Spring Grilling Tips, Perfect Chicken and Smokey Veggies

It has been incredibly lovely outside in Lancaster!  On Tuesday I walked home from work without a coat and I decided it was time to clean out the grill and make something smokey.

I had chicken legs and thighs in the refrigerator that I had planned to bake in the oven, but I decided to prepare them for grilling as soon as I got home. I would normally marinate them overnight but I only had an hour and I really wanted to be outside using the grill. I cleaned up my 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken legs and thighs, rubbed them with salt and pepper and placed them in a zip-top bag with 1/4 cup of Garlic Expressions vinaigrette and 1/4 cup of olive oil.

While the chicken was marinating, I cleaned up the grill and got my charcoal heated up. I like to use a charcoal grill so much that I got rid of my propane gas grill when we moved a few years ago. I have a simple Weber One-Touch and some of their accessories. A lot of people think it is too much work to get the coals lit and ready, but if you get one of these contraptions it makes your charcoal heat up pretty quickly.

It’s called a chimney starter. You stuff the bottom with a piece of newspaper (or fire starters) and light it. The cylinder shape shoots the flames up into the coals like…yes… a chimney! I’ll share my secret for getting the coals to light even faster: Twist up a piece of newspaper so it looks like a wick to a candle. Place the wick in the center of the starter standing up and surround it with your coals… like the wick of a candle. You can light the newspaper on the bottom and the top and your coals will catch fire even quicker… if you are really the impatient type.

While the chicken is marinating and you have the grill coals heating up… get your veggies ready!

I am using a medium size sweet spanish onion cut into large chunks, a box of frozen artichoke hearts (thawed), and about a pound of mini sweet peppers. The peppers can go right on the grill, they are large enough that they won’t fall through the grates but I put the onions and artichokes on bamboo skewers so they won’t get lots through the grates. Drizzle all of your veggies with the same garlic vinaigrette as we marinated the chicken with and olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Ready to grill!

I have spent a lot of time perfecting the way I cook chicken. Chicken is such a staple… it’s cheap, it’s readily available, and if it s cooked bad, it’s can make your dinner a disaster… if it’s cooked good, it can make you a star chef! Here’s how I set up the grill to get juicy, perfectly grilled chicken. It takes a little longer but it is so worth it.

Put your hot coals on one side of the lower grill grate and add enough extra briquettes to last you about 1 hour of cooking time. Place an aluminum foil pan on the other side. You can buy disposable ones at the grocery store or you can just make your own out of two sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Make sure the sides of your pan are at least 2 inches high, you are going to want it to hold about a 1/2 gallon of water. Fit your pan in next to the coals and pour in the water. Here’s what my set up looks like:

Replace the upper grill grate and put the lid on the grill with the vents open. Allow the grill to heat up for a few minutes. Then remove the lid so that you can clean the upper grate. I like to use a triangular wire grill brush. It easily scrapes away anything on your grate. Make sure you heat up the grill grate before scraping, it makes it a lot easier to clean.

Take your chicken out of the zip top bag and place it on the side of the grill above the water pan (skin side up). Reserve the rest of the marinade in the bag for when you flip the chicken. Cover the grill and allow the chicken to cook for about 20 minutes. Here’s what it looks like after about 20 minutes:

Flip the chicken over (skin side down now) and brush some of the marinade onto the pieces. Look at the grill marks that are starting to form!

Cover the grill again and allow the chicken to cook for another 20 minutes.  Use a thermometer to check the temperature of your chicken, the thermometer should read 160-165 degrees F. Flip the chicken over (skin side up) onto the other side of the grill (right over the hot coals). Only leave the chicken there for a few minutes and repeat on the other side. This will crisp up the skin but be sure to watch it because it will burn quickly!

Remove the chicken and place it onto a piece of aluminum foil. Wrap the chicken and let it rest until you have grilled your veggies.

You can start the veggies while you are crisping the skin on the chicken. Here’s a grill full of deliciousness!

Place the veggies on the side of the grill over the water pan and cover for about ten minutes. The veggies will get warm and a little softer without getting burned on the outside. Remove the cover and place the veggies over the hot coals for a few minutes on each side, just to get a little char around the outside.

Remove the veggies and place them onto a platter. You can serve everything family style but I like to create a plate for each person.

Serve the chicken and veggies with a nice salad topped with this vinaigrette: 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice, 2 tsp. of the garlic vinaigrette that was used for the marinade, 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. My salad included baby spinach, baby pea tendrils, mustard greens, and shredded romaine lettuce.

I like to make a little extra dressing and toss the artichokes in it because they can get a little dry on the grill. Pile everything onto your plate and enjoy. The colors really look lovely together, don’t you think?

A perfect grilled dinner on a beautiful day! We paired this dinner with a cool Nugget Nectar from Troegs Brewing Company and ate out on the back deck, here’s to an early start to spring!

P.S – Check out what I’m doing with the left overs in my next post!

Italian Night: Stuffed Peppers

I have been craving some pasta and sauce so I made stuffed peppers last night. I really can’t go very many nights without eating some form of Italian dinner involving pasta. The stuffed peppers do not include pasta stuffed inside but I like to cook some and serve the pepper on top of a mound of macaroni.

Whenever I make these it reminds me of home. My mom used to make stuffed peppers a lot when I was growing up… which is probably why I get cravings for them now. I put my own little twist into them every time I make them. This version includes hot Italian sausage and ground beef.

Spicy Stuffed Peppers

1 lb. hot Italian pork sausage

1 1/2 lbs. ground beef

6 large bell peppers (green are traditional, but I  use all colors)

1/2 large yellow onion

4 large cloves garlic

1 tsp. rosemary leaves

1 tbsp. flat leaf parsley

2 tsp. thyme

6 pieces day old white bread (I use bakery bread that’s getting a little stale)

2 eggs

2 tbsp. light cream

1 28 oz. can tomato sauce

salt and pepper to taste

Cut the tops off the peppers and clean out the insides. You will be left with a pepper you can stuff your filling into and it should stand upright. I use a chili pot that six bell peppers fit into nicely.

Remove the stem from the top part of the pepper. You’ll have pretty good amount of left over bell pepper from the six tops you cut off. This will be mixed into the meat filling.

Add the pepper tops, onion, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and parsley to a food processor. Pulse the veggies and herbs until they are mixed and cut into small pieces.

In another bowl, beat the eggs and cream together.

Cut the bread into small cubes and sprinkle it with a little water to make it moist.

Add the vegetable mixture, eggs and cream, sausage, meat, bread cubes and salt and pepper to a large mixing bowl. Mix everything together using your hands until well mixed and it is sticking together. Divide the mixture into 6 portions.

Stuff each pepper with the mixture and place them into the pot, standing upright. Pour the tomato sauce over the top of each one and cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes, spooning the sauce over the tops of the peppers periodically. Turn them down to low and let them simmer for 30 minutes more.

The peppers will become soft and tender, the stuffing will be super moist, the sauce will become thin and a little spicy. Serve the peppers on a bed of cooked small pasta (like elbows or ditallini) or with some nice crusty bread and butter to soak up all the yummy sauce.

Mmmm…. Just like my mom used to make.

For An Eggs-tra Special Valentine

Happy Valentine’s day to all of you lovers out there!

I just wanted to share what I made for my valentine…

2 dozen Pickled Beet Eggs… They are red and he loves them!

I learned how to cook perfect hard-boiled eggs by making them with Dan. Now, if I could only get better at peeling them…

I made a few small jars of pickled red beets about a month ago to use for this project.  To make the pickled beets I used thinly sliced beets, dill, and garlic in small 8oz. size jars. I use the brine that I use to pickle everything for both the beets and the eggs. They came out pretty good but they didn’t really get soft like the pickled beets you buy in the store. I haven’t been canning my pickled veggies so nothing I have been making has been getting soft. I like them to stay crunchy, so I have been sticking with “refrigerator pickles” so far. I think I am going to try canning the beets next time to see how they come out. 

I hard boil the eggs by placing them in a large pot, covering them with water, and bringing the water up to a boil. When the water boils, cover the pot with a lid and turn off the heat. Let the eggs sit in the pot  for 15 minutes (for large eggs). Remove the pot from the stove and drain the water. I peel the eggs under running water to cool them as I peel. The running water also helps the shell peel off… though I still am not very good at peeling them well, so I’m not sure if this is the best method. Next time I am going to try this.

The eggs go into two Ball quart size jars with 10-15 whole black peppercorns, 1 bay leaf, 10-15 whole coriander seeds, a sprig of dill, and a smashed clove of garlic. I split the small jar of pickled beets (with their brine)  between the two jars of eggs. Cover the eggs with warm brine (3 cups water, 1 cup aged white wine vinegar, 2 tbsp salt) and close the lid.

I think they taste the best after they have pickled in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. They turn a very pretty purple-red color that looks amazing next to the yellow yolk when you cut it in half. I plan to try to make special deviled eggs with pickled onions and dill one of these days out of the pickled beet eggs.

I’ll have to hide the batch if I ever want to make anything with them because Dan devours these every time they are in the refrigerator. I hope you enjoy them as much as he does!

Chicken Soup

I have been so busy lately… I just got a new job!

I am still teaching middle school science but I switched the school where I am teaching. It’s only two blocks away from my house, so I really like the short walk in the morning. Moving in the middle of the year was pretty challenging and it kept me working late for a while. I had a lot of packing up, moving boxes, and setting up a new classroom.

Right in the middle of this busy time, I started to not feel so well. Not sure if I was trying to do too much or if it is the crazy warm and cold January weather, but I was wiped out! When I don’t feel good, no matter how tired I am, I usually end up making a big healthy dose of chicken soup.

Here’s my chicken soup recipe that always makes me feel better:

1 tbsp. olive oil

3-4 ribs of celery, from the heart with the leaves attached

2 carrots, peeled

1/2 of a medium onion

2 cloves garlic

8 oz. cremini mushrooms

1 cup shredded chicken from a rotisserie chicken

8 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup ditalini pasta or cut spaghetti pasta

handful of Italian flat leaf parsley

Cut the celery into small pieces and slice the carrots into rounds and chop the onion and mince the garlic. Add the olive oil and vegetables to a pot heated over medium heat. Saute the vegetables until they begin to become soft and add the sliced mushrooms. Saute for about 5 minutes more until all the veggies are soft.

Add the chicken stock and shredded chicken and bring to a boil. Add in the pasta and stir occasionally until the pasta has cooked (about 7 minutes). Chop the flat leaf parsley and add it to the soup.

Sometimes, if I have it in the refrigerator, I like to add some fennel fronds to give the soup some extra flavor.

This soup is pretty quick and easy. You can make it in no time if you have everything on hand. Using the rotisserie chicken is a big time saver and it adds great flavor. I buy rotisserie chickens quite frequently because there are so many things you can make with them. I usually use part of the meat for a recipe that night and freeze the rest in 1 cup portions in zip-top bags. It thaws fast and it is really convenient if you are in a hurry. I’ll be adding more of my rotisserie chicken ideas this year!

Cardigan Christmas

I feel lucky to have such a special group of friends. Made up holidays and events have become somewhat of a specialty among us. Many of our smaller parties have grown and become pretty large annual traditions.

To kick off 2012, we celebrated Cardigan Christmas!

Cardigan Christmas began in the small apartment of Matthew P. Johnson six years ago around holiday time. It was an opportunity for Chef Mark Lakin to fulfill his dream of cooking a Christmas turkey, along with all the fixin’s for a fabulous dinner. It was also an opportunity for all of us to sport our most snazziest of cardigans and celebrate the season with friends.

That first Cardigan Christmas was a nice little gathering of close friends enjoying a comforting meal and listening to Matt roast us all in his Christmas prayer. Six years later, Cardigan Christmas has grown into a dinner so large that it is now held in the banquet room of the Dirty Ol’Tavern (remember that place from Guber Ball Day!).

We celebrated and ate with 50 people! My hats off to Chef Lakin for preparing so much food. It’s not an easy task to cook that much turkey and then transport it to another venue.

So this is not the best shot in the world… but here’s a look at our Christmas dinner:

Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, and sweet potatoes all made by Chef Lakin. Creamed corn made by Miss Kara. Ham baked by Miss Carrie. I made the cranberry sauce (recipe below).

Tangerine Cranberry Sauce

12 oz. fresh cranberries

1 tangerine

1/2 cup demerara sugar

Peel 4 thick strips of zest from the tangerine with a vegetable peeler, being careful not to include the white pith. Slice the zest into small thin strips. Squeeze the juice from the tangerine and strain out any pits. Put the cranberries, zest, juice, and sugar into a small sauce pot. Heat over medium heat until the cranberries burst and the sauce thickens (about 20 minutes). Simple! I tripled it for the large crowd but this recipe makes a good amount for a smaller gathering.

I also did a little baking for this event. I made two different types of cardamom cookies. I have never made cardamom cookies before but I always love getting them from one of the stands at central market with a cup of tea or coffee. The two recipes I tried were pretty simple but a little time-consuming. I really enjoyed the little sugar dusted cookie that this recipe made from Taste of Home. The other cookie was a cardamom shortbread that I found on the Food Network site (pictured below).

We had an awesome time after our dinner. We worked off our turkey comas and danced to the tunes of Frankie Buttons and the Nitpickers. We even had post-cardigan snacks at our friend Evan’s house. What a fun evening!

Here’s our group photo from this year:

A very merry Cardigan Christmas to you!

Wild Mushroom Soup

Wild Mushroom Soup

10 oz. shitake mushrooms

10 oz. cremini mushrooms

10 oz. white button mushrooms

2 medium size leeks

1 large shallot

2 small carrots

2 small ribs celery (from the heart)

3 garlic cloves

1 tbsp. olive oil

4 tbsp. butter

3 tbsp. flour

1/2 cup white wine

4 cups vegetable stock

10-12 fresh sage leaves, chopped

1 cup half and half

small handful of fresh parsley, chopped

salt and pepper

creme fraiche (for serving)

Clean and remove the stems from the mushrooms. Slice them into thin slices and set aside.

Chop the garlic, shallots, carrots and celery into small pieces. Clean and slice the leeks into very thin slices. Drizzle the olive oil into a large dutch oven and heat it over medium heat. Place the vegetables into the pot and saute until they are soft and the leeks are tender (about ten minutes). Salt and pepper the vegetables to taste.

Add 3 tablespoons of butter to the pot and melt it into the vegetables. Add the flour and stir to combine, add the sage and cook for 5 minutes. Pour in the white wine and cook until the wine is absorbed.

Add in all of the mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste, and cook for about 10 minutes or until the all of the mushrooms are soft (they will reduce in volume).

Add four cups of vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Allow the soup to simmer for 10 -15 minutes. Add the half and half, the fresh parsley and the remaining tablespoon of butter and simmer a few minutes more.

Serve the soup with a dollop of creme fraiche on top.

Pickle Mania!

Happy National Pickle Day!

I’ve been pickling and fermenting a lot of veggies lately. This past weekend I made my own Kimchi (recipe to follow later this week).

I think I have finally discovered the perfect combination veggies, herbs and brine to make the perfect pickle (or at least come pretty close to perfect). Here it is:

3 cups water

1 cup aged white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon whole black pepper corns

handful of dill (a few whole sprigs)

3 big garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

5-6 Kirby cucumbers (or as many as you could fit into a large mason jar) or 3/4 lb fresh green beans, trimmed

Boil the water, vinegar, and salt together in a small pot until the salt is dissolved, allow to cool to room temperature.

Slice the Kirby cucumbers into rounds about 1/4 inch thick. Pack the jar with the dill sprigs, whole peppercorns, smashed garlic, and pickle rounds or green beans (or both!)

Pour the brine over the ingredients – fill the jar up to the top. Screw on a clean lid and band and place the jar in the refrigerator for at least a day. This makes enough brine to fill two large mason jars, just make sure you buy some extra cucumber or other veggies.

You get awesome pickles!

Use the same brine and experiment with other veggies and herbs. Try these other combinations that I think are awesome:

carrots, basil, and garlic

asparagus, purple basil, and sweet onions

okra and garlic

cucumbers, fennel fronds, garlic, and dill

yellow wax beans, dill, and garlic

yellow and green beans, parsley, and sweet onion

Happy pickling!

Make your own soda

I’ve made my own ginger ale a few times now. It’s surprisingly easy to make your home-made soda.

Before you start, you’ll want to make sure you have some proper bottles to put your soda in. You could bottle the soda in regular beer bottles if you have the equipment.You’ll need clean beer bottles, caps and a capper that you can get at your local home brew shop. If you’re in the Lancaster area try Mr. Steve’s Homebrew or Lancaster Homebrew. There are also tons of places online to get home brewing supplies.

I like to use swing top bottles that have a rubber seal. It’s easier than bottling using caps and the bottles that I use are clear so you can see the soda.

The first step is to make a ginger syrup:

12 oz. fresh ginger root

1 cup organic cane sugar

1 cup water

Remove the skin from the ginger root, cut it in small pieces, place it in a food processor and shred the ginger until it is very finely ground up. Place the ground up ginger root, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 cup of water in a small sauce pot and bring to a boil. Allow the mixture to boil until the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep for one hour.

After an hour, the syrup should be cool enough to handle. Use a piece of cheese cloth to strain the syrup into a clean jar. Squeeze any juice out of the left over pulp that you can by twisting it in the cheese cloth.

You can use this syrup for more than just the soda. You could mix a little bit into your maple syrup to serve on top of waffles. It’s nice to add a little on top of vanilla or honey ice cream, or if you have an ice cream maker… you can use it to make your own ginger ice cream. Mixing it into fruit salad can add a new twist to a simple dessert. You can use it in anything where you would use simple syrup, great for cocktails!

To make the soda:

To a clean 1 liter bottle, add 6 oz. of the ginger syrup and a pinch (about 20 granules) of champagne yeast. You can find champagne yeast at the home brew store for pretty cheap, you can also use bread yeast if you really can’t find it but I do not think it works as well.

Fill the bottle up to the bottom of the neck with filtered water. It’s important to leave a little space so you don’t have too much pressure build up in the bottle. Once the yeast starts working, carbon dioxide gas will be produced. Leave the bottles at room temperature for 48 hours. After 48 hours you can place your bottles in the refrigerator. The refrigeration will stop the yeast from producing carbon dioxide.

I have read a lot of warnings that bottles can explode if you add too much yeast, leave it at room temperature for too long, or fill the bottle too much. I have never had this happen to me, but just be aware that it is a possibility.

You could make a great Dark and Stormy with your home-made ginger ale or a very simple ginger and whiskey cocktail.

Just add 1 oz of good quality whiskey to 8 oz of ginger ale -simple and delicious.

If you like the rooster glass, they came from  pier one imports.  I don’t think they have them any more but you could find similar ones here.  I received my rooster glasses for my birthday one year from one of my very good friends. They are a perfect size for making a small mixed drink or serving up your morning glass of OJ.

Pumpkin Seeds

Happy Halloween!

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I love making costumes, dressing up, and going to a party where everyone else is in costume too! There are so many fun things to do around this time and so many fun foods and special dishes to make for parties.

I took some time to carve a pumpkin…

I added some feathers to make it really look like an owl! It was pretty fun. I think next year I am going to get some better pumpkin carving tools and make a better carving. If you have any good ideas let me know. I want to make something interesting.

From this pumpkin project, I pulled out 1 cup of pumpkin seeds.

I decided to roast them and try something new this year. I made a mixture of sugar spices to coat the seeds. Here’s the recipe to my spiced up roasted pumpkin seeds.

If you like my cute goose measuring cup you can find a similar set here.  I got my gaggle of geese measuring cups a few years back at Anthropologie and they are no longer available.

Sweet and Spicy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

1 cup raw pumpkin seeds (all pulp removed and washed)

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp. sea salt

2 tsp. organic cane sugar

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. smoked sweet paprika

1/4 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1 tbsp. water

Spread the cleaned seeds out on a parchment lined baking sheet. Drizzle the olive oil and 1/4 tsp. of the sea salt over the seeds and stir them so that all of them are coated.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, until they are golden and crispy.

You can eat the seeds just like this. This simple roast is how I usually eat them. They are really good- nice and simple just roasted and salted.

To spice them up, mix the other 1/4 tsp of salt in with the rest of the spices and the 2 tsp. sugar in a small bowl. Toss the seeds in and add the 1 tbsp. of water – just to help the spices stick to the seeds. Mix it well to make sure all of the seeds are coated.

Spread the seeds out on the baking sheet in a single layer again and bake for about 10 minutes (you want to try to get them dry again so they don’t all stick together). They come out kind of caramelized or candied but they have a nice little spice to them.

Make sure you save your pumpkin seeds! They make a great Fall snack and it’s kind of fun to pick them out of the pumpkin.

Food Photography and Caprese Salad

Last month, my photographer friend Jason Bleecher took some photos of some food I created. I’ll be sharing the photos and the recipes over the next few weeks!

Caprese Salad with Balsamic Vinegar Reduction

1/2 cup good quality Balsamic vinegar

3 fresh mozzarella balls

3-4 medium size red and yellow heirloom tomatoes

1 cup of red and yellow cherry tomatoes

purple and green basil leaves

Salt and pepper

Good Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil

In a small pan, reduce the balsamic vinegar to half over medium heat. Slice the mozzarella and tomatoes into 1/4 inch slices and half the cherry tomatoes. Arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella in alternating layers on the plate. Chiffonade the green basil and spread it over the salad, garnish with purple basil leaves. Drizzle the balsamic vinegar reduction and olive oil over the salad and season with salt and pepper.

Simple and delicious, especially when tomatoes are in season.