinegar. It’s less strong than the others. And if you like a touch of sweetness, try white balsamic vinegar. It’s clear as well, so it mixes with anything. Balsamic vinegar is pretty powerful, so I usually don’t use it in vinaigrettes. I prefer it as is. Plus, the brown color can “ruin” a pretty salad if you’re not careful.

There are also fruit vinegars that can be purchased and used in vinaigrettes. I bought a raspberry one once and it was awful. And it even said “all natural” flavors on the label. A good reason to make your own fruit vinegars at home! (Which I never have but I know they’re very straight forward and easy!)

Then there are the oils – extra virgin olive oil, of course, but also hazelnut, avocado, walnut oil, and so forth. These don’t add huge amounts of flavors, but they’re all delicious. And it’s fun to mix and match them to the vinegars.
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Garlic is a common ingredient in my vinaigrettes that I make at home. Mostly because I love garic. But if you’re making a very subtly flavored vinaigrette you might have to back off from the garlic. It can overpower. The same goes for ginger and shallots. But they both work in a vinaigrette as well.

Now we come to the fun stuff. Think about these additions – frozen orange juice, sun dried tomatoes, beet juice, reduced leftover champagne, herbs, apple cider, mango, roasted red bell peppers, pesto, harissa, chimichuri sauce, avocado, strawberries, and on and on. All of these “accessory” ingredients can be added to a basic vinaigrette to create a really unique flavor. I’ve only listed a few.

Today, because it’s autumn and the pears are ripe and delicious, I’m making a pear vinaigrette. I wanted to make a composed salad of butter lettuce, some cabbage and carrots, a few mushrooms and hearts of palm slices, lentils, and some grilled chicken. The pairing with the pear vinaigrette sounded perfect to me.
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I chose to use apple cider vinegar and walnut oil, just for fun, along with a whole pear.

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So here’s what I did:

Pear Vinaigrette

1 whole pear, cored
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 small garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnut oil

Place the pear, vinegar, garlic and salt in a blender jar.
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Blend until smooth. You have to make sure that the garlic is blended. It will look like this:
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Keep blending on low, and gradually pour all of the walnut oil into the pear-vinegar mixture. It will be nice and smooth like this:
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Serve immediately, and store any excess in a jar in the refrigerator.
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Although it may not last long because it’s fabulous!
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Pickled Beets

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Fresh beets don’t usually last long in my house. I typically roast them, remove the peels, and add them to salads. I eat salads pretty much every day in the summer.

But I decided it was time to actually make my fresh beets last by pickling them.

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I just started canning last summer, and canning is the perfect way to make these pickled beets last even longer. Normally, pickled beets would only last in the refrigerator for a few weeks, and that’s just not enough time. Especially if you want them during the winter months. So, pickling plus canning equals a winning combination!

I won’t do a canning tutorial just yet, but stay tuned. And if you haven’t canned, try it. It’s incredible what varieties of foods and condiments you can create, and trust me – no one will get botulism if you just follow the rules.

So the recipe is in two parts – one is the pickling water, and the other, the beets.

Pickled Beets

The Beets:

6 beets, scrubbed, ends removed
A 3″ long piece of fresh horseradish, quartered
Bay leaves, about 6-8
Few peppercorns
Few whole cloves

scrubbed and rinsed beets

scrubbed and rinsed beets

Place the beets in a large pot on the stove. Don’t peel them, otherwise you’ll lose too much beet juice.

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To the pot add all of the remaining ingredients, then add purified water until the beets are fully covered by at least 1″ of water.

Bring the water to a boil. As soon as the water boils, count 1 hour on the clock.

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If you want to make sure the beets are fully cooked, pierce the largest one with a cake tester or point of a knife.

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Immediately drain the beets into a colander and let them cool.

The Pickling Water:

2 cups purified water
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 bay leaves
1 smashed garlic clove
A 1″ piece of garlic, sliced into quarters
Few peppercorns

Combine everything in a medium pot. Place over high heat, and stir to dissolve the sugar. As soon as it’s dissolved, remove the water from the stove and set aside to cool.

When the beets are cool enough to handle, gently peel them, and trim away any hard, woody parts with a sharp knife.

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If you’ve never worked with beets before, be aware that they stain everything. Skin included.

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Have jars and lids available that have been washed through a dishwasher cycle or sterilized.

Slice or cube the peeled and trimmed beets and place them in the jars. Today I cubed mine.

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When you’re all done, add the strained pickling water to the jars; the beets should be completely covered. Alternatively, you could include the pickled onions.

I placed a couple of horseradish pieces in two jars, and the star anise in a third. The fourth I left alone.

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I then covered the jars with clean and dry lids, and stored them in the refrigerator. I wasn’t quite ready to begin the canning process, but when I do, I will bring the tightly sealed jars to room temperature before proceeding.

Pickled beets are one of my favorite additions to salad, which I eat often. the one in the featured photo includes avocado, mushrooms, and tomatoes.

Beets, pickled or not, go well in salads with salmon, steak, or grilled chicken. They’re also wonderful with red bell peppers, grated carrots, and cucumbers. And don’t forget the goat cheese!

verdict: These beets are delicious. I’m glad I didn’t add any more sugar to the pickling water. The horseradish isn’t very strong. And I love the addition of the star anise. Will make these again.