Grilled Mediterranean Panzanella

My sister-in-law’s (Emily) birthday is this week, so last weekend we decided to throw her a birthday barbecue. Emily knows how to throw a good party. She was the one that surprised me on my 40th birthday by decorating our house with streamers and balloons. She planned and organized my bridal shower which was a huge hit. She is extremely organized and thrifty and this was my attempt to do something special for her.

Whenever I have Emily and family over I see it as a culinary challenge because their food repertoire is limited, in the sense that they like plain, lightly seasoned food, plus there are two little adorable munchkins in attendance, a 9 and 4-year-old. Being who I am, I work hard to come up with a menu that I know they’ll like. When it comes to feeding and entertaining people, I don’t do anything half as my husband knows. I usually cook too much food (which he enjoys the rest of the week) and even though I don’t consider myself a perfectionist, I expect everything to be perfect. After the many parties that we’ve hosted, my husband knows the drill. Stand at attention and wait for commands. I couldn’t do it without him!

This was the menu for the evening. The appetizers included homemade parmesan cheese sticks, chips and onion dip (Emily and kids favorite), fresh fruit (pineapple and strawberries), pigs in a blanket – I knew the kids would like these, Almond Punch – to which the adults could add their preferred alcohol. For dinner I served this Panzanella, a Basil Corn Salad and marinated chicken – stay tuned for these recipes in the following weeks. The birthday cake was a Texas Sheet Cake with M&Ms on top, served with a scoop of Cookies and Cream ice cream. I knew it was a success when at 10 pm the kids left saying, “Mommy, I am so full.”

Panzanella is an Italian bread salad or sometimes called “leftover salad” popular in the summer months. It includes day to week old sliced bread, fresh tomatoes, basil, olive oil, and vinegar but can be made with any of your favorite ingredients. The original recipe came from Ina Garten but I have made a few changes to the ingredients.

Grilled Mediterranean Panzanella (adapted from Ina Garten)

  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 large ripe tomato or 1 pack of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 10 large basil leaves, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
  • 1 red onion, sliced into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 red pepper, seeded, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 yellow pepper, seeded, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 jar of marinated artichokes, drained – can substitute regularly canned or frozen artichokes
  • 1/2 loaf of French or country loaf bread or about 6-8 slices
  • Olive oil

Mix cut onion and peppers with 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt and pepper. Place on a hot grill or grill pan. Grill on low for about 10 minutes, turning after 5 minutes. Remove from grill and cover with aluminum foil. Cut sliced bread into 1-inch cubes and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Place on grill and toast them until golden brown.

In a small bowl, mix Dijon, garlic, vinegar and 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

In a large mixing bowl, add capers, artichokes, tomatoes, grilled veggies, basil, and bread. Right before serving add the dressing and toss well. Serves 6-8…

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Soy Sauce Chicken

It’s easy to get in a chicken rut. I know – I’ve been there. Chicken to me doesn’t have much flavor so it’s all about the seasoning and cooking technique. For a long time, I shied away from cooking chicken because I always overcooked it. I still do. But I’m getting better. I do have a solution though. This easy recipe gives you flavor, juiciness and yummy leftovers.

I like lots of flavor in my food so any recipe that seems to jump out at me as something that is going to make my mouth sing – is a keeper in my book. This is one of my mom’s recipes from when we grew up. She got this recipe from a Chinese cooking class that she took 35 years ago while we lived in Spain. She has a collection of these recipes that we cherish as they are all delicious and relatively easy to make. In my never endless quest to find good easy chicken recipes, I happened to come across this recipe the other day. I knew when my mouth started watering that I should make it. I had some chicken thighs on hand so used them for this dish but you can use any kind of chicken – bone in, breast.

By the way, for my picture above I forgot to sprinkle the green onions on top which would have made it really nice looking and tasting…

Soy Sauce Chicken

  • 1 lb. chicken pieces (any kind – I used skinless, boneless thighs this time)
  • 1 1/2 cups soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons gin
  • 5 slices ginger (1/8 inch thick)
  • 1/2 cup sugar or honey
  • 2-3 green onions, sliced diagonal

Clean chicken and remove any excess fat. Mix next 5 ingredients in frying pan and place chicken in it. Bring to a boil and reduce heat and cook for 30 minutes (for thighs). If bone-in chicken cook for 40 minutes. Turn chicken halfway through cooking. Remove chicken from sauce when cooked through. Leave 2/3 cup of sauce in the pan and add 2-3 tablespoons of sugar or honey. Bring to a boil, stirring until dissolved, about 5 minutes. Arrange chicken on a platter with green onion and pour sauce over top. Remaining sauce can be kept refrigerated for 2 weeks.…

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Asian Marinated Flank Steak with Almond Rice

Since I’m married to a meat and potatoes man, red meat shows up on our menu quite often. That’s probably not a good thing but I like to keep my hubby happy so a girl does what she has to do. You can tell I am really suffering here. A good steak is a treat though. For me, it’s about flavor and tenderness – and these two don’t show up together very often in a steak. Usually, you have one but not the other unless you spend a large sum of money at a fancy steakhouse and even then you’re not guaranteed a good steak, just an expensive meal. There is a quick fix solution though that comes in handy at any time of the week. For those nights when I want a steak but don’t want to spend a fortune or a lot of time cooking, I reach into my freezer for a flank steak. It makes a quick and tasty weeknight or weekend meal.

A flank steak is what I call an everyday meat. It’s not a fancy steak like a fillet Mignon or a rib-eye so I tend to think of having it more often, especially during the week. It’s very affordable and cooks up really quickly. A flank steak is cut from the abdominal muscles of the cow and is usually long, lean and flat. It can be tough since it’s not very fatty so it’s best prepared medium to medium well and then sliced thinly against the grain. The grain on this cut of meat is very easy to see and usually runs downs the long side of the meat. This cut of meat is also great to cut up for stir-fries. I grilled the recipe below but you could always cook it inside on any type of grill pan. My menu for this steak, when I made it, included Almond Rice and a Mint Sauce that I served alongside the flank steak. These are all optional of course but take the flavor level up a few notches.

Asian Marinated Flank Steak

  • 2 lb. Flank Steak
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons ginger, grated
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoon honey
  • 3 tablespoon chili garlic sauce (find in the Asian aisle at the grocery store)

Place meat in a gallon zip lock bag. Mix all ingredients together in a separate bowl and add to the meat. Marinate as long as possible – the longer the better. I did mine for two days but even a couple of hours is good. Before cooking your meat, wipe some of the marinades off the meat so it doesn’t burn. Preheat a grill to high or place a grill pan over high heat. Pierce the steak all over with a fork and season with salt and pepper. Grill the steak, 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium-rare, 6 to 7 minutes per side for medium, turning once. Transfer to a cutting board, cover loosely with foil and let rest for 5 minutes. Thinly slice the steak against the grain.

Mint Sauce

  • 3 cups mint, washed
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar (any kind will work but I used Champagne)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Add all ingredients into a blender and blend until a smooth sauce. Adjust for seasoning. Makes about 1/2 cup of sauce.

Almond Rice

  • 1 cup long grain rice
  • 1 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped (can you parsley if you prefer)
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted (in a dry saute pan, roast for about 5 minutes or until fragrant)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Bring chicken broth to a boil. Add rice and 1 teaspoon salt, reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook 20 minutes. When done, leave covered and remove from heat for 10 minutes. Add cilantro, almonds, butter, and remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and pepper. Serves 4.…

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