Roast Beef Chipotle Mini Pizza

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After I completed the challenge of making as many things as I could off a turkey breast last week, I got the insane idea to get a turkey breast again this week. Needless to say, we’re getting tired of turkey.

So I backed away slowly from the turkey and the carving board. And put on my thinking cap. I did some grocery shopping list night, and I knew I would need something to make that night that would be easy to put together. So I went with deli roast beef, and I went with pizza. And I went with my adventurous taste buds and came up with this idea.

1 pita of your choice, wheat or white (I went with a flavored one: garlic pita)
1 to 1.5 oz deli roast beef (with the size of my slices, this meant about 1.5 slices; be sure to weigh yours!)
2T Taco Bell chipotle sauce (found with the Mexican/Southwest foods in the international aisle)
1 oz mozzarella or Italian cheese blend

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. On an oven-safe pan or cookie sheet, assemble your pizza: top the pita with the sauce, top three sauce with the cheese, and tear/shred the roast beef and put that in to of the cheese.

Put your pizza in the oven until the cheese is melted to your liking.

Notes: if I had time and the ingredients, I would’ve added some grilled onions and peppers to this, to add another dimension of flavor.

Not in the mood for pizza? Try this as a wrap sandwich in a tortilla. Add the peppers and onions and salad greens of your choice.

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Super Bowl Sunday and My Dad’s Burger Trick

Super Bowl Sunday coincided nicely with my usual weekend cooking routine. I shifted the menu to turkey burgers and grilled chicken and beef, for burritos and salads, to add a little pizzazz alongside the roasted chicken, broccoli rabe, rice and honey-glazed carrots I’d also made.

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As I was prepping the burgers (see recipe below!) I couldn’t help but think of my father. While I’ve gotten my interest in health from my mom (who introduced me to wheat germ as a child, takes an apothecary’s worth of vitamin and mineral supplements every day as a relatively spry near-octogenarian, and phased out red meat from my childhood home), I’ve gotten my love of cooking from my dad, who once worked as a short-order cook.

I wasn’t ready to grill the burgers right away, so I individually wrapped them in waxed paper, just like he used to do. I thank him for teaching me how to prep things like burgers and chicken for future use–cutting whole chickens and leg quarters into parts. What else have I gotten from him about food?

I thank him for letting me know there’s nothing wrong with putting sugar in grits (though I prefer the savory kind… Note to self to make shrimp and grits sometime soon!)

I thank him for instilling in me an interest in grilling–though I still have to bow down to him on charcoal, as I’m a gas girl.

I thank him for teaching me how to make scrambled eggs (and I thank Julia Child for teaching me how to make omelets!)

I thank him for encoding into my genes the kind of rapid-fire, assembly line cooking and prep needed to keep a family well-fed for road trips and beach and amusement park outings.

My dad passed away more than 10 years ago, but I bet that if I had asked, he would have helped me to understand football when I was younger. But I guess there is something fun about learning football in fits and starts during the Super Bowl and other lower-priority, regular season games. Just as it was this past Sunday. Regardless of the state of my football knowledge, though, I know he would have been proud of the burgers.

Here’s my recipe for the turkey burgers I made (serves 8):

2lbs lean ground turkey
2 envelopes onion soup mix
4 capfuls of liquid smoke

Mix the ingredients. Plan to grill right away, or marinate for a bit by  forming patties and individually wrapping them in waxed paper. (Bundle the patties in a foil parcel.)

When ready, grill the burgers to desired doneness, place on a light hamburger bun, and add your favorite toppings.

These Cooking Rules Are Made to Be Broken

Last night, I was preparing fish to bake. It was a 2-lb bag of tilapia fillets, and I planned on doing half with salt, pepper and garlic, and half with Cajun seasoning. While visions of dusting the fish fillets with their respective spices danced in my head, I noticed a warning on the plastic that wrapped each fish fillet. It said that you should remove the fish from the plastic before thawing.

Too late! I routinely thaw the fish individually wrapped, in the main packaging, in my freezer. And they taste just fine, whether I’m baking them or grilling them. No harm, no foul.

Just like my fish experiences, there are other times when you can break the rules that recipes scream at you. Here are 8:

  1. Use your favorite vegetables. When you’re making a casserole or slow cooker dish, go with the vegetables that you like (or the ones that you have on hand), as long as you time their cooking in a way that ensures they get cooked to appropriate doneness.
  2. Go with yogurt. Fat-free Greek yogurt can stand in for cream, or for sour cream. Try topping your nachos or baked potatoes with some, mixing some into your chicken pot pie stuffing, in soups–the possibilities are endless!
  3. Alternatives for desserts. Diet lemon-lime soda and liquid eggs in yellow and white cakes. Diet cola and liquid eggs in dark cakes and brownies. Pumpkin puree in spice cake. Fat-free Greek yogurt works here, too.
  4. Ditch the butter and oil. No, you won’t get the same flavor, but if you want to save on fat and calories, opt for cooking spray or water for sautéing (or nothing at all, if you don’t have your temperature super-high).
  5. Tweak the spices. Fresh or dried? Go with what you have, using more dried if the recipe calls for fresh. Leave out the salt if you have high blood pressure, or switch to a low-sodium salt, because if you’re cooking with certain items (like spaghetti sauce, cheese, or broth), you’re still getting sodium in the mix anyway. There’s a reason many bloggers (myself included) don’t give exact measurements for spices–part of the art of cooking is figuring out what works best for your taste. Experiment and go with the proportions that work for you.
  6. Switch up the meat. Rather than a pork shoulder, try pork loin. Instead of high-fat ground beef, try lean ground beef (93% lean) or learn ground turkey. Don’t be afraid to make a recipe vegetarian, either–for many dishes, you’ll be safe opting for beans or textured vegetable protein (TVP).
  7. Take shortcuts. As a rule, or in a pinch, you can buy rotisserie chicken or rotisserie turkey breast. Or, get the person at the seafood counter to steam the shrimp or crab for you, before tossing with grains, vegetables, or pasta. For vegetables? Buy pre-cut veggies from your produce section, or even frozen peppers and onions from the freezer section.
  8. Don’t braise meat for slow cooking. As with using butter or oil for sautéing, braising does add another dimension of flavor, but if you want to cut corners on time, you can get along fine without doing it.

Whether you’re starting to cook more healthy now as part of a resolution, or you’re plugging away at healthy eating as a long-term lifestyle, there are areas where it’s perfectly fine to bend or break the cooking rules to bring your food to the table faster, or more in line with your taste preferences. I wish you hours of happy rabble-rousing in your kitchen!

Question of the day: What rules do you break in the kitchen? What tips do you have for making your life as a cook easier?

A Lady’s Love Letter to Grilling

When I was in Target recently, I saw a Grill King apron, and I got a little mad because I didn’t see a Grill Queen version nearby. (Thankfully, Zazzle has my back!) I know there are  other lady grillers out there, but like Rodney Dangerfield, it seems like we don’t get no respect. (Except for the people coming back for seconds of what we’re cooking… maybe that’s not such a big gripe after all!)

How did I become a grillnista? And why? I have fond memories of cookouts as a child, the sight of the smoke, the smoky smell in the air, the smoky taste imparted to everything coming off of the grill. This was at relatives’ houses, as my father wasn’t a big griller, but I guess that made it even more of a big deal at my house when the little grill was pulled out, along with a sack of charcoal. It a highlight of the summer to eat outside at my house, dining on burgers lovingly coated with barbecue sauce.

As an adult, I’d say I enjoy grilling because:

  • It adds another dimension of flavor to everything. Compare baked chicken to grilled chicken, or a burger made on the stove vs. one tattooed with parallel lines from the grill. The grill literally and figuratively leaves its mark on the food that arrives on your plate. It becomes your sous-chef.
  • I like the fast-paced nature of grilling. Having to pay attention to the progress of the food, moving it from a hot zone to a cooler zone to keep it from getting overcooked, searing sides long enough that they get crisp over the flames but not burned… And as Steve Raichlen always alludes to, there is a sense of performance art to it as well. I guess it appeals to the part of me that always wanted to be a DJ, in the art of observation and manipulation required to be a success.
  • As someone who is trying to bring healthier food to my family, I like that the grill enables me to make delicious meals without the use of a lot of fat (as long as you’re choosing lean meats, of course).
  • It also doesn’t hurt that having a grill outside during the summer beats being holed up in a kitchen, with the warm weather, stove and oven conspiring to create a sauna. Cooking al fresco is a special treat for me when the weather allows.

Salute to all the grillers out there! And if you are a fellow grill queen, I send a special wave of my grill fork to you and ask that you speak a little on what has lured you to cook over open flames.

Peach-Mango Turkey Kebabs

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Here’s my first recipe, from my challenge (to myself) to make a kebab recipe a week this summer. I’m kicking off the season with a recipe that’s grill-ready: ground meat skewer kebabs.

I enjoyed the peach mango sausages I had a few weeks ago, and figured I’d try my hand at combining those flavors with other Southwest seasonings. The end result is this half sausage, half burger hybrid.

Recipe

  • 1 package ground turkey
  • Peach mango salsa (1/3 to 1/2 cup)
  • Red or sweet onion, finely diced (I used about a quarter of a medium-sized onion)
  • Cilantro to taste
  • Adobo powder and cumin to taste
  • Minced garlic to taste
  • Lime juice to taste (I used half a lime, but consider it optional)

Mix your ingredients together, and let them sit in the refrigerator a bit to blend. (I waited an hour or so, but you could also refrigerate overnight if you’d like.)

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When ready to make the kebabs, start heating your grill. Divide the meat into 4 servings. Fashion them around skewers sausage style. (I used long, flat metal skewers, as I will for the rest of the recipes this summer. If you use the shorter bamboo skewers, you would likely have to make more than 4.)

Grill away! Until the meat is cooked through.

Notes: Try adding a little bit of the salsa at a time to your meat, to avoid making the kebabs too goopy to stay on the skewers. (It’ll depend on how firm or watery your ground turkey is. Making this recipe confirmed my suspicion that I need to stop buying Aldi ground turkey… another rant for another day.) You’ll want a consistency that’s pretty close to what you’d have for burgers, but a bit more moist. If you find you’ve gone overboard with the salsa, add bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon at a time. Another thought: lean ground beef would likely hold up to the salsa a bit better.

I served these on fat-free tortillas, topped with a little more of the salsa, some reduced-fat cheddar, spinach, and thinly sliced red onion. I’d also try queso sauce instead of the cheddar.

Kebabs: 101 and Cooking Challenge

I recently resumed my sojourn through all the episodes of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations by watching the Berlin episode. I expected to see footage of beer, sausages, and quirky art explorations, but I wasn’t prepared to see a segment on Turkish food.

I learned from the episode that there has been a sizable Turkish population in Germany for decades. After showing locals play a Turkish domino game in a men’s club, there was a lengthy homage to kebabs.

I learned from the episode and some Internet sleuthing that there are three classes of kebabs (also spelled “kabobs” or “kebobs”): kebabs on a  skewer, called shish kebabs (“shish” means “skewer”), doner kebab, which is sliced meat, and kebabs made of ground meat fashioned into sausage shapes; they can be grilled off or on a skewer, or sauteed in a pan. The meat in the various kinds of kebabs can be worked over with a wet marinade or a tantalizing combo of dry spices. (Interesting trivia: Wikipedia spins a fable of shish kebabs being created by Persian soldiers who roasted meat on their swords, but this 1995 Ocala Star-Banner article disagrees–and provides some kebab recipes, to boot.)

I am a big proponent of grilling, and what better time of year to make kebabs than now?

Here are some kebabs I’ve made in the past. Not a lengthy list:

  • Chicken breast or lean beef (marinated in a Mediterranean herb blend, a little olive oil and red wine vinegar), onions and red and green peppers
  • This kofta kebab recipe, with lean ground beef. It was delicious, and it comes with a recipe for tzatziki sauce, the cucumber-based sauce that often comes with Greek food.

But I have a set of skewers, and I’m willing to learn and experiment. This inspires me to set up another cooking challenge for myself: a kebab recipe a week this summer. Check this space to see what’s up on the menu! (And if you decide to take up the challenge on your own, let me know what you come up with!)