Category Archives: Dinner

ROASTED BEET SALAD

[A quick note: Anders, our fine sommelier, had hoped to bring us Part II of his Wine Tasting Basics today, but due to travel & time constraints, I’m afraid we’ll have to anticipate his return for one more week.  In the meantime, roast some beets!]

beet tops 2

The people we love come with us.  They show up in the form of a borrowed word or phrase, an acquired habit, or an inside joke.

File respectively under:
-my photographer Sonya and the adjective “junky,”
-my new bff Coco who’s given me her oh-so-satisfying “Okay then!,”
-my Hindu mother who went to parochial schools in India and the fact that I cross myself when an ambulance drives by,
-my college roommate Rebecca’s many nicknames for me, including “Furlybum”  and “Mighty Mighty OJ.”  (Don’t ask because I’m not really sure I can explain.)

Even beyond the silly, surface ways, our relationships change us, hopefully for the better.  I like to think that the measure of a healthy partnership of any kind is knowing that you are an improved, fuller version of yourself in the context of that related space, and that the other person enjoys the same benefit as well.

I can identify dozens of things that are different about me since I first met Jill seven-and-a-half years ago.  Some are direct descendants of her habits & quirks, others have come more obliquely as I’ve grown in relationship with her, but I am grateful for all of them.

Witnessing her deep patience has allowed me to slow down a bit in my own life; I’m able to sit out in the backyard for a while and be still, be quiet.  My appreciation of animals, the two cats and dog in our house, the birds we feed in the back, even the little lizards who greet me on the gutter drain in the mornings, have all swelled by observing her.

When I look in the mirror now, I see through a lens tainted by her bias, which is a much more flattering light than I used to put myself in.  I really like the person I am, and I wouldn’t be that person without Jill.   She has converted me to the cult of football, transferred over her cinematic obsessions with Greta Garbo & Meryl Streep, and all-in-all brought out the very best parts of myself by cheering, supporting, & loving me fiercely.  And what have I done for her?

I got her to love beets, of course.

beets, pecans, & feta 2

Jill was a total beet skeptic before I made this salad, but it had such an impression on her that she planted beets in our garden soon afterwards.  Even if you don’t grow them on your own, consider adding fresh beets to your fall staples.  They’re usually not so expensive, keep in the fridge forever, and roast up so easily, I’m going to call them foolproof.

Serve this salad over lettuce or on its own, and feel free to tinker with the ingredients—adding dried cherries or cranberries, switching out the nuts, etc.  Come to think of it, this mixture would go nicely over a bed of couscous or quinoa, too!

ROASTED BEET SALAD

ingredients: finished beet salad

beets
feta cheese
pecans, toasted & chopped
thyme, fresh or dried (optional)
olive oil
salt  & pepper

oven: preheat to 425

Cut the tops & bottoms off of the beets.  [If you like, save the beet greens to wilt down in a pan with a little olive oil & garlic—yum!]  Dice into pieces that are roughly the same size and easy to eat.

Transfer the beets to a roasting pan or baking dish.  Drizzle generously with olive oil, then season with salt, pepper, & a few sprinklings of thyme.  Toss to coat, then roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the beets give when nudged with a fork (if you like yours softer, roast longer).

Let the beets cool a bit but not too long before combining with crumbled feta and pecans.  Serve on its own or over lettuce, spinach, greens.  If the latter, I recommend making your own quick vinaigrette with balsamic vinegar & some olive oil.  (I’m especially partial to a fig-infused balsamic, which complements the flavor of the beets perfectly).

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SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: SWAN SONG

Today’s post marks the last in our Summer Classics Series.  I know summer’s not quite done yet—the temperatures alone here in Houston will attest—but it seems we are shifting into late summer, that mode in which we savor the last of the stone fruit, can and jam what we can, begin to long for a little nip in the air and think “Hmm, maybe I need that jacket even though it’s 80 degrees outside.”

When the weather cools and necessitates a long-sleeved shirt, I’ll be glad.  Of all the seasons, autumn makes me swoon the most.  But, summer’s not half bad, especially when it comes to eatin’, so for now, I’m going to hang onto tomatoes and corn, keep buying berries by the bushel and sweat it out.

farmer's market pasta

Wrapping up our series is a sweet ode to summer in the form of a meal, the kind you might be inspired to whip up after coming home from the Farmer’s Market or grocery store.  It’s one of life’s greatest pleasures, is it not, having a free swath of time in the kitchen and all possibility spread before you?

Should you be lingering over summer, or inviting summer to linger over you, consider one last key lime pie, a big bowl of vegetable-studded pasta salad, or these rather tasty lamb burgers.

We’ll be starting a new, fall-friendly series next Friday and going back to regular, miscellaneous posts on Tuesdays.  As always, if you have any requests or suggestions for us here at Blue Jean Gourmet, please leave them in the comments.  We heart comments.  We heart you, too.

figs in pan

SUMMER’S SWAN SONG DINNER

These dishes are homey and forgiving.  For the pasta, feel free to switch in whatever noodle you have handy.  Buy the veggies that look good, throw in herbs from your garden.  Serve with some wine and maybe a salad.

You may be skeptical about the idea of figs + balsamic vinegar + ice cream.  Trust me.  It’s freaking GOOD.  My dear friend Stephen, who inspired this recipe & fancily has his very own backyard fig tree (I’m jealous), often switches in Port for the balsamic, and you know what?  That’ll do.

FARMER’S MARKET PASTA

1 lb fettuccine (would be even better with fresh, but I used dried)
1 lb shrimp, peeled & deveined
large bunch of spinach, washed & chopped
2 ears corn, kernels cut off the cob
herb-flavored goat cheese, such as chevre (between 2-4 oz)
a handful of cherry or grape tomatoes
fresh herbs, like basil, chives, parsley
white wine
lemon juice
2 cloves garlic (or more or less), minced
olive oil

Start the pasta cooking in the background.

Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed sauté pan over medium-high heat; add shrimp.  After just a minute or two, turn down the heat and add the garlic.  Allow another minute to pass, then pour in a glug of white wine & a squeeze of lemon.  Test your shrimp for doneness—be careful not to overcook!—and let everything simmer for just one or two minutes more.

Remove the shrimp from the pan and reserve off to the side.  Crank the heat back up on your skillet, adding a bit more olive oil if necessary.  Wilt the spinach, add the herbs, corn, & tomatoes and cook until heated through.  Toss in the goat cheese and just a few spoonfuls of pasta water to make a sauce.

Your pasta should be al dente by this point; drain it, add to the spinach mixture, and add in the shrimp.  Toss together and serve with Parmigiano-Reggiano, if you like.

BALSAMIC FIGS OVER ICE CREAMbowl of fig & ice cream

figs, halved

balsamic vinegar, preferably a fig or other fruit-infused variety

sugar

a little butter

walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped

high-quality vanilla bean ice cream

Melt a little bit of butter in a large skillet.  Place the figs, cut side down, over the bottom.  Sprinkle a few tablespoons of sugar over the whole mess, allow to cook for a few minutes so the figs get nicely caramelized.

At this point, if you’re feeling fancy, you can remove the figs before adding the balsamic, thereby freeing up your skillet to reduce down the vinegar into a syrupy glaze.  It will work just as well, though, if you drizzle a generous amount of balsamic (say, a tablespoon or two) right onto the figs, turn down the heat, and leave them alone for a few minutes.

Whatever you do, don’t forget the nuts, because crunch is a good thing here.  Over vanilla ice cream, these figs make for a very elegant, very grownup, but nonetheless satisfying sundae.

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MEXICAN-STYLE PORK TENDERLOIN SANDWICH

This may be my favorite sandwich of all time.

torta al pastor

I mean, come on.  Chipotle-and-honey-marinated pork tenderloin with spicy mayonnaise, melted cheese, pineapple, avocado, & cilantro clearly equals heaven.

Of course, I’m biased in favor of all things Mexican and Tex-Mex.  It’s in my blood.  My mother perfected the Blue Jean Gourmet margarita recipe while bartending in a Mexican restaurant in the seventies.  My father, who worked for that chain of Mexican restaurants, took the three of us on a Texas road-trip for research purposes when I was a pre-teen; we ate our way through Dallas, Houston, & San Antonio, consuming tortilla after tortilla, trying salsa after salsa, and the night we arrived home in Memphis, decided to make—you guessed it!—Mexican food for dinner.

Now I live in Houston, where I’m lucky to have the chance to taste-test all kinds of Mexican and Tex-Mex food, from high-end, award-winning places to less-fancy-but-still-delicious taco trucks that line the city.  And it was here in Houston, during college, that I fell in love with the cheap-but-filling tortas served up at this restaurant.

The torta is a Mexican-style sandwich, typically made on a crusty, baguette-type roll called a bolillo, with myriad possible fillings, including al pastor, or pork, which I did my best to recreate at home a few weeks ago.

Personally, I think this would make an excellent weekend sandwich, because it’s incredibly satisfying but not very fussy. Marinate the pork tenderloin ahead of time, grill it up outside and you won’t even have to heat up your house (bonus!)

sliced pork tenderloin

While it’s cooking, prep your accoutrement and lay it all out so everyone can make his/her own sandwich.  For an authentic accompaniment, try making elote with the last of sweet-summer corn.  Mexico City without the plane ticket, my friends!  Enjoy.

MEXICAN-STYLE PORK TENDERLOIN SANDWICH avocado cilantro pineapple
serves 4

components:

bread (bolillo roll or baguette)

pork tenderloin (1 lb- 1 ½ lb)*

chipotle mayonnaise*

sliced cheese (Mexican-style cheeses with a sharp flavor that will melt well include queso quesadilla, asadero, or chihuahua.  Substitute mild cheddar if you can’t find any of these)

sliced avocado

cubed pineapple

quick-pickled onions*

To assemble, lay the split rolls on a baking sheet and place cheese on one side of each.  Place under a low broiler or on the grill you just used to cook the pork until the cheese melts.

Slice up tenderloin to desired thickness & let everyone “have at” the sandwich making!

*PORK TENDERLOIN

If you’ve never used chipotle peppers in adobo sauce before, PLEASE go out and buy a jar now (they’re cheap!)  Chipotle peppers are simply smoked jalapeños but their flavor is amazing.
chipotle in adobo
marinade:

1 cup chipotle-flavored barbecue sauce
2 T honey
1 T chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

optional: I had an over-ripe peach which I peeled, pureed, & added to the marinade.

If you don’t have one on hand, throwing in some apricot preserves might make a nice counterpoint to the spice.

Grilling the tenderloin is easiest, searing it first on all sides over a medium-high flame, then moving it off the heat and letting it cook, grill cover down, for about 15 minutes.  Bring the tenderloin inside and let it rest, covered in foil, before cutting into it.

If grilling is not an option, your best bet is to sear the tenderloin on your stovetop, in either a grill pan or other heavy-bottomed pan, then transfer the whole thing to a 425° oven for about 15-20 minutes.

*CHIPOTLE MAYONNAISE

This isn’t rocket science, really.  Mayonnaise + fresh lime juice + a spoonful or two (depending on your heat tolerance) of chipotles in adobo.  Annnnnnd done!

*QUICK-PICKLED ONIONS

quick-pickled onions

I’m an onion lover.  Absolutely adore them any way they’re offered up, raw, grilled, pickled, fried.  In fact, my mom used to tell me when I was little that I’d better marry someone who loved onions and garlic as much as I do, otherwise I’d have a problem.  Thank goodness for Jill or I’d never get any kisses!

I know most people do not share my love of the onion.  However, pickling red onion is a great way to take the “edge” off of the taste but add flavor & crunch to your sandwich.  Pickled carrots, which you can also find pre-made on the same aisle as the chipotles in adobo, are a good alternative if you really just aren’t an onion fan.

Slice the desired amount of red onion thinly.  Bring between ½ cup to 1 cup of white vinegar to a boil, then add an equal amount of white sugar and a pinch of salt.  Add onions and remove from the heat.  Toss in a little cilantro & a pinch of cumin.  Let the onions sit in the liquid until ready to serve.

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LAMB BURGERS

If you’re scared of this recipe already, bear with me.  Let me work with you.  I know you’ve been hurt by lamb in the past, but this time things will be different, I promise.  It’s not your fault that the lamb in your life has been over-cooked and served with mint jelly.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

545726169_dsc_0318
See?  That looks tasty, no?  Can you give lamb another chance?

I’ve made this recipe a few times, with lamb skeptics in the crowd each go-around.  My latest convert is none other than Sonya, our esteemed photographer, who had her first lamb burger last weekend at the end of a marathon cooking-and-picture-taking day.  When I told her I was planning to post about the burgers today, she said “Man, I’ve been craving those all week!”  Guess I’m going to have to make some more soon.

The only complicated thing about this recipe is locating the necessary ingredients. Depending on where you live, this actually may not be so complicated!  Most “mainstream” grocery stores sell ground lamb, and if you don’t see it out front, ask nicely at the meat counter; chances are they can grind some up for you.

Another option to check out is your local halal meat market, should you have one.  Halal is the rough Islamic equivalent of “kosher”–like kosher meat, any meat labeled “halal” has come from an animal slaughtered in a specific  way designed to ease the animal’s suffering.  One unique feature of halal meat is that all of the blood is drained before it’s sold.  This makes it a great choice for anyone feeling a little uncertain about the flavor of lamb, since draining the blood makes the flavor of the meat much more mild.

Continuing down the ingredient list…  545716200_dsc_0266

feta–the pre-crumbled kind is easiest here, but use whatever you like.

pine nuts–I love these things.  I throw them in pasta or serve them with roasted broccoli & fat shavings of Parmesan.  And, they add the perfect toothsome texture to these burgers–really, don’t leave them out.  Store any extras you have in the fridge to keep them from going rancid.

the herbs–fresh really is best (and hey, mint is super-easy to grow!), but if you buy from the store, keep your leftover herbage (to coin an Alton Brown term) in the crisper, nestled into a large Ziploc bag with a paper towel.  I can seriously keep flat-leaf parsley going for a month this way.

allspice–you may not already have this around, but it adds amazing flavor to all kinds of things: jerk-style chicken, chili, baked goods, homemade sausage, barbecue sauce, etc.

Simply put, these burgers are GOOD.  I’ll bet you could make them for people without telling them they were lamb, and the people would eat them, and the people would like them, and then you could surprise the people, but I guess that’s a little bit sneaky/unethical, huh?

Have you ever “converted” someone to liking an ingredient they previously disliked?  Or been converted?  If so, I’d love to hear about it!  Comment away.

LAMB BURGERS  545725282_dsc_0314

1 1/2 pounds ground lamb (if you absolutely can’t stomach the thought, substitute ground turkey)

1/2 cup feta (or other goat cheese), crumbled

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

1/4 cup each fresh mint & flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1/2 red onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 T allspice

zest of one lemon (optional)

salt & pepper

accompaniments: hamburger buns, sliced cucumber, red onion, dill mayonnaise* OR pita bread, cucumber, onion, tzatziki sauce*

Saute garlic & onion in olive oil over medium-low heat until translucent.  Allow to cool a bit before combining with the other ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix thoroughly–hands are best for this!–and form into patties.  Traditional hamburger-style, I recommend you make your burgers wider than the buns you plan to use, as the patties will shrink when you cook them.  I got six out of my last batch.

Alternately, if you’re serving with pita, make a bunch of small, flat-meatball-ish sized patties (about 12-15) so they’ll stuff into the pocket more easily.

Heat up your grill pan or outdoor grill (I don’t recommend outside if you are making small patties–they don’t skewer well).  Grill over medium-high heat on both sides to achieve a nice, brown crust.  Either turn heat down or move burgers to indirect heat and continue cooking until desired doneness is reached (we like a little pink in the middle).  On my stove-top grill pan, one batch took approximately 8-10 minutes.

545722730_dsc_0307

Serve immediately with accompaniments.  Enjoy!

Dill Mayonnaise

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 T fresh dill, chopped or 1 tsp. dried
1 clove garlic, minced fine

Combine all ingredients and mix until smooth.  Resist the urge to slather this all over everything.  (Or, if you’re me, fail to resist said urge).

Tzatziki Sauce

This is a traditional Greek condiment, so it works best with thick, Greek-style yogurt.  If you can’t find that, use plain, full-fat yogurt.

1 cup plain yogurt
1 small cucumber, peeled & grated
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. fresh dill or 1/2 tsp. dried
juice of half a lemon

Squeeze grated cucumber in a paper towel to remove excess moisture.  Combine the rest of the ingredients–if you make this ahead of time, the garlic flavor will become more intense.

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OVEN-ROASTED BALSAMIC CHICKEN

Maybe you’ve already heard this, but, um, the economy is broken. balsamic chicken finished

Don’t worry, I’m not going to launch into a politics and blame and shame and fiscal responsibility and healthcare reform and offshore tax shelters. I’ll leave that stuff to NPR and my mother. Suffice it to say that all of the aforementioned events have caused us here at Blue Jean Gourmet to be a little more thoughtful about what we spend and where we spend it. And as much as I admit to being a sucker for my expensive food habits (see: imported cheese, peach lambic, olives!), tinkering with the Blue Jean Kitchen budget has actually been a great boost to my culinary creativity. What is it they say? Necessity is the mother of invention?

And so, necessarily, I learned some new skills. For instance: you’ve totally got to start buying whole chickens and cutting them up yourselves. Seriously people, as my sixth graders would say. You’re going to get SO much more bang for your buck–I bought a lovely little organic, free-range whole chicken for less than ten bucks and it fed the two of us twice! Don’t be intimidated, okay? There’s this handy little guide up at MarthaStewart.com, and it will take you through step-by step. I promise, after the first time, you’ll feel like a pro. A cleverly frugal, old-school pro.

If you can afford it, buy a few chickens at once and cut them all up together, freezing what you won’t use right away. Not only is cooking whole chicken economical, it’s also gastronomical–meat always tastes better when cooked on the bone.

This chicken recipe is super-easy to make and very satisfying. It’s one of our “nice-but-not-fussy” dinner staples, especially when we’re craving something substantive but not heavy. Pairs very nicely with roasted potatoes*, which you can cook at the same time and in the same place as the chicken itself! Or, dress it up for company via wild rice and a green vegetable–say, asparagus sure is lookin’ purty these days!–and it, too, takes well to an oven-roasting. As my good friend Coco would say, aaaaand done!

balsamic chicken finished 2

OVEN-ROASTED BALSAMIC CHICKEN balsamic chicken marinade
serves 4

for the marinade:

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 T. honey
2 T. Dijon or whole-grain mustard (the yellow stuff is not going to taste good here)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced (feel free to scale back if you’re not a garlic fiend like I am)
juice of one lemon
salt & pepper

to be marinated: 1 whole chicken, cut-up (you can substitute just chicken breasts or legs)

Whisk marinade ingredients together in a large Ziploc bag (saves you bowl cleanup!) Toss in the chicken pieces, seal the bag, and use your hands to distribute the marinade. Store the chicken bag in the refrigerator, being sure to lay it flat so the chicken pieces are evenly coated by the marinade. Marinate at least one hour or up to all day.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400. Turn out the contents of the bag into a heavy-bottomed, shallow baking dish. Bake 45-55 minutes (if you are cooking boneless pieces, your cooking time will be reduced by about 10-15 minutes). Cover the pan carefully with foil if the chicken starts to brown too much. Now, some people will tell you to use a fancy meat thermometer and others will tell you to develop your cooking instincts (which you will!), but the simplest way to figure out if your chicken is done is to take the biggest piece out and cut it in the middle. You’ll know if it’s ready to come out or needs to stay back in, and this prevents you from blasting the heck out of chicken and drying it out, which is not tasty.

deglazing pan for chicken optional: You can make an easy pan sauce for your chicken using some chicken stock. Once you’ve removed the chicken from the pan, place it over your largest stove burner and turn the heat to low. Pour about a cup of stock into the baking pan–this is called deglazing, and it allows you to get up all of the yummy browned bits on the bottom of your baking pan. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to help you loosen the fond (nope, I’m not making that word up). Allow the sauce to thicken a bit over the stove’s heat before pouring over your plated chicken.

* ROASTED NEW POTATOES

2-3 lb. small, starchy potatoes (red, Yukon gold, new)
olive oil
salt & pepper
optional: 2 T chopped fresh parsley or rosemary, OR 1 T dried parsley, rosemary, or herbs de Provence

Scrub potatoes well but don’t remove peel–dice into cubes of similar size (about 1/2 inch). Toss generously with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt & pepper (herbs, if using). Spread out on a sheet pan and bake, 20-25 minutes or until fork-tender.

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