Category Archives: Guest-Worthy

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.

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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.

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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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LEAH’S STRAWBERRY SALAD

strawberry salad

I was so nervous to meet Leah. She was the “best friend who came before” of my closest graduate school friend, Arianne. You’ve been there, right? There’s a new awesome person in your life and now, someone from their “old life” is coming into town to visit? They’ve got more history with your new awesome person than you do—a decade’s worth or more of memories, incriminating stories, photographs of old haircuts, mix tapes, the works. Not to mention, I had heard a million stories about Leah—she was confident, fearless, a foodie, a talented seamstress, and a firefighter to boot. Like, the kind that flies around in helicopters fighting forest fires.

You could say I was a little intimidated.

Of course, I shouldn’t have been worried. Although Leah’s list of dazzling attributes only grew after meeting her in person, among those attributes is “totally approachable.” The three of us had a blast together laughing, cooking, dancing, talking–plenty of friendship & good feeling to go around. And I learned another important thing about Leah: if she were a character in a Homeric epic, “maker of beautiful salads” would be her epithet:

(I'm afraid it's not a fancy Sonya picture; I took this one myself!)

(I'm afraid it's not a fancy Sonya picture; I took this one myself!)

While I’m good at making things yummy, I’m not always good at making them look pretty. Leah is one of those people who seems to do both effortlessly, and I strive to be like her someday. That’s why this salad is dedicated to her, to Arianne, and to those lovely occasions where your new friends and old friends get along swell.

LEAH’S STRAWBERRY SALAD strawberry salad 2
adapted from Food to Live By: The Earthbound Farm Organic Cookbook
serves 4

This salad is elegant and lovely, even if you can’t make it into a work of art! A great choice for summer, as it pairs perfectly with grilled meat. In the winter, I swap cranberries & Bosc pairs for the strawberries and use a store-bought, fig-flavored balsamic for the dressing.

In the summer, the “trick” is that you infuse your own balsamic using a few strawberries to impart flavor. Do this step as far ahead of time as you can and throw the rest of the salad together just before serving.

Now, blue cheese may make some of you nervous; I know it’s not for everyone. If you absolutely can’t stomach it, substitute crumbled feta or small cubes of a really sharp cheddar. You really want a strong cheese to stand up to the sweetness of the berries & the tartness of the balsamic.

for the salad:

1 bunch spinach or lettuce, washed, dried, & torn into small pieces
1 pint strawberries (approx. 12-15), sliced
½ cup blue cheese, crumbled (less or more if you like)
½ cup candied pecans, chopped (substitute plain or toasted pecans)

Prepare the vinaigrette before assembling salad:

4 T balsamic vinegar (good quality)
2-3 strawberries
¼- ½ cup olive oil, depending on how oily you like your dressing
salt & pepper
macerating strawberries
Remove green tops from the strawberries and chop them roughly. Place into a small bowl along with the balsamic. Press down with a fork or the back of the spoon to help release the strawberry flavor. Let the mixture sit, on room temperature, for at least an hour.

Assemble the salad. When ready to serve, carefully discard strawberries from balsamic mixture (if you’re willing to invest in a bit more effort, you can blend the berries and balsamic together). Drizzle olive oil in slowly while whisking (or blending) constantly. Add salt & pepper to taste; whisk to combine. Dress the salad and enjoy!

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FRESH FRUIT PIZZA

strawberries on cutting board

I hope it’s not just me. I hope that all of you, no matter where you might be, are seeing strawberries this gorgeous in your grocery store or farmer’s’ market. They are so lovely and flavorful, I can’t resist buying them! But that’s okay, because at least down here, they’ve been remarkably affordable, even the organic variety (strawberries are one of those recommended “best to buy organic” items). So, given the availability and seasonality of this particular item, we’ll be featuring a little four-part ode to strawberries here at Blue Jean Gourmet. Starting with dessert, of course!

One caveat, though: making this fruit pizza may leave you feeling a bit like a charlatan. Why? Because, not to toot my own horn too much, but this looks hella impressive, right?

easy to make AND impressive

Right. So imagine, if you will, taking this impressive fruit pizza to a summer potluck or dinner at your mother-in-law’s house and the “ooohs” and “ahhhs” and “wows” you will invariably receive. Are you imagining? Are you? Because here’s the secret about this dessert: it is dead simple to make.

I know the concept of fruit pizza has been floating around for some time, and you may have had the misfortune of encountering a sketchy version made with big tubes of refrigerated dough & canned fruit or drowned in chocolate & marshmallow fluff. But don’t be alarmed! This one is elegant and not too sweet, perfect for summer months. You can even make the crust & filling ahead of time, adding the fruit and (optional) glaze just before serving.

Fresh fruit is obviously the star of the show, so make sure that you buy good-quality stuff. I recommend erring on the side of firm when making your selections, so that the fruit will hold its own. Buy whatever is seasonal and looks scrumptious—I’ve made this with nectarines, peaches, kiwi, apple, mango, & all kinds of berries.

almost any kind of fruit will work

blackberries are very photogenic, don't you think?

This is also the perfect dessert to make with and serve to kids. Little hands can help press the dough, spread the filling, and arrange the fruit. Having a slumber party? Get the kids going in the kitchen; divide up the dough and let each child make his or her own mini-pizza. Hey, it’s healthier than most midnight snacks!

Last but not least, I recommend this dessert as a great choice for diabetics or anyone cooking for a diabetic. You can easily substitute Splenda for the sugar in the crust & filling, and use sugar-free fruit preserves for the glaze. I did this for my friend Aisha’s dad at his birthday party, and he loved it.

Coming next in our Strawberry Parade–a fresh, easy strawberry salad, strawberry-basil margaritas, & homemade granola with fresh strawberries.

Tell us, how do you like your strawberries this time of year?

FRUIT PIZZA

oven: Preheat to 375°.

pan: Round or rectangular baking sheet

crust: 1 ½ cups flour
2 T. sugar
2 T. milk
½ cup oil (canola is fine, I’ve also used safflower)
zest of 1 lemon & 1 orange, finely chopped (use the fruits’ juice for the glaze)
½ tsp. salt

Mix all ingredients by hand and press out onto a baking sheet, about 1/4 inch thick—you can do a traditional circle shape, a free-form oval, or a rectangle. Part of the appeal is the rustic look, so don’t worry about it being perfect. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the crust is golden brown around the edges. Cool completely before topping.

Filling: 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream

You can easily do this by hand, but use a stand mixer if you have it. Whip cream cheese until fluffy (if employing elbow grease, use a spoon for this part). Add sugar and mix until well blended. Finally, pour in the cream and whip until thick (at this point, switch to a whisk). It may take a minute or two for the mixture to set up, but it will thicken very quickly, all at once! Spread mixture evenly over cooled crust.

Topping: Any sliced, fresh fruit

Have fun with this part! The whole idea of this dessert is that the fruit speaks for itself, so let it show off a little. You can go for concentric circles, like I have here, but you can also just chop up the fruit and sprinkle on top; it’s going to taste just as delicious. If you have a tiny sous chef helping you, arranging the fruit to form a face or a flower or a star can be a lot of fun. Heck, that could be fun even if there aren’t any kids in the picture!

Glaze (optional): ½ cup apricot preserves or orange marmalade
juice from the lemon & orange you zested

Heat all ingredients a small saucepan, stirring well. Simmer for 2-3 minutes until the mixture has thinned. Spoon over fruit.

the glaze adds a nice sweetness & gooey-ness

the glaze adds a nice sweetness & gooey-ness

you'll wow 'em with the finished product!

you'll wow 'em with the finished product!

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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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