Monday, June 27, 2011

Light meal for a hot summer day

It is 114 degrees today in Arizona. 114 DEGREES!!! It's one of those days when you don't want to leave house, or even the couch. And the idea of firing up the oven, grill, or even microwave seems completely out of the question.

I suppose the plus side to these types of evenings is that they curb my appetite and actually make me crave cool, crisp veggies. So I turn to one of my favorite meals: the hummus platter.

Hummus is nothing new in our house...we've been dipping pita chips in it for years. But recently I've noticed restaurants serving a "kicked up" version of the standard "hummus & chips." They serve a nice dollop of hummus over top some greens, sprinkled with feta cheese, and accompanied by thin slices of tomato, cucumber, and warm triangles of pita bread. It's super-simple to replicate at home, and so I did. You simply slather the pita bread with some hummus & feta, and then top with cucumber and tomato, and some greens...sort of like a hummus pizza.

It is the perfect light meal or lunch on a hot summer days. And since there's many more of those hot days ahead for us, I have a feeling this will be gracing our table on a regular basis.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Shrimp and avocado tostadas & pulled pork tacos with fennel slaw

I have quite a few strengths as a cook, but timing is not one of them. I am at my best when I am making a dish that I can ease into, adjusting seasonings as I go, hovering and poking to test doneness. Or I enjoy things that I can make ahead and either serve cold, room temperature or reheated.

Meals that need to be carefully orchestrated, with several components being finished at exactly the same time, really stress me out. Take, for example, my husband's father's day request: surf and turf. There's nothing spectacularly difficult about this fancy ingredients or complex preparations. But the simple fact that I had to serve a perfectly cooked filet, perfectly cooked lobster tail, roasted potatoes, and broccoli, all steaming hot, ALL AT THE SAME TIME... Well, it gave me an anxiety attack. Yet, I managed to pull it off:

Anyway, the point of this post wasn't to brag about my surf and turf (although my husband did say it was delicious), it was to talk about the type of dish I prefer to make. The first is Shrimp and Avocado Tostadas. This dish makes a perfect appetizer, lunch, or light dinner. It's served cold or room temperature which means it's great to make ahead or to serve on a hot summer night. Here's how to make it:

Shrimp and Avocado Tostadas


1 lb shrimp, cooked, peeled, deveined, and chopped
1 or 2 limes
1 or 2 ripe avocados, chopped
a few handfuls of grape tomatoes or small cherry tomatoes, halved
minced red onion
chopped cilantro


Once the shrimp have cooled, mix them in a bowl with the avocado and tomato. Squeeze in some lime juice. Add the onion, cilantro, and salt to taste. Mix together gently and serve atop crispy tortillas, or with tortilla chips. **If you want to make this a "make ahead" dish, wait to chop and add the avocado until just before you're ready to serve; otherwise it will turn brown.

The second dish I have to recommend is Melissa D'Arabian's "Pulled Pork Tacos with Fennel Slaw." This dish is definitely a bit labor-intensive, and has quite a few ingredients. But, it is a delicious recipe, and a perfect thing to make on a leisurely weekend afternoon. The pork cooks for three hours, so you can make it at lunch time, shred the pork in the late afternoon, and have it sitting on the stove ready to serve at dinner time and/or when your guests arrive. Click above for Melissa's recipe. I followed it pretty much exactly, except that I left out the sour cream and parmesan to make it dairy-free.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Chopped brussels sprouts salad with bacon

In my quest to eat more veggies, I've come up with a simple but effective little trick: chop them up! I can enjoy eating almost anything if it is chopped up small enough and mixed with other tasty foods. So if I'm not a fan of a particular vegetable, or clueless about what to do with it, I start mincing away. Take brussels sprouts, for example. The thought of gnawing away on a big old sprout kind of makes me want to throw up. But when they are chopped up, seasoned with some lemon juice, parmesan cheese and bacon, and thrown into a salad: Deliciousness! (A while back, I posted another great chopped brussels sprouts recipe, which is a great warm alternative to this one.)

I got the inspiration for this salad from The Arrogant Butcher, a restaurant in downtown Phoenix. My friend ordered their brussels sprouts salad, and I helped myself to several forkfuls (yes, I'm rude like that). We both were surprised by how yummy it was, and I kept thinking about it for days afterward. I remembered the main flavors, and so I experimented with making one of my own. I have to admit that while my salad recipe is an original creation, the dressing is not. The one I repeatedly turn to is Lucini's "Bold Parmesan and Garlic," but I'm sure any slightly creamy, garlicky, parmesan cheesy dressing would do.

Chopped Brussels Sprouts Salad with Bacon


Brussels sprouts, chopped (I use about 3-4 per person)
Bacon (I use about 1 strip per person)
Parmesan cheese (the kind you grate yourself is the best, but any old kind will work)
Olive oil
Baby spinach, chopped
Romaine hearts, chopped
Good dressing (see photo)


Cook the bacon until crisp (I just use the microwave method). Let cool and crumble.

Heat some olive oil in a pan and lightly saute the chopped brussels sprouts until they're slightly tender, but not super soft (you want them to still have some crunch). Squeeze in some fresh lemon juice, and add some salt and a few sprinkles of parmesan cheese.

Take the brussels sprouts off the heat and let them cool. Then toss them together with the bacon, spinach and romaine. Add dressing and top off with some more parmesan if you wish.