Friday, July 29, 2011

Quinoa and Vegetable Salad with Tahini Dressing

Last week, during my hearty salads kick, I tried out this recipe from Real Simple magazine. Their August 2011 edition has so many great salad recipes that it's actually hard to choose which ones to make. I was intrigued by this one since I love tahini and I had never eaten raw beets before. I have always enjoyed cooked beets, so I figured the raw version should be good too, which it is. I couldn't find watercress at the grocery store, so I used spinach as a substitute. I'm sure it would also be great with arugula or micro greens.

If you plan on serving this salad to a group and want your dinner presentation to look good, don't mix this before serving. Once mixed, the beets stain most of the salad red, especially the tahini dressing. They can also stain work surface and your clothes, so be careful when working with them (if you're worried, you can wrap your cutting board in plastic wrap or wax paper and hold the beets in a paper towel as you grate them).

What I liked most about this salad was the tahini dressing. I've never made one myself and it turned out great. It's really easy to tweak this dressing if you find one of the flavors to be too strong. I added a little more honey to my dressing to tone down the ginger a bit. I was also really skeptical of the additional 1/2 cup of water at first, but it turn out being necessary. You could just add 1/4 cup if you want a thicker dressing, but then you might need to make a larger batch for the salad.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Roasted Bell Peppers with Basil

This bell pepper salad has been a favorite in my family for years. My mom often serves this, along with marinated eggplants, goat cheese and crusty bread, as part of a delicious sandwich bar. The original recipe came from a family friend who is a great chef, however, beyond that I'm not sure where this originated. Over time, my mom has simplified the technique for making this, but it tastes exactly the same as the fancier version.

This salad can last a week in your fridge, but the basil will begin to wilt. It still tastes good, but will not look as nice if you're going for presentation. If you're planning to make this ahead of time, only add the basil before serving. Also, feel free to use red, yellow or orange bell peppers in this salad. I've often used only red peppers, but it looks prettiest with some yellow or orange added. This makes a great appetizer, side dish, or picnic food, and it has been a hit every time I've made it.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Yogurt-Basil Grilled Chicken

Two nights ago, my sister braved the elements and grilled in the rain, raincoat and all. She had invited some friends over for dinner and we planned a grilling intensive dinner. I really wanted to try this Martha Stewart recipe since I love yogurt marinated chicken, and this one seemed really easy (which it was). At 7:00 pm the night of this dinner, the rain came and crushed half of our plans. We decided to roast the salmon and grill the zucchini on an indoor grill. However, the indoor grill is small and didn't have space for even half of the chicken.

Since we were all getting hungry, she decided she would grill anyway. Long story short, the chicken may have taken a little shower every time the grill was opened, and since it was unpleasant outside, the grill monitoring was far from ideal. In the end we had slightly charred, but still incredible delicious grilled chicken thighs and perfectly grilled corn. This recipe is great because it is so simple with fairly basic ingredients, but it is still flavorful. Don't forget to keep some of the marinade for the dipping sauce. Also, I added a little extra curry to my marinade. I'm posting the recipe as Martha Stewart described since that's not everyone's favorite spice, but if you really like curry, you could add some more.
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Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I realize that most people have their own interpretation of guacamole, and that everyone consideres different ingredients as essential or not necessary. I thought I'd share my version of guacamole that my mom has been using for years. A trick that I learned from a friend last year is to add a little bit of cumin to guacamole, and I have been making it that way ever since. This version of guacamole a little chunky since I use tomatoes, and it tastes great. I can eat it by the bowlful and am even guilty of licking out the leftovers from bowls.

What I love about this is that you can use all sorts of dipping devices, not just tortilla chips, and make a healthy appetizer. I usually serve this with cut up carrots and cucumbers if I want to snack on something nutritious. If you want to prepare guacamole ahead of time, save the pit from one of the avocados and add it to the finished product. If you threw the pit away, you can cover it with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic lays directly on the guacamole. Serves this as an appetizer, or as an accompaniment to a main dish, like tacos or quesedillas.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Grilled Chicken and Corn Salad

This weekend, the weather in Denver took it easy and stopped the nightly thundershowers for 2 evenings. This meant that grilling season was once again open, but it also meant there was no break from the 90+ºF heat. Since I'm not usually all that hungry in hot, muggy weather, I thought it would be nice to make a filling salad for dinner. I wanted something with some protein, but didn't feel like anything heavy.

My mom recently brought over the August edition of Real Simple magazine and it is filled with great salad ideas. Although I make salad often, I have never experimented with the types of salad dressing in the magazine. In this grilled chicken and corn salad, the dressing relies on rosemary for flavor, which is not an herb I typically think of putting into a salad. There's also a strong garlic flavor to accompany the rosemary, so for me, it was a great dish. I usually stick with basil, cilantro, or parsley to flavor a salad dressing, but I love this variation. If you're not into garlic flavors, cut back on the amount of garlic cloves you use. Also, if you don't feel like grilling meat, you could pull apart half a rotisserie chicken and the salad would still be good.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Leonie's Banana Bread

During one of my high school spring breaks, my mom and I went to New Zealand to visit some family. While we were there, my aunt Leonie made this amazing banana bread, along with lots of other delicious things. To this day, it is still my favorite banana bread recipe. I've tried many different banana bread variations, but nothing comes close. I don't know where she found this recipe, but I simplified the original one and love the final result.

This banana bread is moist and won't dry out overnight. I've had this three days after baking it and it was still delicious. Every time I've made this banana bread, people have asked for the recipe. My first summer in Switzerland, this banana bread was such a hit that the recipe got passed around to lots of different people. It's easy to make and even when I haven't had proper measuring devices (I don't think a nalgene water bottle qualifies as a fancy kitchen gadget) it has turned out really well. You can also play with the flavors in this banana bread and add some honey, walnuts, or chocolate chips.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Roasted Shrimp and Orzo Salad

The other night, my sister and I decided to have a shrimp/prawn dinner. It had been a while since either of us had eaten shellfish and we decided to find a recipe that would be easy to make on a hot summer day. The original recipe called for grilling the shrimp, but, thanks to Colorado's extreme thunderstorms, we ended up roasting the shrimp. It tasted amazing and was definitely a better option to grilling in the rain. You can grill the shrimp or roast them, either way this salad is a great summer meal.

Before deciding upon this recipe, I emailed my sister with a list of about 12 different shrimp recipes to choose from. We opted against anything too time consuming and narrowed it down to 2 shrimp and orzo salad recipes. One was a Bobby Flay recipe, and another was an Ina Garten recipe. As anyone in my family knows, we are very loyal Ina Garten fans. I have probably read 5 of her cookbooks front to back at least a dozen times and have loved every recipe of hers. However, this time around Bobby Flay was the winner. The dill-mustard vinaigrette was the selling point of this recipe. So, feeling a little like traitors, we made Bobby Flay's shrimp and orzo salad.

This salad is the perfect summer lunch or dinner. It has pasta, protein, and vegetable all thrown into one dish, so you really don't need to serve anything else along with this. Since shrimp cooks so quickly, you can have this dinner made in 20 minutes.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce

One of the first Thai dishes I remember eating is chicken satay. My parents used to order it as an appetizer when I was a kid and me and my sister would devour it. Apparently not much has changed in 20 years since we did exactly that last night. Chicken satay is another one of those foods that I've been wanting to make for years, but always seemed to forget about. Or I would go the easy way out and buy peanut sauce and grill plain chicken. But, now that I've had this marinated chicken version, I don't think I'll take the easy way out (unless I only have 10 minutes to prepare and make a meal).

Even if you don't feel like making a homemade peanut sauce, try this marinade. The chicken tasted amazing even without the sauce, but once you combine the two together, it is delicious. It tastes exactly the way I remember the chicken satay of my childhood and is now one of my favorite chicken recipes. Though it uses lots of dishes (blender, bowl, cutting board, zester, etc...) it is pretty easy to make, and the peanut sauce and marinade can be made ahead of time. You can even freeze the extra peanut sauce since it yields a lot more than you need, and you'll probably be glad to have it around.

When I made this yesterday, I didn't have any fish sauce or dark soy sauce at home, and the not-so-awesome grocery store nearby was out of fish sauce as well. I don't think that these ingredients are necessary since the chicken satay turned out really well, but feel free to try using them if you want to experiment with different Asian flavors. You can also replace the cayenne pepper in the peanut sauce with some Thai chili paste, but I haven't tried that variation yet. The ingredients can be tweaked a lot in this recipe until you find the flavor that is right for you. The ones listed here are the proportions that I used and really enjoyed.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Cookie Dough Ice Cream

As much as I love eating homemade ice cream, I sometimes avoid recipes that require making a custard. If you've never made ice cream, the custard needs to be slowly heated over a stove, and then chilled in the fridge before churning it in an ice cream machine. This recipe is great since all you have to do is mix ingredients together, churn, and freeze. The ingredients come together in 3 minutes, making this one of the easiest ice cream recipes I've made.

I made this ice cream with leftover chocolate chip cookie dough that I had at home, but you could just as easily use ready made cookie dough. Use as much or as little as you'd like, the amount of cookie dough listed in the recipe can be very loosely interpreted. You can even add extra chocolate chips if you want. I topped mine with chocolate syrup, but it is delicious on its own. It stays rich and creamy, even after days in the freezer.

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Greek-Style Quinoa Burgers

I've been wanting to make veggie burgers for a while, but have never had a reason to do so (nor a vegetarian crowd to cook for). Luckily, this 4th of July I volunteered to make burgers for my vegetarian friend. I knew I wanted to use beans and quinoa, and started searching for recipes from there. I loved this one because the ingredients were simple, the burger patties are really easy to make, and there's a yogurt sauce to top everything off. And yes, I use more of the yogurt sauce on each burger than most people would, but I am slightly obsessed with it.

I made the patties at home and brought them over to the barbecue and they traveled really well. I made them in the morning, put them in a Tupperware, with each layer separated by wax paper, and grilled them that evening. I even had some leftover patties that I made the next day and they were still great. When you form the patties, keep your hands wet. I ran my hands under water in between forming each burger. Also, the patties fall apart really easily, so be careful with them. To cook the burgers, I just flipped the wax paper layers over into the pan, not even touching the burgers, and that method seemed to be the easiest. Also, make sure there's lots of space in the pan. I tried making these in a small pan and found it a lot harder to flip the burgers without them falling apart. The large pan worked much better. Don't skimp on the oil either, they absorb lots while cooking.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad

I'm generally not a fan of iceberg lettuce since it has less flavor than other salad options (and less nutritional value), but this salad is one of the few exceptions. I love the look of this salad, and the flavor is even better. The iceberg is more of a vessel for the blue cheese dressing than anything else. You could use this dressing on a regular salad as well. I've even used it on top of burgers and as a dip for veggies and french fries.

If you like the taste of blue cheese, but not the bottled dressings from the grocery store, give this recipe a try. I used to think I hated blue cheese dressing until I made it from scratch. You can tone down the blue cheese flavor as well by adding a little more of the other ingredients, especially the sour cream. This dressing is really easy to tweak once it's made, so I suggest you do so if you prefer certain flavors over the others. I once added too much apple cider vinegar and saved it by adding some more olive oil, cheese, and sour cream.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Kefta and Zucchini Kebabs

I'm a sucker for any food served with a yogurt sauce. Whether it's tzatziki, raita, or cacik, I love them all. When my sister first made this kebab recipe last summer, I was instantly hooked. The keftas are delicious on their own, but when they get smothered with yogurt sauce, they taste amazing. This is one of those barbecue foods that disappears withing minutes of being set on the table.

The kefta kebabs are a little spicy, so you can tweak the amount of cayenne pepper used to your liking. I also didn't put the kebabs on skewers because I find it easier to grill them on their own. If you do want everything to be on a skewer, make sure you let the kebabs begin to cook through before flipping them on the grill. If you get overly excited and turn them too soon, they'll probably fall off/break apart.

I love the zucchini kebabs and the flavor they get from the lemon juice. Make sure you cut them wide enough so they can be threaded onto the skewers. If you're not a zucchini fan, you can use other grill friendly vegetables, or just make the meat. But whatever you do, don't skip the yogurt sauce! It is really easy to make, so there's no good excuse not to make it (unless you're lactose intolerant). This is one of my favorite kebab recipes and has a great "Middle Eastern" flavor.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Roasted Banana Ice Cream

Happy 4th of July weekend. We've had beautiful, hot, sunny weather in Denver, which also means perfect conditions for nighttime fireworks (last year I watched fireworks in the rain). With this heat comes the never ending need to cool down. After neglecting the ice cream maker for a while, I decided to put my free time to use and make some roasted banana ice cream. As is often the case with my cooking and baking, this ice cream flavor was chosen because there were some spotted bananas in the fruit bowl, but nobody felt like having banana bread.

I recently read about making homemade banana ice cream by just freezing chunks of banana, and then throwing them in a food processor when you want to have ice cream. Sounds good, but I like my ice cream to be a little sweeter and more flavorful than that. This David Lebovitz recipe was the perfect solution to the banana problem. Even when frozen for a while, this ice cream remains creamy, thanks to the bananas.

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